ESPN college football analyst Robert Smith did a compelling segment on First Take Friday morning in which he discussed his struggles with alcoholism. Smith was forthright about battling addiction and what prompted him to get sober. It looked like a nice departure from the competitive yelling contest that I’ve witnessed the few times that I’ve ever watched the show.
Joe Lucia of Awful Announcing described it as “quite possibly the best segment in the history of” First Take. While I agree that it was an affecting seven minutes of television, I don’t share Joe’s enthusiasm.
Aside from Skip Bayless’ interjections giving the segment the feel of Michael Scott leading a “Diversity Day” program, a question gnawed at me throughout spot.
What did any of it have to do with Aldon Smith?
After all, the point of the segment was to discuss his return to the San Francisco 49ers following a series of off-the-field incidents and a stint in rehab for substance abuse. It even included a clunky chyron with an image of the defensive lineman next to the title “ALDON ACTIVATED.” Yet, aside from the fact that Robert Smith is an admitted alcoholic, no one offered any evidence that he was qualified to speak on Aldon Smith’s situation, let alone speculate on the NFL star’s prospective recovery.
(Note, by the way, that although Aldon did check himself into an in-patient rehabilitation facility, he hasn’t publicly acknowledged that he considers himself to be dealing with addiction issues, nor have we heard that from any of his counselors and physicians with direct knowledge of the situation.)
Personally, I have misgivings in general when it comes to pontificating about how people should deal with their demons. I have a good idea how I’d deal with the loss of a child, but I certainly don’t claim the expertise to critique how Andy Reid or Adrian Peterson choose to do so. Likewise, I don’t feel comfortable trying to interpret what it all means for Josh Hamilton when pictures turn up of him doing tequila shots.
In terms of ethics, though, I view public speculation about a case like this as more than just pundits lacking empathy. It’s irresponsible journalism.
Whatever their personal experiences with addiction may be, Robert Smith
and Skip Bayless have no true insight into Aldon Smith’s actual life.
Giving them a public platform to analyze what should be next for him is
like a mechanic diagnosing what’s wrong with your car based solely on
the knowledge that it won’t start. (Given that neither are trained professionals in dealing with substance abuse, even that analogy is a stretch.)
I have no idea what the genesis of this particular segment was, of course. Maybe Robert has been pushing the ESPN brass to go on and tell his story, and they used Aldon Smith as a hook. What I do know is that it came off like the piece was the clumsy product of a Venn Diagram of "rehab" and "football" in a production meeting.
If the First Take crew think Robert Smith has a story worth telling on TV, I agree. However, shoehorning it into the context of this discussion was grossly unfair to Aldon Smith.