Few athletes have had a more polarizing effect on Cleveland sports fans as Josh Gordon has in his two-plus years as a member of the Cleveland Browns.
On one side, fans are tantalized by the 6-foot, 3-inch wide receiver, who has the ability to preponderate opposing defenses. Gordon’s deathly combination of size and speed make him a force to be reckoned with, and he’s proved that in his first two NFL seasons.
This was especially evident last year as Gordon was one of the league’s best players, leading the NFL in receiving yards with 1,646 yards. Gordon’s success came despite the fact that he missed the first two games of the season with a drug suspension.
This then brings us to the other side of the coin.
Gordon is set to miss the entire 2014 season due to another failed drug test. His drug of choice? Marijuana.
Let the debate begin.
The arguments from Gordon’s supporters are clear and concise.
“Marijuana is legal in Colorado and medical use is legal in 23 states.”
“Marijuana is not physically addictive.”
“It’s not affecting Gordon’s play on the field as evidenced by his 2014 season.”
“How can the NFL suspend Ray Rice for just two games after he knocked out his fiancé yet slap a 16-game suspension on Gordon for smoking pot?”
Every one of these statements is probably accurate, but one key point is being overlooked. Any way you slice it, Gordon broke a rule and the law. Worst of all, it’s a rule that he has continually broken throughout his brief adult life.
Marijuana use is nothing new for Gordon. In October 2010, it got him suspended at Baylor University. One year later, the drug got him kicked out of the school.
He later transferred to Utah where he also failed a drug test for — you guessed it — marijuana.
Since then, Gordon has failed multiple drug tests in the NFL as a repeat offender, which is what has him in the current predicament. Some suggest marijuana is not addictive, but it’s clear that Gordon just can’t seem to stop smoking it.
Gordon has been unable to avoid the temptation of the drug, and it seduces him at every juncture. Consider this point for a minute.
Gordon is just 23 years old, but many key moments of his life have been ruined by smoking pot. In the past, he’s been able to overcome those missteps, and that’s a reflection of just how talented this young man is, but could he now have bitten off more than he can chew?
Or, is it not entirely his fault? He’s still a very young person, and could there be some other outside forces in play here?
It might seem hard to believe, but I tend to support the latter.
On July 5, Gordon was arrested in Raleigh, North Carolina for driving while impaired. That’s certainly not a good look for a player possibly facing a one-year suspension.
But here’s my question? Who exactly has Josh Gordon been surrounding himself with all these years?
What friends would ever let Gordon even come close to operating a motor vehicle after he was drinking, regardless of how much or little he had consumed? This is a player with a lot on the line, and any good friend understands that.
Similarly, what friends are willing to actually smoke pot with Gordon, since they obviously know a suspension would be inevitable if he failed another test? Does Gordon have real friends in his life, or is it just a bunch of lackeys trying to hitch their wagon to his stardom?
Even at Houston Lamar High School in Houston, Gordon likely always had the look of a star, and anyone who saw him knew that. Are these people still trying to ride his coattails?
Has anyone ever actually taken the time to inform Gordon that he is indeed not invincible even though his 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame suggests otherwise?
I wonder if anyone actually has. What other excuse could be used to explain why Gordon continues to mess up at every point?
If I’m Gordon, I take a step back and begin to take a long look at the people in my life. Why are they there and what are they adding? Do they care about me or do they care about what they can get from me?
That’s not an easy task, and change does not come overnight, but it’s a necessary one for Gordon.
Thankfully, there are signs that Gordon has started to just that, and it appears as if he’s taking responsibility for his actions.
After his recent arrest, Gordon made the decision to check himself into a rehabilitation facility in California. Perhaps it’s a little too late in the juncture for this, but it’s better late than never.
Also, it appears as if the Cleveland Browns organization is taking the opposite approach to some of the close people in Gordon’s life.
That was vividly clear on Saturday when Browns owner Jimmy Haslam fielded questions at Training Camp. When asked if releasing Gordon was ever an option, Haslam simply said, “No.”
Haslam’s comments echo those made by Browns head coach Mike Pettine earlier this month. Gordon’s teammate, Browns All-Pro Joe Haden, also made a strong statement on Saturday when he said, “I’m here for JG. I love him like a brother. We’re just here for support and for him to do that is a big step. That means that something’s going on and he’s trying to fix a problem.”
So, here is the charge for Josh Gordon.
Josh, the Cleveland Browns organization is behind you.
Your teammates are behind you.
The city of Cleveland is behind you.
Every one makes mistakes — sometimes many mistakes — but a person is not defined by his or her mistakes. Rather, a person is defined by how he or she overcomes these mistakes.
So, what defines you?
Are you the player who was kicked out of two colleges, and had an NFL end early because of something as trivial as marijuana?
Or, are you the only player in NFL history to record back-to-back 200-yard receiving games in the regular season? Are you the player who crushed every Browns single-season receiving record in just your second year? And is the best yet to come?
At 23 years old, Gordon has his entire career ahead of him. It may seem bleak now, but as each day passes, Gordon becomes one step closer to getting back on the football field.
A man’s life is not defined at age 23. That’s something Gordon needs to remind himself of in the weeks, months and years ahead.