Despite all their winning, and though they remain title contenders, the 49ers are fast becoming better known for off-field issues. Forget Super Bowl champion Seattle, the 49ers are their own biggest foe.
The latest incident involves linebacker Aldon Smith, who as the Bay Area News Group first reported was arrested Sunday at Los Angeles International Airport and booked on charges of making a false bomb threat. Per an LAPD spokesperson, Smith was selected for secondary screening while going through security at the airport and became "belligerent and uncooperative" with a TSA agent.
At some point, the word "bomb" was mentioned and the 49ers were back in the gossip news. The spokesperson claims Smith indicated "he was in possession of a bomb."
Who knows if Smith got upset because he felt he was being racially profiled? No doubt, those random selections don't always feel random.
Perhaps he was just irritated and fired off a snarky remark out of frustration. Maybe he upset the TSA agent and he or she decided to hop on the walkie-talkie and make Smith's life difficult. Who knows?
Either way, the end result is the 49ers are back in the news for the wrong reasons.
This isn't a new phenomenon with this team, yet the latest in an undeniable trend of unprofessionalism and irresponsibility. The 49ers have been a magnet for these off-the-field issues in recent years. More is expected of winning franchises, let alone one that once prided itself on good conduct.
The solution is relatively simple: Apply some consequences. Supporting your athletes is one thing, but the 49ers' reaction to these recurring incidents is enabling.
It's time to start fining and suspending people. Yes, you're innocent until proven guilty. There is something to be said for letting things play out. But the 49ers have had so many of these, they've got an image problem to restore.
You get arrested, you get suspended. You bring bad press for irresponsible behavior, you get fined.
While they're at it, bring in Harry Edwards or the like to help groom these young men.
Chris Culliver's homophobic comments stole the attention during the 49ers' trip to Super Bowl XLVII. Then came the offseason and Ahmad Brooks breaking a beer bottle over a teammate's head. Smith's DUI and rehab stint dominated the headlines once the season was underway. This offseason has been a reality show starring general manager Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh.
And last week, quarterback Colin Kaepernick grabbed headlines with his involvement in a suspicious incident in Miami, which allegedly involved three NFL players, a woman, a bong and her waking up in the hospital. For good measure, Culliver got back into the act with a hit-and-run accident that had him in court last week.
Even if the reported facts aren't accurate, it's still not a pretty picture being painted. Even if each of the situations is explainable and fixable, collectively they make a proud organization look like a reality show. So what's next for the 49ers? Who will lead this franchise out of the cycle of arrests and investigations and bickering and silliness?
The front office seems to be lacking such a presence. Harbaugh is too much a part of the drama, and Baalke prefers to work too far behind the scenes. That leaves owner Jed York, as perhaps it should. He has his own public shortcoming, having signed off on the decision to let Smith practice within hours of his DUI arrest and play two days later before heading to rehab.
But he's the best hope to restore the sense of class that used to be synonymous with the 49ers. And in the end, he's responsible for setting that tone.
So far, these off-the-field issues haven't stopped the 49ers from winning. It could be argued they won't.
Maybe the 49ers feed off this, these issues creating that us-against-the-world environment they need. Maybe this is just what happens when you're a good team, under a microscope and existing in a 24-hour news cycle. Maybe these are the necessary evils that come with getting players who fit the 49ers style of play -- edgy, physical, stubborn.
The smart money, though, is on this catching up to the 49ers at some point. Distractions like these tend to become too much to overcome. They breed dysfunction, which impacts everything from focus to chemistry to contract negotiations.
The 49ers' inability to get this under control risks deteriorating the winning foundation they've built.
"We want to be above reproach in everything," Harbaugh said last June when discussing the Seahawks' PED suspensions.
Above reproach? Ha. Looks more like the 49ers' goal is to be above the Kardashians in TMZ clicks.
Read Marcus Thompson II's blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/thompson.