Dallas Cowboys defensive end Aldon Smith had already been suspended from the NFL several years when his ailing grandmother implored him to change his life before she died of complications from Lou Gehrig's disease.
That conversation, and her death last year, were catalysts for Smith trying to get a handle on issues with alcohol, working his way into shape and earning reinstatement nearly five years after he was banished for substance-abuse violations.
“The way I look at where I am now to who I was in the past, I was a young 12-year-old or young teenage boy in a man’s body,” said Smith, who signed a one-year contract with the Cowboys in April and was reinstated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week.
“The way I handled those issues, life, was in that immature manner. With the time I’ve had to work on myself, it’s allowed and given me the chance to grow into the man I am now. So the man on the inside fits how the man on the outside looks.”
Smith's grandmother couldn't speak the last time he saw her because of the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. But before ALS had taken her ability to speak, she told the grandson who had always looked up to her “just to do better,” as Smith recalled it.
“That stuck with me,” he said. “That, her passing, with me being totally defeated and surrendering to the problem that I had with my drinking, I was ready to turn my life around.”
The 30-year-old Smith last played in the NFL with Oakland in November 2015, when he was suspended for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Before that, Smith was a rising star in San Francisco when his legal troubles began in 2013.
The Raiders still had his contractual rights two years ago before releasing Smith after San Francisco police issued an arrest warrant over allegations of domestic violence. A plea agreement was reached in that case.