Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Here's one vote to keep, rehabilitate Gordon

As a general rule, I’m a hardliner when it comes to athletes who cannot comport themselves within the rules of normal human behavior off the field.

As long as they do not violate those rules, they get a pass no matter how they perform on the field of play. As long as they do not bring shame to themselves and their teams, ditto.

I used to be a one-and-gone hardliner. Mess up once with drugs and/or alcohol, see ya. I still draw the line at domestic abuse and breaking the law feloniously. But the years have mellowed and softened me. Second chance became a part of my lexicon.

In the case of Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon, whose most recent dalliance with substance abuse has cost him at least a one-year banishment from the National Football League, I have conflicted feelings.

On the one hand, Gordon’s apparent refusal to take life seriously has propelled him onto a dangerous road and the Browns have enough problems to solve without worrying about him. Cut him and be done with it.

On the other hand, Gordon’s talent begs for patience. We all saw what he did in 2013 and marveled. How can you cut talent like that without trying to somehow rehabilitate him? Keep him around and roll the dice.

It’s entirely possible Gordon’s self destructive ways could prematurely end what could be a great career. He might never again play a game of professional football.

He is his own worst enemy. With so much to gain and yet so much to lose, he seems to favor wandering down the path that always, without fail, leads to trouble.

He never learns lessons. He is a classic example of someone who by failing to learn those lessons is doomed to repeat them. He has become as good at that as he is at catching footballs.

The Browns are weighing their options now. Chances are pretty good they will cut him and move on. That would be a mistake.

Gordon needs help in the worst way. This has become more a story of someone ruining his life than just another football player wasting his talent. His silent cry for help is going unanswered. Abandoning him now would be wrong.

He needs an intervention by persons who know how to deal with such situations. He needs help with putting his life in order, getting his priorities straightened out and off the self-destruction path.

Where is Drew Rosenhaus, his agent? How much of an influence has he been on his client? Given the trouble Gordon has darted in and out of the past several years, none appears to be the correct answer.

Sure the veteran agent has a vast stable of clients and can’t look after each one closely, but he has to be deaf, dumb and blind not to see this particular client throwing away his life.

Now it’s possible Gordon can’t help himself. Drug and alcohol addiction is a sickness that, if unchecked, becomes pernicious in nature. That’s where intervention plays a vital role.

It’s easy for fans and some media members to say it’s time to cut the cord with Gordon. Let him go. He embarrasses the Cleveland Browns just by being on their roster. He stains the very name of the team.

Then you remember the fabulous 2013 season when he led the NFL in receiving yards despite missing the first two games of the season when serving another suspension. That’s hard to block out because you know he can do it.

So why not keep him? He won’t be able to play until the 2016 season at the earliest, anyway. Why not keep him on the roster as a suspended player? What do the Browns have to lose? They do not have to pay him.

In the interim, find a way to rehabilitate him. He’s young enough where it’s not too late to save him and, at the same time, enable him to realize how rewarding his career can be.

The NFL landscape is littered with talented players whose careers have been short-circuited by the alcohol/drug culture. Perhaps the most well known NFL reclamation project is Cris Carter, who overcame alcohol and drug abuse to become a Hall of Fame wide receiver with the Minnesota Vikings.

The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Carter out of Ohio State in the fourth round of the 1987 supplemental draft (notice the similarity to Gordon, selected by the Browns in the second round of the supplemental draft in 2012).

In 1989, Eagles coach Buddy Ryan shocked everyone by releasing Carter, who had caught 19 touchdown passes in three seasons. The reason? Drugs and booze. Back then, the NFL did not have a substance abuse program and he was not suspended. To this day, Carter credits Ryan with motivating him to turn his life around.

Then there’s the uplifting story of Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu. Early stardom as a freshman at Louisiana State (in 2010) earned him the nickname Honey Badger. From that point on, however, repeated drug test failures resulted in multiple suspensions from the team.

Mathieu withdrew from school in 2012 and entered drug rehab. He lasted three weeks before reenrolling for the fall semester. Less than two months later, he was busted for possession of marijuana. His career at LSU was finished. But he wasn’t.

The Cardinals waited until the third round of the 2013 draft to select him. Awaiting him in Phoenix was fellow LSU teammate Patrick Peterson, who took him under his wing and he has been straight ever since.

Two examples of talented athletes who experienced substance abuse problems early in their careers and overcame them. Why can’t it happen again? What harm would it do to put Gordon and Carter together?

In the late 1970s, former Browns coach Sam Rutigliano helped found a support group called the Inner Circle, which anonymously helped members of his team with substance abuse problems. That might be something the current ownership also should consider when dealing with players like Gordon.

The Browns back then hooked up with the Cleveland Clinic in an effort to help rehabilitate those players who wanted to turn around their lives. If the Browns truly want to help Gordon, they, too, have to make a similar effort.

Right now, Josh Gordon the football player is leading a wayward life. He needs help. He needs guidance. He needs someone to show him the difference between right and wrong. Obviously those around him now are incapable of doing that. His marvelous talent is going to waste. It doesn’t have to.

Gordon, who has missed 13 (of 48) games in three seasons while under suspension, is in Stage 3, the final stage, of the NFL’s substance abuse program, which was instituted in 1987. He will remain there for the rest of his career, however long that lasts.

Where that leads depends on his mind-set now. First, and most important, he has to want to get better. Without that, he is a lost cause. It is incumbent on the Browns to try and find out. 


  1. Exactly how long does it take to "find out"? Let's not forget that, even with all the help and patience shown to Gordon, he came back from suspension with an attitude, and it wasn't a good one. He ran the wrong routes, gave up on routes and generally showed a disinterest in what was going on, to the point of not even showing up for the final walk through. How long would you keep a car if you had to replace the engine 5 times in 5 years? And yes, it is a fair comparison. The Browns are a football team, not a halfway house or rehab center. God knows they have enough problems to solve without trying to rehab someone who doesn't seem to have any positive learning curve. I agree that there's no rush to do anything immediately but that only holds true if you really believe there is anything positive to be gained by keeping him around. He's been given 5 chances(including college) and blew them all. Second chances are one thing, but this borders on the ridiculous.

  2. We're not dealing with a car. We're dealing with a human being. He's not a piece of metal. If it's not possible to reach him psychologically and emotionally, then yes, cut him. Until then, keep trying. The real Josh Gordon is in there somewhere.

    1. Way to dodge my point. Every time someone gets cut or traded, what do they say? "This is a business, that's the way it goes." The NFL is a business, and their business is not rehabbing people who don't want help. Including college, people have been trying to help/reach Gordon for 5 years and obviously nothing has worked. Exactly what is your definition of "until then"? Another 5 years, 3 years, 1 year???? Who's to say that the "real Josh Gordon" isn't exactly what we are seeing? You bitch and moan about how the Browns do business, but now all of a sudden you want to turn their locker room into a halfway house. Its already been well documented that Gordon is not an asset to the locker room environment. This whole conversation is probably moot since the odds are good that Gordon will never see the field again.

  3. Who's to say the real Josh Gordon, if persuaded to break loose from his current circle of friends, is not what we see now? He needs proper guidance and he's not getting it from his current friends.

    I might be shooting in the dark on this one, but I hate to see that kind of talent thrown away without at least trying to get to the bottom of what makes Gordon tick.

    And like I said, I, too, think the Browns will cut him. But if there is any redemption in his life, I'd like to see it happen in Cleveland, not somewhere else.

    1. Good point, but the real problem here is that Gordon is the one throwing away the talent.. Lord knows people have been trying. Joe Haden and his wife have tried to befriend Gordon and establish some kind of rapport with him, but even that hasn't seemed to have an impact on his behavior. Its a sad situation but if he's out of the league for a year and left to his own devices, all bets are off.

  4. It goes deeper than Joe Haden and his wife. A whole lot deeper. Gordon needs psychological help like those in the Inner Circle received all those years ago. He needs the type of guidance only someone in the medical community can provide. Gordon is not crazy. Just severely misguided and peers cannot help him. If he is going to respond, it will most likely be to someone who is not a peer.

    Thats why I suggested someone like Cris Carter, who was extremely influential in straightening out Randy Moss when they played in Minnesota. Carter has been down that road and can relate to what Gordon is going through.

    1. Bottom line: There is no help until he actually wants it.

  5. That's what I said in the final graf of the piece.

    "First, and most important, he has to want to get better. Without that, he is a lost cause. It is incumbent on the Browns to try and find out."