49er Pays to Play
There’s something about a league doing the right thing and forcing a player to realize what he should already know – that playing professional sports is a privilege not a right. That brings us to the unusual case of San Francisco 49er linebacker Aldon Smith, possibly the first athlete to pay his team to play. Smith is at the end of a nine game suspension which began at the start of the year. His suspension is for both off the field misconduct and substance abuse violations. He was hoping to have his suspension lifted in time for Sunday’s game with the Saints but he shot himself in the foot. Not literally but he might as well have. While he fulfilled his community service portion of the suspension he did not complete his counseling protocol. In other words, he apparently didn’t go to the substance abuse meetings often enough. I admire when a team, like the 49ers, don’t look the other way when a violation involves a star player.
Smith seems to be one of those players who doesn’t think the rules apply to him and now it will cost him, plenty. His latest incident, an arrest for allegedly making a bomb threat at Los Angeles International Airport is far from his first. He’s also been arrested twice for DUI (the second of which led to a stint in rehab), was stabbed at his home, was arrested on gun charges and was involved in wreck in which the car he was in flipped after swerving to avoid a deer. When he came out of college at Missouri, he was considered a risky player because of his poor work ethic. Nevertheless, he’s been a great player when he can stay on the field. He averages a sack a game and is second only to Jared Allen in total sacks over the past three seasons. Those stats must have gone to his head–and now his wallet.
Here’s how his paying to play works. After his suspension he will earn $1.099 million from the Niners. He will net $525,000 from that, which he owes to the team as a forfeiture of his signing bonus. But that’s not all he owes for his signing bonus. He still owes another $661,000 which he will still have to pay the team. So he will actually not make a dime playing this season, and will actually go into the red to the 49ers. Maybe this will finally get the message through to Smith and any other player who thinks he’s above the rules. No matter how many sacks you have, or touchdowns or yards, if you mess up you’ll have to pay.
It would seem to me that playing for millions of dollars and doing what you dreamed about as a kid, would be enough to make you walk a straight line, but we know that’s not always the case. Even if Smith cleans up his act, there will be another guy like him waiting next in line. The bright spot in all of this is realizing that the league, the team and the sport is bigger than Smith – or Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson. Without them, someone else will gladly step in and hopefully realize it’s a privilege to do what they do for a living and the world of sports keeps spinning. Just like Aldon Smith’s head when he realizes he’s going into debt while making millions.