If Aldon Smith doesn’t play a single snap for the Raiders in 2016, he has no one to blame but himself.
I am the eldest of two children, and easily and by far the most well-behaved, well-mannered of the pair. Both of my parents and several of their friends and family members have confirmed as much on several instances, much to the dismay of my na’er-do-well, quasi-evil little sister.
However, on the rare occasion that I did find myself on the other side of the law, so to speak — usually surrounding a less-than-favorable mishap at school, I was at least smart enough to understand that it was probably not the best time to go around broadcasting myself as a beacon of upstanding citizenship and moral aptitude, for several reasons.
Firstly, my ever-vigilant mother took concerted measures to plug herself into the community of teachers and administrators at my elementary school upon my enrollment — initially with the goal of protecting her pride-and-joy from any potential mistreatment or supervision she considered to be less than up-to-snuff of her shining gem of a four-year-old.
The more I aged (and thus, became more intrigued by mischief), the more entrenched in the community she became, eventually joining its ranks as an employee of the district. This afforded her the ability to be essentially within an arm’s reach of both of her children for the totality of the day. Suffice it to say, I learned that lesson the hard way.
And on the chance that there was a situation at school that she didn’t know about almost as soon as it happened, I made damn sure to stay as lowkey as possible at home — so if the shoe did eventually drop at some point, I could cash in on some modicum of sympathetic currency, and potentially dodge an ass-whuppin that I otherwise deserved.
This stratagem was also employed after I’d already gotten in trouble for a thing. Like any good crook, I learn from all of my missteps. You might have caught me slipping that one time, but you’ll never catch me the same way twice. You’ll have to be two steps ahead of the three steps I’m already ahead of you by to do so.
I said all of that to emphasize the already much-belabored point that suspended Raiders linebacker Aldon Smith’s current predicament — that is, an increasingly-comfy residence in the dulled-out gates of football limbo — is not the result of gross negligence or crooked conspiracy on the part of Commissioner Goodell. I mean, it is, but that is not the root cause, nor should it be the focus of this particular issue.
Late last week, renowned Raiders beat writer Vic Tafur published an article for the San Francisco Chronicle confirming what I’d long suspected as it pertains to Aldon’s case — that Ginger Rog has seen Smith’s brief Periscope (which, quite mind-bogglingly, is still posted online. along with other videos from the same account clearly showing Aldon’s face — so much for plausible deniability) explaining the standard procedure and inner-workings of a “fire-up session”, and, despite lacking “concrete” evidence that it was in fact #99 with a “self-rolled cigar” in his fingers in that particular video, he was and remains unamused by the whole ordeal.
Mr. Tafur didn’t say or mention that himself. The speculation is purely mine — it does not require a ton of insight or candor from any of the parties involved to make an educated guess as to how and why this situation has drawn on for as long as it has.
And thanks to some dexterous language in the league’s substance-abuse policy, the commissioner has exercised his ability to take as much time as he damn well pleases in “rendering a decision”.
This, of course, has generated great angst and ire toward Commissioner Good Hell from members of Raider Nation, as well as from Aldon himself. It’s wasted energy, as far as I’m concerned. If we’re to be mad at anyone involved, it’s Aldon Smith. If we’re to be impatient with any facet of this process, it’s how Aldon has handled himself to this point.
More specifically, my gripe with Aldon is that on a fundamental level, he has approached his reinstatement into the league with a stunning level of recklessness and arrogance, and in doing so, has wantonly and repeatedly driven his return to football into the ground, with the same speed and force he uses to sack quarterbacks (or drunkenly hit parked cars, whichever metaphor tickles your fancy.
Never mind the Periscope. Just in the past few weeks, as he’s become eligible for reinstatement, Aldon has treated his return as though it’s a sure thing, as though he is entitled to resume his playing career, simply because he has seemingly met a list of admittedly vague and arbitrary requirements.
From that end, his efforts to project himself as “rehabilitated” come off more as a “look at me, I’m checking all of the boxes” type of public presentation, and less as genuine, contrite efforts to be a better human being.
Case in point — Tafur’s article features secondhand quotes and statements from Aldon’s trainer, Steve Fotion, because he himself was “too angry to talk and afraid he would start yelling”. That doesn’t sound like someone who has come a mighty long way from the guy that was arrested for becoming belligerent with a TSA agent at an airport.
At best, the notion that Smith was too worked up to conduct a simple phone interview is lazy, tough-guy posturing, meant to paint the league into a schoolyard bully, needlessly picking on a helpless man trying to get his life together.
At worst? It’s an honest, unveiled display of a lack of growth and maturity on Aldon’s behalf — the perfect exemplifier that he’s nowhere near ready to accept responsibility for his actions.
Which brings us back to the original point — when you find yourself under the microscope for your behavior, the best plan of action is to get ghost. Minimize how much you’re seen or heard from. Dare I say, become forgotten.
Aldon has done the opposite of that at every turn.
When he was spotted at a Warriors game in early November, Aldon assured the Associated Press that he was ready to play, and that he’d be back in two weeks. Of course, the earliest possible date of his reinstatement, November 17th, came and went without so much as a peep from the league front office.
Over the next few weeks, Aldon and Fotion released snippets of him working out on Instagram, displaying that he is indeed in phenomenal shape, and that he was just waiting on the call from Ginger Rog.
He’s still waiting.
Then, on Sunday night, after a Raiders’ win over the Chargers that clinched their first playoff birth in fourteen years, Aldon (or at least someone from his verified account) commented on Khalil Mack’s Instagram Live feed, simply stating “I’m back”. Nothing more, nothing less. Needless to say, the league has not yet echoed his sentiments.
At almost the same time, an announcement was made that Cowboys DE Randy Gregory, who has virtually been suspended since he entered the league in 2015, would be reinstated from his ten-game suspension, despite having failed three drug tests in the past ten months.
What’s the difference between Smith’s and Gregory’s cases, you ask? Aside from their different stages of violations within the league’s code of conduct/substance-abuse policies, we’ve not heard a single peep from Randy Gregory since it was announced that he’d been suspended earlier this season. No workout videos, no interviews, no public statements.
So if it sounds like Goodell has a specific axe to grind with Aldon, it’s because he probably does — and he should. I’m as vocal a critic as there will ever be of the commissioner, but if a guy who was subject to my disciplinary jurisdiction repeatedly and adamantly attempted to tell me how and when to do to my job, I’d do everything in my power to lose him in the system. And the last thing I’d do is reward him with a first-place team vying for the AFC crown.
I want Aldon Smith to back on the field in silver-and-black just as much as the next Raider fan. Hell, I hope it happens tomorrow.
But it’s beyond time to stop treating this situation as though the Raiders and Aldon are somehow being shafted by the league. When he pressed “play” on his phone, Smith made an emphatic statement as to what was most important to him at the time.
It wasn’t playing for the Raiders then. How do we know it’s any different now?
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