A mystery inside an enigma
Josh Gordon has seen and heard enough. He struck back Thursday in the form of an open letter to Stephen A. Smith, Charles Barkley and Cris Carter, three of his harshest critics.
His wide-ranging, almost-rambling 36-paragraph missive, posted on the Internet by The Cauldron, was carefully worded and composed respectfully for the most part.
The troubled Browns wide receiver, facing a season-long suspension by the National Football League following a failed substance abuse test, does not come off as an officious jerk. If he comported himself as gracefully and artfully as he wrote this letter, he might not be in the trouble he finds himself in.
He writes a lot of it in defensive mode. You say this and this about me, he wrote, but you don’t really know me. Then he goes on offense. “You have very little idea what you are talking about. None of you do, even those who seem curiously obsessed with the goings-on in my life.”
At times, it appeared as though he did not write this letter totally by himself. He had help. For example, in describing his rough upbringing as a youth in Houston, he wrote, ”I succeeded by narrowly avoiding a life of crime that managed to sink its clutches into almost all of my childhood friends.”
If this is an example of how well Gordon writes, he has a future in the literary world if he is unable to resume his NFL career.
Throughout the letter, there is no question he is in a state of denial. He acknowledges he is only a social drinker and claims he hasn’t touched marijuana since college.
“I am not a drug addict; I am not an alcoholic,” he wrote. “I am not someone who deserves to be dissected and analyzed like some tragic example of everything that can possibly go wrong for a professional athlete. . . . I am a human being with feelings and emotions and scars and flaws just like anyone else. I make mistakes – I have made a lot of mistakes – but I am a good person and I will persevere.”
And yet, he keeps getting suspended by the NFL for alcohol and drug abuse. It’s almost as though the league is incorrect in its punishment and he believes he has done nothing wrong.
Barkley, the ex-National Basketball Association great, has gone on record as being fearful that “Josh Gordon will die if he doesn’t change his ways,” an obvious reference to Gordon’s constant problems with the NFL.
Gordon’s dramatic reply: “Respectfully, your worry over my ‘problems’ with substance abuse and my twisting descent into darkness (another literary beauty) and, apparently, my impending death, is misplaced mostly because you have very little idea what you are talking about.”
He deals with Carter more harshly. The Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver, who overcame substance abuse after being cut by the Philadelphia Eagles many years ago, publicly suggested last summer that the Browns should release Gordon following yet another league suspension.
Gordon’s defiant response: “You state as fact that ‘we are dealing with addiction here.’ Know this: We are not dealing with anything, Cris. We’re not the same. Not at all.”
Writing this letter is an open admission by Gordon that he is paying attention to his critics and, at the same time, assuring those who share those fears for him have nothing about which to be fearful. It’s almost as though he believes he is in total control of his life.
Midway through the letter comes a frank admission. “I messed up,” he wrote. Then he copped out. “But to even begin to understand why I messed up, you need to know the Josh Gordon that existed before the NFL.”
He blames his age to a certain degree. “If I have a ‘problem,’ it is I am only 23 years old – with a lot left to learn. . . I truly believe that what I’m going through right now will only make me stronger. I believe my future is bright.”
He also included what amounts to a mea culpa to Browns fans, the city of Cleveland and his family and friends. “I have let down many in Cleveland . . . and the loyal fan base that wants nothing more than to win. Playing there is different than in many other cities. We feel the fans’ pain. . . .
“I have also disappointed the family and friends who have always stood by me. . . . Most importantly, I have failed myself. Again.” The boldface and italics added for dramatic effect by Gordon.
The bottom line (with apologies to Winston Churchill): Josh Gordon is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. On the one hand, he is a supremely talented athlete who seems bent on self-destruction despite his denials. On the other, he comes across as an extremely articulate young man who is completely misunderstood.
I don’t know Gordon, real or otherwise, or why he allows himself to constantly find trouble and do nothing about it. All I know is he has the chance to become a great pro football player and is pissing it away despite his protestations.
Letters like the one he submitted to The Cauldron do not help the matter. If anything, it exacerbates the situation because many fans are totally confused now as to just what makes Josh Gordon tick.