If you haven’t noticed, there’s a tale of two “Joshes” many have ignored, especially since the baseball/football seasons have overlapped.
As Josh Hamliton prepares to help the Texas Rangers move on to the American League Championship Series, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon sits out the current NFL season.
Gordon and Hamilton.
Two star athletes and two careers derailed by drugs.
If you’re keeping score at home, Hamilton is a cocaine user. Gordon has smoked weed. Hamilton is pitied. Gordon is pilloried.
Gordon and Hamilton were ballyhooed prospects when they let drugs and alcohol dominate their lives, but that's where the similarities end in how media covered them.
Hamilton recently confessed to MLB that he used drugs and alcohol. Earlier this season, an independent arbitrator ruled than MLB couldn’t suspended him. The Angels, along with MLB, who has a history of uneven suspensions, called BS on the ruling:
"It defies logic that Josh's reported behavior is not a violation of his current program,” team president John Carpino told reporters. He went on to say that the team “has serious concerns about Josh's conduct, health and behavior, and we are disappointed that he has broken an important commitment, which he made to himself, his family, his teammates and our fans."
Once the Angels realized that their hands were tied, they traded Hamilton to the Texas Rangers, the team he resurrected his career with.
Hamilton’s rise from drug addict to American League MVP was the stuff of legend. After years of staying clean, Hamilton started to become the player most thought he would be.
Hamilton failed his first drug test in 2003. Next, MLB suspended him for the season after he failed two additional drug tests. He was out of baseball for nearly three years when the Cincinnati Reds gave him a shot to continue his career. Before Hamilton’s recent setback, he relapsed in 2009 when he admitted that several photos posted by Deadspin.com was of him shirtless in a Tempe, Arizona bar drinking with several women.
Back in 2012, Hamilton was in talks to have a movie adaptation of the book he co-wrote about his life called “Beyond Belief: Finding The Strength To Come Back.” The movie was supposed to take an angle demonstrating Hamilton’s Christian faith.
Gordon’s troubles started when he was in college at Baylor University. In 2010, Gordon was found asleep by police in a teammate’s car when they found weed. A year later, Gordon was kicked off the team after testing positive for weed. Like Hamilton, he stayed clean for a stretch. He eventually made the Pro Bowl in 2013, only to go through a series of suspensions due to failed drug tests which ultimately culminated into him being suspended for the 2015 season.
I often debate with my friends about the role journalism has in shaping opinions. They say that the media can make one guy look bad while another is raked through the coals. They're right. After all, when typing Josh Hamilton’s name in a Google search engine earlier this year, his team photo came up. When I did the same for Josh Gordon, a picture of his mugshot came up.
One of might say that’s an indication on how a narrative, or a search engine, can shape public opinion.
For some reason, the Rangers outfielder is getting the benefit of a doubt that the Cleveland Browns wide receiver has yet to receive.
For instance, Nancy Armour, a USA Today columnist, says Hamilton “needs help, not punishment.” Bleacher Report’s lead MLB columnist Scott Miller, believes the former the AL MVP is “a tortured soul in need of a warm hug.” A Washington Post columnist even suggested that Hamilton’s recent relapse might’ve been the result of boredom during shoulder rehab.
But in regards to the other Josh, the coverage hasn’t been as positive.
Stephen A. Smith of ESPN’s “First Take” said after Gordon’s latest suspension that he was “done with him.” He went on to say that “he harbors no sympathy whatsoever.”
Cris Carter, an ESPN NFL analyst who had similar problems during his own NFL career, told an ESPN radio show that the people around Gordon are culpable:
“Everyone wants to keep coddling him, the same way they did in high school, the same thing they did at Baylor, where he had problems. Eventually it’s going to blow up. Now it’s blowing up in the National Football League, and his career is in jeopardy.”
In case you're wondering, this is when we ought to wonder why most journalists haven't looked into Hamilton's upbringing or the music he listens to, much like they did for countless numbers of Black people who end up on the wrong side of police and "concerned" citizen encounters.
Some may not want to admit it but when whites engage in drug and alcohol abuse, it is viewed in a much different light than when African-Americans who do the same. Here in America, victim-shamimg and past drug use are often reported before any information is given on the people most responsible. Incidents involving Trayvon Martin, Walter Scott and Sandra Bland made “news” of past marijuana use and an assault charge in order to make them seem responsible for their alleged aggressiveness.
One of the few to explore this polarizing realm of possibility was Jamil Smith of The New Republic. Smith said in his article that media members and analysts view Gordon as “the kind of young black man who in a different context might be blithely labeled “at risk,” as if the most risk he causes is to you, not him.” Smith went on to say that “Typically, that is a way to make a young black man like Gordon invisible under the guise of caring about his wellbeing. Alas, he is paid millions to catch footballs for a living, and so a few of those fellow black men who are paid to pontificate on sports have shown a particular interest in saving him.”
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports believes that Hamilton was victim of a “Public Trial.” He also called on media members to apologize to Hamilton when he said “who will apologize to him for the public embarrassment and humiliation he has endured?”
Many African-American athletes know that feeling well. However, no one is asked to write columns asking the masses to apologize to them (Editor’s note: maybe we should).
Before you start to call me a race baiter (not sure what that is exactly), look at these tweets before you start:
Josh Hamilton was a bad signing for my #Angels, but anyone harboring ill will towards an addict due to his contract is gross— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) February 26, 2015
Here’s Gottlieb’s tweet from months earlier when Gordon’s suspension was handed down:
Josh Gordon can go back to selling cars#Browns— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) December 27, 2014
When news of Hamilton’s latest setback hit the masses, phrases like, “Pray for him” and “He can’t beat his demons” were used. When Gordon had his transgressions, he was labeled as “Weed head” and a “thug.”
Our nation’s capital decriminalized lower amounts of weed last year. The law took effect in March of this year. Meanwhile in Ohio, the Browns’ home state has decriminalized weed while Gordon’s home state of Texas has not.
If you have ever been around someone who has a history of drug and/or alcohol abuse, you’re aware that things are going to get worse before they get better. Knowing that, why were Hamilton’s recent struggles viewed as a surprise to many while Gordon’s recent suspension received so much vitriol? That may have to do with who is most likely to get busted or fail to pass a “drop.”
The ethnic backgrounds of people who use drugs recreationally is pretty diverse. However, the demographic of people who fill up America’s courthouses and prisons for drug arrests are young African-American males.
According to a study done by the Drug Policy Alliance, more than 1.5 million drug arrests are made every year in the U.S. – the overwhelming majority for possession only.
The study went on to say that “the drug war has led to unprecedented levels of incarceration and the marginalization of tens of millions of Americans –disproportionately poor people and people of color- while utterly failing to reduce problematic drug use and drug-related harms. The severe consequences of a drug arrest are long-lasting – sometimes life-long. Drug courts, moreover, have not improved matters."
That statement pretty much backs up why most people would connect reckless drug use to someone like Gordon instead of Hamilton, who seems to have a much more prolific history of drug use. While the former Pro Bowler hasn’t helped his cause, he hasn’t deserved the slander he’s experienced thus far.
Gordon’s piece for the Cauldron backs up those sentiments:
“I make no excuses for my past. That culture didn’t make me do anything I didn’t want to do, but when you judge me without actually knowing me, you deny the existence of the world I come from.”
How much is this really about drugs vs race? It appears to dominate the discussion. Will changing laws about weed make things easier for the Gordons' of the future? Probably not.
No matter how any of us feel about the two, one thing is certain, both of the Joshes need help.
Just as Hamilton and Gordon need to change their habits, we as journalists and fans, need to do some rehabilitation of our own.