Give Aldon Smith the benefit of the doubt and there’s still reason to be worried

November 27, 2020 - Oakland, CA, USA - Oakland Raiders fans in The Black Hole section of the stadium are ready for the team’s game against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016 at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. The Raiders defeated the Panthers 35-32 (Photo by Jeff Siner/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

With rather sparse details about the latest Aldon Smith news, there has been a lot of back and forth over whether or not it’s too early to have a reaction. Given the rapid nature of news with instant reactions, I wanted to sit down and try to look at the situation from all angles.

What We Know

The San Francisco Police Department was called out on a domestic incident sometime Saturday morning and Aldon Smith is mentioned in the report for that call. We also know that Aldon Smith is not the party who reported the incident to the police. In a statement made to ESPN, the SFPD said Aldon Smith  “is cooperating with the SFPD and the reporting party.”

Is that enough information to develop an opinion on the situation? I believe so and here’s why. If you look at all of the conceivable potential scenarios, the majority of them would justify a level of concern that the incident would impact Smith’s attempt to be reinstated. Don’t worry, we will go through all of those scenarios in a minute, but first, let’s look at what I mean by “justify a level of concern” regarding Smith’s situation.

Standard of Review

I’m a lawyer. And in appellate law, there is a term “standard of review” that translates from legalize to English to basically mean: What level of scrutiny will we apply to a given situation. For example, many have noted that Aldon Smith hasn’t been arrested and therefor we have no reason to be worried yet. That would imply that the situation would not impact Smith’s application for reinstatement unless Smith was arrested, but that’s far too lenient of a standard.

Remember, Smith wasn’t just suspended, he was kicked out of the NFL and given a date when he would be allowed to apply for reinstatement. Smith did so and Rodger Goodell decided to put off the decision until at least March. We don’t know for sure why Goodell made this decision. Some have theorized that Smith had a bad meeting with Goodell. Scott Bair of CSN Bay Area has theorized that the NFL wanted to wait until Smith’s next court date passed.

But regardless of the reason, the message it sends is clear: Rodger Goodell is unsure as to whether or not he wants to allow Aldon Smith back into the league.

So let’s be clear here, the ONLY standard of review that matters is Rodger Goodell. There is no guideline in the collective bargaining agreement that outlines how he must make this decision. It is left up to his own personal judgment. If Goodell wanted, he could decide not to reinstate Smith based solely on the fact that he doesn’t like this being in the news. If Goodell believes having reports of police contact with Smith would make it look bad for the NFL to reinstate him, he can deny Smith’s application right now. Would that be “fair”? Maybe not, but fairness is not the standard we are working with, as much as you may wish it was.

Potential Scenarios

There are a million situations of what could have happened with all kinds of variations so I’m going to use broad terms and do my best to give Smith the benefit of the doubt by offering lots of scenarios that involve no guilt on his part.

Smith Did It

We have to cover this, but it’s ok because it’s quick. What if Aldon Smith committed an act of domestic violence?

His career is over.

Ok, moving on.

Smith Didn’t Do It and the Woman is Making it Up

I want to be clear about one thing with this scenario. I am addressing it because I am giving Smith the benefit of the doubt for argument’s sake, but with this precursor: This is FAR too often assumed by many as what happens in these situations. People want to talk about jumping to reactions while simultaneously blaming a women they know nothing about.

Now let’s get into it.

What if this is the case? Should you still be concerned? Yup.

I know you might not want to hear that and if so, go re-read my comments about “fairness” in regards to this situation. Goodell could easily decide that Smith needs to keep better company. Goodell expects that Smith be on his best behavior if he wants to be reinstated. In Goodell’s mind, that may mean cutting out any people he knows could create problems and not bringing any new people into his life until he is reinstated.

That seems kinda tough, right? Well this isn’t about staying out of jail, it’s about getting back into the NFL. Smith has no rights in this situation. This isn’t a court of law, it’s the Kangaroo Court of Goodell. And the fact of the matter is, playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right. In this case, Aldon Smith has to earn that privilege by making Goodell happy.

The Incident Involved One of Smith’s Friends and Not Him

See comments above regarding the fact that Goodell might want Smith to be very careful about who he associates with.

Smith Was a Random Bystander

Let’s say Smtih was in a condominium complex and the police were called to a domestic incident at his neighbor’s condo. But because of what happened, the police felt the need to knock on some of the neighbors doors and ask some questions. Smith answers, is questioned and as a result, is listed in the report.

This is the only scenario that I can imagine where there is almost no reason to worry about Aldon Smith’s status. Pure wrong place at the wrong time kind of thing. Why do I say “almost no reason”?  I think it’s VERY unlikely at all that this fact pattern would end in a negative result for Smith but I also wouldn’t say it’s completely out of the realm of possibility. Because again, remember: Kangaroo Court of Goodell.


There is ample reason to be concerned that the recent news about Aldon Smith will impact Rodger Goodell’s decision on whether to reinstate him. It could mean denying that request, or could simply mean pushing the date back even further. This is a situation where we might not get all of the facts right away and with March quickly approaching, Goodell might decide he won’t be ready to make a decision in March as he previously believed.

The news definitely doesn’t mean Smith for sure isn’t getting back into the NFL, but it’s also not something that can just be easily dismissed. There is a good chance it impacts his application for reinstatement one way or another.

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james arcellana

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