And so the cycle begins anew.
Once again we find an elite athlete in the news for off the field reasons. Once again we find a franchise that is saying all the right things in front of the camera in support of one of their stumbling colleagues; but at what point do they say enough is simply enough and part ways with the troubled star? Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is one of the most talented wide receivers in the League right now. He is also the only wideout in NFL history to have back-to-back 200 yard games. Drafted in 2012, Gordon’s three year touchdown tally is comparable only to Jerry Rice and Randy Moss. Some may say his combination of athleticism and route-running make him the better of both Rice and Moss. But in order for that to subject to truly be debated, Gordon has to be able to remain both on the field and in the League, an obstacle for which his current actions are planting the seeds of demise.
While his place in wide receiver lore is subject to great interpretation and debate, one thing that isn’t debatable is that Gordon is in danger of destroying his career. On Saturday, July 5th, Gordon, who was already slated to miss four games in the upcoming NFL season due to substance abuse issues that many insiders believe pertained to his marijuana usage, was arrested for suspected DWI in Raleigh, North Carolina. Indianapolis Colts linebacker and former Cleveland Browns team captain D’Qwell Jackson sent out a tweet imploring friends of Gordon to help him.
“If you’re close to Josh Gordon please help this kid, it’s not about football anymore. It’s about picking up the pieces of his life.”
And he’s right. This isn’t about football anymore. In fact, it stopped being about football years ago when Gordon was a college football player at Baylor University and then later at the University of Utah. Marijuana use got him suspended from Baylor’s football team in 2010, and a year later, he received a second suspension from Coach Art Briles for the same violation. After transferring to Utah in 2012, he failed another drug test, which he admitted to after being drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the Supplemental Draft.
With all this in mind, the Browns draft this man and hope against logic that he will crush his addiction beneath his feet and soldier on to football glory. Sadly, that’s simply not how the human mind works. Addictions, like work ethic, are habits that have been formed over years. While America has long been called the land of second chances, professional athletes in general are known to get an infinite number of chances. In June 2013, the NFL announced Gordon would be suspended for the first two games of the 2013 season because he violated the league’s substance abuse policy. Then, in May 2014, it was reported that Gordon would be suspended for the entire 2014 season because of a second failed drug test. That decision was then appealed with a court date set in late July. However, with this latest stumble over substance abuse, Josh may not have a legal leg to stand on as far as an appeal goes. Yet, through it all, the Cleveland Browns organization has been surprisingly silent.
"We are aware of the matter and are disappointed to learn of this situation. We will comment further at the appropriate time," Farmer said in a statement.
That’s it? That’s all? The NFL’s history is littered with the careers of players who could not get a handle on their vices. With that in mind, and also given the prolonged history of Gordon’s substance abuse issues, why was there not a contingency plan already in place? While perusing the cable sports networks one is bound to find at least one pundit on each station who tows an achingly liberal viewpoint on the matter. They would rather give Gordon yet ANOTHER chance to get his life straight on his own accord, but doing so will only find the Cleveland Browns holding the bag yet again. But the Browns’ management is all over rookie Johnny Manziel for enjoying his summer with celebrity friends. Clearly, they’re barking up the wrong tree. One might even say they’re attempting to reign in Manziel so he doesn’t end up like Gordon.
Now we do recognize the fact that there are certain rules mandated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement that protect both players and teams in situations like this, but sometimes the protections in place actually become the force that hinders progress and healing for both parties. The Browns are more attentive and protective of Manziel and his legal activities than they are of Gordon and his illegal activities. Why is it not ok for a team to enforce the Commissioner’s emphasis on player conduct and cut ties with a player who has continued to deceive, and negatively impact, their organization? Yes, they drafted him and took the risk, but at a certain point, the term “addition through subtraction” applies, and this is that point Cleveland.
But it’s not all your fault. You did not create this addiction for Gordon; he brought that upon himself and continues to let it ruin an otherwise amazing start to a promising career as an NFL wide receiver. Gordon is a grown man who needs to replace some of his tattoos with Corinthians 13:11- “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” He needs to take responsibility for his life, his career, and the commitment he made to his team, fans and city that gave him this opportunity the minute he signed his name to that contract. If you’re man enough to issue the contract, and if you’re man enough to sign the contract, you should be man enough to do what’s necessary to abide by, and enforce, the spirit of the contract.
NFL fans who were of age back in 1989 recall a similar circumstance had befallen then Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Cris Carter. He was cut by then head coach Buddy Ryan for his shenanigans and later credits Ryan for helping to save his life. As our generation would say, “he got some act right.” However, the modern road to sobriety seldom finds players on the waiver wire. This is especially so considering the pressures to win that modern NFL coaches find themselves under. Apparently, organizations are more and more willing to put up with this kind of nonsense in the hopes that an elite level athlete can sober up just long enough to help them to a championship. In many cases, individuals who suffer from the scourge of addiction are wrapped up in its tendrils for the rest of their lives while former head coaches move on to other cities or as talking heads on the local sports network. Fair? Who ever said anything about fair? That’s just the way the life of a professional athlete is in a society where players are used up like resources and discarded like peanut shells.
While we are oversimplifying this very complex matter in many ways, one can only go by what is written in concrete before our eyes. On the other hand, the reality of this situation, and its resolution, is simple. We feel like the very best thing for Josh Gordon, Aldon Smith and a litany of players who have had repeated issues of substance are to be automatically suspended from the league indefinitely, with monthly drug tests, and an annual review to see whether the player is ready to return to the NFL. While these measures might appear to be Draconian, and probably would never be agreed upon by the Player’s Association, it is said that harsh measures breed strong men, both physically and mentally. A player’s body should be their temple, and their source of income, so why not manage it with great stringency? Are you paying attention Josh Gordon? Man up and play by the rules that exist for everyone in The League. Drug suspensions, followed by a DWI, is descending trend that could lead to more than being out of the NFL. Take control of your actions and your life, otherwise, the notion that players are simply pawns to be used and discarded at the whim of ownership will continue to reign.
Because a coach didn’t put up with his crap back in 1989, Cris Carter lived long enough to see himself inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If you saw his reactions at that moment of acceptance, you would understand that his emotions were a manifestation of his time on the field, and what could have happened if Buddy Ryan hadn’t administered an old school, tough love decision. If someone in the Browns’ organization doesn’t put their foot down soon, Gordon won’t live long enough to play in the Hall of Fame Bowl in 2015, let alone be inducted into it.
So to both Josh Gordon and The Browns organization, send a message by taking the necessary steps as a man to eliminate the childish behavior that hampers both of you.