If the prognosis for the 1-2 San Francisco 49ers wasn’t bad enough, it could be getting worse.
In the last two games, both of which resulted in losses, the 49ers’ defense gave up 56 points. Now, the defense must prepare to move on without outside linebacker Aldon Smith.
The Smith saga began early Friday morning. Authorities responded to a report of a single car accident in San Jose around 7 a.m. on Friday. Smith was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence, as well as possession of marijuana. As the AP report indicates, this was not Smith’s first run-in with police, including a previous suspicion of DUI in January of 2012.
Smith was allowed to play against the Indianapolis Colts with the understanding that he would seek some kind of help after the game. With the move to the reserve/non-football injury list earlier Monday, Smith did just that.
Early indications are that Smith is saying and doing all the right things. Smith addressed the problem with media and voluntarily sought to enter a rehabilitation program.
“I am taking a leave of absence to address my health,” Smith said in a press release from the 49ers website. “I am sorry that I have affected my team, my family and the organization. I will do everything in my power to handle this situation the best way possible. I appreciate the support of the 49ers and our fans.”
Likewise, the 49ers are handling the situation with caution. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported on Monday that Smith could miss as much as a month in his rehab program and San Francisco will not activate him from the non-football injury list until he has been cleared by doctors to return.
However, Smith is just a microcosm of a much larger behavioral issue across the NFL.
Prior to the beginning of the season, USA Today’s Brent Schrotenboer discussed this problem. Just from the Superbowl on Feb. 3 to the publishing of the article on Sept. 5, NFL players were arrested or charged with crimes 37 times. DUIs made of 10 of these 37 incidents, more than one-fourth of all behavioral incidents.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been successful in improving the arrest rate of players since he took the position. In the 12 months following April 2006, players were arrested 79 times. In the year 2012, arrests reached an all-time low under Goodell at just 47. However, the league has failed to reduce DUI arrests. In 2004-2005, there were 27 DUI arrests, compared to 29 in 2012-2013.
Granted, the league understands that there is a DUI problem in the league. NFL senior vice president Adolpho Birch told USA TODAY Sports that, “the current level of deterrence associated with a DUI is insufficient.” Birch also said that the league wants to replace fines to first-time DUI offenders with mandatory suspensions.
Regardless, there is no excuse for the NFL’s DUI problem. In the past, the NFL had a phone number available to all players for a chauffeur service to avoid just that. Now, for 17 NFL cities, there’s an app for that.
CEO John Glavin of Florida-based Corporate Security Solutions Inc., which runs the chauffeur program, may have put it best: “We can’t make them make the phone call.”
A column by USA Today’s Christine Brennan agreed with Glavin.
“The NFLPA can throw all the smartphone technology it wants at the issue of drunk driving, but it will never be enough,” Brennan wrote. “Players always will want to show off their cars, even more so when they aren’t thinking clearly. They’ll say they are OK to drive home no matter how drunk they are. And they will always be concerned that teams can track their use of the app, potentially getting them into trouble in whole new ways.”
As Brennan points out, the chauffeur service is available to everyone. It was available to former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent before he got behind the wheel and killed teammate Jerry Brown, just as it was available to Smith on Friday morning.
Although the NFL Players’ Association wants to protect its players from suspension, “suspensions are the only answer for the worst single criminal problem in the NFL.”