Photo above: Aldon Smith on the sidelines. (YouTube)
In H.G. Bissinger’s book, Friday Night Lights, the author chronicles the lives of Permian High School’s football team as they pursue another Texas State championship. Bissinger’s account was turned into both a movie and television series, but it is his book that really paints the picture of what happens to young men in a world where football is all that matters. Simply put, in Texas, boys either grow up to do one of two things: play football or disappoint their parents.
One of the young men Bissinger follows is James “Boobie” Miles, a man among boys at Permian High School. At 6’1” and 220 pounds of muscle, Miles was not just the best player on his team, he was among the best high school players in the state of Texas. Permian was determined to ride him to a state championship.
Unfortunately, no one on the Permian High School coaching staff, his teammates, or even Boobie, expected him to blow out his knee. Permian would come up inches short of a title, but the real loser was Boobie Miles who saw just how insignificant he became when he was no longer able to run through defenses and score touch downs.
Boobie Miles was a classic example of a gifted athlete who was allowed to skate though class after class without being held accountable for his academic progress, or lack there of. He was given tests to take with a copy of the answer sheet by teachers who knew Boobie was important to the identity of Permian High School. That is, until he got injured.
His coaches saw him as nothing more than a football player and were determined to use every bit of his talent to win a trophy. Sadly, Boobie was fine with this because he also saw himself as nothing but a football player. In a 60 Minutes on Sports interview, Boobie admitted his mind was on the NFL and nothing else when he was in high school. He had no time for academics because it only served to stand in his way of his dream.
Today, Boobie Miles lives in a Texas state prison where he is the first to admit he deserves to be there because of the choices he made in life. He does not blame anyone even though he knows he was used as a kid and never expected to do anything more in life than run with a football.
Our society is filled with young men like Boobie Miles, many are African-American, who were once gifted athletes and who were also discouraged to consider the possibility of a future built around their brain and not their brawn. For too many, when their glory years were over, they ended up incarcerated. Some day, sooner than later, Aldon Smith will be one of them.
Aldon Smith was a first round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers and Smith enjoyed instant success and stardom in the NFL. Unfortunately, by the time he entered the NFL, he was never expected to be anything but a football player.
At 6’4” and 265 pounds, Smith tore through offensive lineman and terrorized quarterbacks, making him one of the most valuable players on any team he played for. As a result, he entered the NFL with a questionable reputation to go along with his amazing athletic skills.
Desperate to win at all cost, the 49ers drafted him with the idea they could turn him around, or at least hold him in check off the field while getting the most out of him on the field.
Shortly after his first NFL season, Smith was arrested in Florida for a DUI. He and the 49ers would explain how this was an isolated case and would never happen again which is standard operating procedure in the NFL.
Five months later, Smith would suffer stab wounds while breaking up a fight at a party where two others were shot. The biggest concern for both Smith and the 49er coaches was whether or not Aldon would be able to play for the coming season? A little more than three months later, Aldon Smith was charged with illegal possession of an assault rifle.
In most cases, an NFL player would have been cut and released for this behavior, but Smith was such an exceptional talent, San Francisco was not ready to send him packing. Winning at all cost has a way of altering one’s perception of people and no doubt Jim Harbaugh, the head coach at that time, believed Aldon Smith was vital to the 49ers success.
In September of 2013, Smith picked up another DUI along with a charge for possession of marijuana and “voluntarily” enters rehab. Smith had no choice because he had finally done enough to warrant a suspension from the league so this was a way to make everyone think he was getting his act together. He wasn’t. He was merely playing “the game” many others in the NFL play: appearing to get help while really only thinking about his return to the playing field.
The following spring, on April 13, 2014, Smith was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport when he caused a commotion while being searched by TSA. According to TSA, besides being verbally confrontational, he claimed he had a bomb with him. Smith’s explanation was he was making a joke.
His sense of humor along with his behavior earned him a nine game suspension from the league. The 49ers and their fans just hoped they’d still be in the playoff hunt when he returned.
San Francisco failed to reach the playoffs last year for the first time under coach Harbaugh and shortly after the season, Harbaugh left to coach at Michigan.
Meanwhile, the 49ers claimed Aldon Smith had turned the corner in life and was now a respected team leader under their new coach, Jim Tomsula. As a team leader, Smith managed to get himself arrested on August 6th for hit and run, DUI, and vandalism. On August 7th, he was released by the 49ers. They’d finally had enough and believed they had someone good enough to replace him.
In the NFL, the average player’s career is just 3.3 years. However, Aldon Smith is not an average player and on September 11th, he was signed by the Oakland Raiders who made it clear that even though Smith did not attend training camp, he would start and play for them in their opener on September 13th. Aldon Smith is probably a happy camper to not only land another shot in the NFL, but to do so without having to pack up and move is a bonus. Aldon Smith is screwed.
You see, the sad part is Aldon Smith either doesn’t know he is being used or simply does not care because he cannot see himself as anything but a football player. He will never be one of those guys we read about who retires early to go back to school to become a doctor, engineer, or lawyer. You won’t see him anywhere but on the football field or police blotter because that is all that has been expected of him.
Statistics show that Aldon Smith will end up broke, in prison, and/or dead before he is an old man. That’s what happens to just about everyone who is seen as a commodity and not as a human being. They get used for all they are good for and then tossed out like trash when they are of no more use.
Boobie Miles learned this lesson at the ripe old age of 18. Unfortunately, there was no financial investment made in him to make it worth someone’s effort to teach him how to maximize his full potential in life.
However, Aldon Smith has had every chance. He has received a free college education, fat NFL contracts, and has an agent who is financially connected to Aldon in such a way that he wants to see Aldon have a long and fruitful NFL career.
Unfortunately, Aldon Smith can’t be concerned with any of this. He is merely trying to survive playing the most brutal sport in the world while hoping his ways of dealing with it off the field do not land him in any more trouble. In the back of his mind, just as in the back of the minds of his new employers and the Raider fans, Aldon Smith knows he is a ticking time bomb.
No one wants to really help him because that means doing without him on the playing field. Worst of all, Aldon Smith does not want to get the help he needs because it would require him to not play football. Unfortunately, when you see yourself as nothing but a football player, there isn’t time for you to face your demons and get the help you really need.
Jim is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is also the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching. Jim considers himself an equal opportunity pain in the ass to any political party, group, or individual who looks to profit off of hypocrisy. When he is not pointing out the conflicting words and actions of our leaders, the NFL commissioner, or humans in general, he can be found riding his bike for hours on end while pondering his next article. Jim recently moved to Camarillo, CA after being convinced to join the witness protection program.