How desperate are Jim Harbaugh, Trent Baalke and Jed York for a victory Sunday and just about any day?

Desperate enough to let Aldon Smith suit up against Indianapolis no matter what he has done in the days and hours beforehand?

Maybe that's how the 49ers are willing to view themselves now: Smith is a great player, so he plays, because to the 49ers perhaps the only fact that matters about great players is that they are great.

So desperation and coddling prevail, which is typical and at times logical in the NFL and the sports world at large, of course.

But what if the 49ers took a stand, benched Smith, and won the game anyway? Wouldn't that be a statement worth something?

Smith was arrested around 7 a.m. Friday on suspicion of driving under the influence and marijuana possession, booked and jailed.

But Smith, last season's team MVP, made it to practice that day and Harbaugh said he expected Smith to play Sunday.

This was not Smith's first off-field incident, only the first one that became publicly known as it happened.

Harbaugh refused to discuss how this situation is different from when Demarcus Dobbs was arrested for suspicion of DUI on a Friday last year and did not travel with the team and was inactive that Sunday in St. Louis.

Harbaugh wasn't asked but surely would've refused to discuss how Smith's situation is different from the 49ers' suspension of running back Brandon Jacobs late last season after Jacobs used social media to criticize the way the team had treated him.


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The unspoken explanation: Smith is a much better player than Dobbs and Jacobs, and that's the only explanation the 49ers need.

Is that it? The 49ers are dying for a victory after last Sunday's humbling in Seattle and will do anything to make sure their most dynamic defensive player is in uniform?

Or maybe York, Baalke and Harbaugh can take a step back -- just for one Sunday -- and see things from a wider perspective of logic and fair counsel.

We'll find out about 90 minutes before kickoff Sunday when Smith is either announced as part the active 46-man roster or not.

Despite Harbaugh's quick assurance Friday, I don't think the 49ers would have made a final decision on Smith's status only hours after Smith's arrest and release.

And, by the way, I don't think it's an easy decision, either. Smith is presumed innocent until proved guilty, and there could be other factors involved.

This is not meant to be a moralistic screed. It's complicated.

Right here, let me point out that I understand that coaches, G.M.s and players are paid to win games, not lead good-behavior crusades.

Plus, the 49ers know that the NFL will almost certainly hit Smith with a suspension once the process plays out; the 49ers do not want to enforce double-jeopardy on Smith or themselves.

Beyond that, they will end up paying Smith for this game whether he plays or not, and the 49ers want to get every penny of QB-chasing value from Smith.

But if the 49ers can get past the focus on one game, we can examine the larger issues that point to keeping Smith sidelined Sunday.

  • The moral reason: This is not a court of law. Playing in the NFL is a privilege and a profession for those who have earned it.

    However this case plays out, Smith has given every indication that he has not met those responsibilities lately.

  • The practical reasons: If you fail to hold Smith accountable for putting himself in jeopardy, then you're not valuing those who do show leadership and discipline every day.

  • The fair-play reason: How will the other, non-star players react if Smith gets special treatment?

  • The preventive reason: At some point, the 49ers need to make a public stand against Smith's behavior.

    Smith, driving under the influence, could kill somebody. He could've killed somebody on Friday morning. Will he understand that if the 49ers let him play Sunday?

    Harbaugh has a DUI arrest on his own record, from October 2005 when he was the University of San Diego coach, and he brought it up himself during his interview with Stanford in late 2006 (according to a Stanford Magazine profile).

    I don't bring this up to bash Harbaugh -- it was a solitary mistake. Back then, Harbaugh said the incident made him a better counselor, and I believe that.

    So Harbaugh needs to counsel Smith now. The 49ers need to counsel themselves, and figure out what things they believe in as a franchise.

    If Harbaugh, Baalke and York think deeply on this and decide they need Smith to play, however he behaves, then I will know the single reason why.

    We all will.

    Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.

    SUNDAY'S GAME
    Indianapolis (1-1)
    at 49ers (1-1),
    1:25 p.m. CBS

    INSIDE
    Teammates blame themselves for Frank Gore's slow rushing start. PAGE 6

    SUNDAY'S GAME
    Indianapolis (1-1)
    at 49ers (1-1),
    1:25 p.m. CBS

    INSIDE
    Teammates blame themselves for Frank Gore's slow start. PAGE 6