The San Francisco 49ers ended their latest chapter of chaos on Friday after releasing talented linebacker Aldon Smith following his arrest Thursday for suspicion of driving under the influence, hit and run and vandalism. The team’s stalwart fans are quickly becoming frustrated over the current state of affairs for a squad that two years ago were five yards from the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl title.
“I can empathize with the team for giving him chances,” said Peter Abela, a trainer at a San Francisco law firm and a Niner fan. “His situation should have been assessed deeper and sooner. The decision by the team to let him go should have been done much sooner.”
Across San Francisco and down to Santa Clara – the home of the team’s new Levi’s Stadium – there is a growing sense of chaos that has engulfed the 49ers over the past few years. Thursday’s incident marks the 12th time a San Francisco player has been arrested or had charges filed against him since January 2012, most in the NFL.
While Abela believes the team may have things under control in the locker room, “it is pretty clear to fans and the media the current ownership group is not making favorable decisions for the betterment of the team.”
Smith’s troubles with the law are not new, dating back to January 2012 when he was arrested for DUI suspicion. That charge was reduced to reckless driving. Then in 2013 he was again charged with DUI. He missed five games that season after entering a rehabilitation center. As a result of that arrest, he was suspended nine games at the beginning of the 2014 season.
Smith, a former first-round draft pick who the 49ers chose seventh overall in 2011, is the second high-profile player to have been jettisoned by the team this year after lineman Ray McDonald, who was charged with domestic violence.
Head coach Jim Tomsula told reporters that despite Smith’s release, the organization will do what it can so Smith can be “supported and helped”, adding: “He will not have to walk this path alone, and that comes from ownership down. We’re not worried about football. It has nothing to do with football.”
In a short statement released on Friday, the team said that “although he is no longer a member of this team, our support and concern for him will continue.”
But for fans who largely care mainly about what happens on the field, there is a real sense that the 49ers’ ownership and management of the team is losing its grip on maintaining a cohesive atmosphere where winning can come to fruition.
“I think something is really wrong with the team,” said Jason Nelson, a 39-year-old marketing consultant and season ticket holder. Nelson admitted that he doubts the team is going to be competitive this season. “I just don’t know how it can happen. There has been just too many problems and to be optimistic is very hard. We lose one of our best players on defense and now it looks pretty unorganized. I wonder who is in charge.”
That sentiment was echoed by San Mateo sports bar manager Mark Oaks, who has not missed a 49er game since 2000, whether in person at home games or on television.
“This is really a fall from grace for this team and we as fans really feel it,” he said on Thursday evening. “We all feel that there is no leadership and the team appears to be in disarray. Nobody is stepping in to mold this team and I don’t think they will be competitive this year, not because of talent, but because of all these issues keep coming up.”