As you surely know by now, the Baltimore Ravens’ top cornerback, Jimmy Smith, was recently handed down a four-game suspension to begin the 2018 season, and one of the four games that he is slated to miss is a key early primetime game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While that was the angle that I focused on while first covering the story, given that the Steelers are the primary focus of this website, I do regret largely glossing over what he was suspended for when the NFL described as evidence of “a pattern of improper conduct” consisting of “threatening and emotionally abusive behaviors”. This stems from a petition filed by a former girlfriend and the mother of his first child that accused him of domestic violence.
While teammate Eric Weddle lamented the suspension, saying that it was “hard to fathom arguing” with a significant other, “never touching her and that gets you a suspension”, others are not so prepared to let the nature of this incident go, including at least one writer of the Baltimore Sun, who argued that the team should have released him.
Smith has a history of off the field issues dating back to his college career. A number of teams removed the 6’2”, 211-pound cornerback from their boards entirely because of his maturity issues and history of prior arrests and failed drug tests.
He has also been arrested, thrown out of a night club, and suspended for violating the performance-enhancing substances policy over his eight-year career with the Ravens. Mike Preston argues that the team would have released him a long time ago if they had better depth at cornerback or didn’t owe him so much money.
He’s surely not wrong. But it got me to wondering. Could we really say any differently of the Steelers, who stood behind Ben Roethlisberger when he clearly did things that he shouldn’t have been doing in a bathroom in Georgia eight years ago?
Every team stands behind the majority of some of their more important players when they get into issues with drugs and minor sexual or violent misconduct. The business of football is winning games, and cutting good players doesn’t help you do that.
Would Smith still have a job with the Steelers right now? That’s ultimately the question I’m asking, and I think the answer is probably yes. While they’ve long be regarded as sort of a moral compass for the league, the truth is that they have backed plenty of players who have acted inappropriately off the field.
We don’t know the exact details of the incidents that took place between Smith and his former girlfriend, but they were clearly more than serious enough to get the league’s attention. The Ravens, one would assume, did more than their due diligence on this one with the specter of Ray Rice hanging over them. But they also have a head coach who has missed the postseason in four of the past five years.