At age 34, Aldon Smith could probably get another NFL tryout if he wanted. Instead, he has put football in his rear-view mirror as he embarks on living life sober and pursuing other things.
“I’m done with ball,” Smith told host Brandon Marshall on Monday’s episode of Marshall’s “I Am Athlete” podcast. “I’ve been working on me at a deep level . . . now that I get to let people see this version of me, I’m excited about it.”
Smith was released from San Mateo County Jail on Oct. 4 after serving six months for felony DUI stemming from arrest after rear-ending a work truck on an off-ramp on Dec. 6, 2021. Smith, whose life has included previous arrests for DUI and domestic violence as well as repeated NFL suspensions for violating the substance abuse policy, agreed to a plea deal for the sixth months in jail plus five years of probation.
In an emotional hour-long interview with Marshall, diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) in 2011 and now a mental health advocate, the two shared their journeys in terms of personal growth with Marshall doing as much or more sharing than Smith.
Smith said he is only now ridding himself of the self-loathing that pushed him toward alcohol during his football career with the 49ers (2011-14), Raiders (2015-17), Cowboys (2020) and Seahawks (2021).
In 50 games with the 49ers, Smith had 44 sacks, including a franchise record 19 1/2 in 2012. He was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year after being the No. 7 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft out of Missouri.
Smith was released by the 49ers after a third DUI — which followed a league suspension as well as a five-week stint in rehab. Problems continued after he left the 49ers as he was suspended as a member of the Raiders as well.
“I am a beautiful person. I’ve been through a lot, I’ve achieved a lot, I’ve experienced a lot and I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs,” Smith said. “I’m in such a better place than I was and I feel I’ve made it over a hump.
“I’ve made it to a place where I love myself where in the past I had everything, but I really didn’t love that version of me. I’m in a happy place and I feel like I can help other people get in that same type of space.”
Smith didn’t delve deeply into his time with the 49ers or other teams, with Marshall probing for root causes rather than detailing past transgressions.
Drinking began for Smith in college, but steadily increased as he dealt with stardom.
“I struggled with anxiety. I didn’t know it was anxiety back then,” Smith said. “I just knew I needed something before I go out. That’s how you disguise it in your mind. Maybe it’s a fundraising event, or just going out after a game, it becomes such a norm.”
Smith told Marshall he is currently making plans for a documentary and a book.
Other observations from Smith:
— “I didn’t grow up with coaches kissing my ass. I was never told I was the best. I had a chip on my shoulder the whole time. I was still a little kid inside so I had to doctor it up any time I’m around other people. That’s the way it was most of the time I was in the league.”
— “I was going through a lot. I got cut with the Niners, I had just got out of a relationship. Those two breakups catapulted me into this cycle and before I know it I’m gone for five years out of the league.”
— “I didn’t take football serious. Football was like going to P.E., going to rec, going to work out. I’m going to do this, then I’ll be home later on. I’d play a game, go do something reckless, but I didn’t know I had this relationship with alcohol. It was all a learning process.”
— “I’m alone. I don’t have a home. I am my home. People don’t understand in the situation I’m in, with everything I dealt with, I want people to understand the magnitude of me trying to open up.”
— “I think I’m in a good relationship with myself. I’m trying to be consistent with the person. Consistent self-discipline is the thing I used to turn my life around.”
— “Growing up as a kid, I was always in a creative space. I played soccer, I played basketball. My mom worked for a company that gave residence for people who moved to where I was living in Cedar Rapids like Kosovo, Rwanda, refugees, people from Katrina. We were used to working with the community. I was in a space of being around different people. It gave me a lot of empathy growing up.”
— “I’m blessed with a lot of talents and gifts and I want to get to all of those. I did the athletic part. I’ve got so many parts and avenues let me test it out.”
— “I got arrested Dec. 6, 2021 and I’m sitting in jail saying, ‘Why am I here?’ I’m so over this cycle. I’m so tired. I didn’t have no money. I was done with ball. All of me was done. That reality put me in a position where I had to either go this way real quick or (that) way. And that’s where my life changed. I’m done with survival mode. I can’t blame nobody else. It’s nobody else’s fault.”