Former NFL star Aldon Smith returns to league as rookie mentor using troubled past to guide new generation

Former NFL star Aldon Smith returns to league as rookie mentor using troubled past to guide new generation


The name Aldon Smith can invoke many different reactions among NFL fans

One of those reactions could be how much of a beast he was on the gridiron after the San Francisco 49ers took him seventh overall in the 2011 NFL Draft out of Missouri. Smith tallied the most sacks of any player in his first two years in the NFL, racking up 33.5 in 32 games. 

Simply put, many believed the name Aldon Smith was destined for Canton, Ohio – the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

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Aldon Smith was the No. 7 overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Missouri. (Aldon Smith)

But another common reaction when his name is brought up is one of shame or what could’ve been. Off-the-field issues stymied Smith’s career to the point that he was suspended by the league; and in 2021, he was arrested for driving under the influence in San Mateo County, California. Two years later, Smith was sentenced to one year in jail for a felony stemming from the arrest. 

That arrest on Dec. 6, 2021, though, changed Smith’s entire perspective on life. Today, his self-journey, one in which he is sober and focused on the next chapter of life, brings him another opportunity with the NFL. 

This time, it’s not with pads and a helmet but rather his voice.

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“It’s really surreal because, honestly, the draft happened a couple days ago, and it doesn’t seem like that long ago I was drafted,” Smith told Fox News Digital over Zoom. “So, to have the experience I’ve had and the things I’ve gone through and come out and be able to do this is amazing. God is good. I’m just excited because I hopefully can help somebody out.”

Smith will be speaking with the incoming rookie classes for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Las Vegas Raiders, and he will have intimate conversations with players about the most vulnerable parts of his story in hopes of connecting with these young athletes transitioning to the pros. 

This is Smith’s purpose now with his brand and company “Intelligent Movement,” or I.M. for short. His battles with substance abuse, mental health and the law were in the national spotlight, and after defeating his personal demons, Smith is more than just a coach or HR representative for a team talking to these players. He’s walked in their shoes, and he feels it’s his “duty” now to tell those willing to listen how he fought his way out of rock bottom.

“After my experience and everything I’ve gone through and being on the other side of the depression, anxiety, self-hate and the negative self-talk, I feel like it’s my duty to use what I’ve learned and be able to help people out,” he said. “There’s little tweaks and things you can do so that if you’re in a better place, hopefully you’re a better member of society, and we just trickle that on down. Now, we have a better community and it’s a better world.”

Aldon Smith runs on field

Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers runs on the field at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, on Dec. 20, 2014. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

When Smith was released from jail in October 2023 after serving six months of his one-year sentence, he joined fellow NFL retiree Brandon Marshall on his “I Am Athlete” show, where he said he was completely done with football. He also broke down his journey of self-reflection and reshaping the way he looked at his life and those around him. 

For background, Smith’s off-the-field problems started in September 2013 when he was involved in a single-vehicle accident in San Jose, California. He was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and possession of marijuana. He entered a rehab facility, but it was only the start to a downward trend in his football career.

The NFL would suspend him on multiple occasions, including a ban that lasted from 2016 to 2020, before he joined the Dallas Cowboys after his stints with the 49ers and Raiders. The Seattle Seahawks signed him to a one-year contract before the 2021 season, but he didn’t last through training camp.

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As he told Fox News Digital, “I’ve been through the fire,” which is why he’s so excited to share his story with the incoming rookies as well as team veterans, coaches and personnel who want to talk.

You wouldn’t think excited is the word to describe bringing up past transgressions, but Smith is more so looking forward to sharing how he got to the space and mindset he’s in today.

“It’s been a journey. It’s been the biggest gift I’ve ever received,” he said. “I’m super excited to be able to share the tools and things I learned to be able to develop that relationship and go from where I was to where I am now and where I’m headed.”

“I tell people being in the same body and having a completely different outlook on life is pretty wild. That kind of sounds weird, but when you think one way and see life through the lense that you saw it through for most of your life, and then you go through experiences, and you see things in a different way, I don’t know how to really put it into words.”

Aldon Smith looks down with praying hands

Aldon Smith is ready to tell his story to inspire the next generation of athletes. (Justen Williams)

And Smith knows this experience will double as his own form of therapy.

“It is,” Smith said when asked if these conversations with teams will help him as well. “Because it’s what I’m here for, it’s what I care about. But it’s also good to keep that constant rhythm and practice. That’s what’s really important. When you’re working on a new area of your life, and it’s uncomfortable, you have to be consistent with it. You have to stay in it.”

“If I can be somebody who’s doing the educating, or I’m being educated, I’m with it.”

The Jaguars and Raiders are only the start of what Smith hopes to be a new, bountiful relationship with teams across the NFL. He’s hoping that, other than the rookie class, he can also provide help for those players getting ready to transition out of the league.

“I honestly really enjoy talking to the guys who are leaving now because that, in my opinion, is the hardest transition,” he said. “You take guys, we’ve been in that environment for 20-plus years, in that structured environment, and then it’s over? Doesn’t matter how much money you have or whatever, it’s tough going from this to that.”

Smith is walking proof that mistakes, no matter how large or how public, can be rectified. Of course, every decision has its consequences, and Smith lived through those.

But in this next chapter of life, one in which art and music have also helped him become a better version of himself, Smith wants to make sure his journey in the NFL isn’t one the next generation will have to go through.

Aldon Smith smiles

Former NFL star Aldon Smith is hoping that being vulnerable about his troubled past will help NFL players, coaches and more. (Justen Williams)

That message will come from deep, intimate conversations, but Smith’s biggest takeaway from it all is that every athlete understands he must develop a great relationship with themselves first.

“Get to know you,” Smith said. “That’s not just the side of you that you’re there for. It’s that offseason, ‘What do you like? What are you passionate about?’ If it is football or whatever else, what makes you happy? Whether it’s popular or not, let’s build you into the best version of yourself.”

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“I look at life kind of like a treadmill we all start out on, and at some point, we all fall off. Whether it’s a trauma or some adversity we face, we stop, and it’s important to get back on and keep moving forward. You’re never too old, you’ve never done anything you can’t recover from. Just get back on the treadmill and keep running.”

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