Yesterday, 3:04 PM. That’s the exact time at which Cleveland Browns beat writer Tony Grossi broke the story of wide receiver Josh Gordon’s impending suspension:
BREAKING: #Browns WR Josh Gordon will be suspended 2 games and docked 4 games pay for NFL substance abuse violation. More to come!
— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) June 7, 2013
In our modern, Twitter-fueled news cycle, Browns fans had digitally chewed up and spit out the second-year receiver by 3:30. “He’s just another bum,” they said. They asked, “Why can’t these overpaid schmucks get their acts together?” The comparisons with embattled Indians reliever Chris Perez, who yesterday was charged with misdemeanor Possession of a Controlled Substance for accepting a shipment containing marijuana at his home, were quickly drawn. My favorite tweet on the subject came from Esquire writer and native Clevelander Scott Raab:
Some comfort in knowing that while CLE pro athletes aren't big winners, many also are complete fuck-ups off the field, too.
— Scott Raab (@ScottRaab64) June 7, 2013
As you can see from the image, I retweeted Raab’s post. I was just as guilty as every other fan who attacked a 22 year-old for a juvenile lapse in judgment. Was my anger, and the collective anger of Cleveland Browns fans everywhere, justified?
A vast majority of Twitter quickly leaped to the conclusion that Gordon’s failed drug test was for marijuana. The wideout, whom the Browns selected in the second round of the 2012 NFL Supplementary Draft, had failed three drug tests for the same substance while in college at Baylor University and the University of Utah. This most recent failed test had to be for the same thing.
Well, not according to Gordon. “In February, I was diagnosed with strep throat for which a doctor prescribed antibiotics and cough medicine. Apparently, the medicine I took contained codeine, which is prohibited by the NFL [substance abuse] policy. The policy terms are strict about unintentional ingestion, but the NFL has not imposed the maximum punishment in light of the facts of my situation,” Gordon said Friday after the news broke. (In an interesting irony, everyone’s favorite codeine-abusing NFLer, 2007 first overall pick and former Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell, is in the midst of a comeback attempt with the Chicago Bears.)
This may very well be true, but it obviously does not clear Gordon of fault. As a professional athlete, Gordon should have been completely aware of anything he was putting into his body and the potential consequences associated with any drugs he was prescribed. But, as has become the trend in the NFL, players are free to blame their positive tests on anything that suits their fancy due to the league’s nondisclosure policy concerning positive tests. Lately, this has resulted in an apparent epidemic of Adderall use by NFL players, as Browns fans are all too aware from their experience with star cornerback Joe Haden’s suspension to begin last season.
Of course, Haden’s suspension was for four games, the maximum penalty allowable for a first offense under the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Gordon only being suspended for two games (although he is still forfeiting four game checks) could lend credence to his assertion that Roger Goodell and the NFL reduced his punishment “in light of the facts of [his] situation.” However, Lions running back Mikel Leshoure, who was arrested twice for marijuana-related offenses in the summer before the 2012 season, was given the same two game suspension and four game check forfeiture from the league. As is the norm in these situations, the fans will never know the truth behind the test.
Whatever Gordon’s drug of choice that caused the failed test, it is clear that this violation represents a serious lapse in judgment, especially for a young man with a history of drug-related incidents from his college days. All Browns fans can do is hope that the promising Gordon, who in his rookie season hauled in 50 passes for 805 yards and five touchdowns, will finally learn from this most recent offense, the first for which he will actually feel the pain of lost income. He will forfeit $149,000 of his $632,802 base salary for the 2013 season as a result of the suspension.
The questions about Gordon’s maturity and judgment are reasonable, but fans must remember that his absence will be more significant for its impact on the Browns offense. The big, speedy Gordon figured to play a large role on the outside in new head coach Rob Chudzinski’s offense with its emphasis on downfield passing. The receiver began to develop a rapport with quarterback and fellow rookie Brandon Weeden towards the end of last season, and Clevelanders were excited to see that relationship blossom in the new vertical offense. Their anger is warranted from that respect, but the fact that the suspension is two games instead of four should alleviate concerns that Gordon’s sophomore campaign will be a lost season.
A friend who plays in a fantasy keeper league asked me yesterday night if Gordon was worth holding onto in or if he should drop him and pick up a compensatory ninth round pick instead. My first instinct, besides screaming in fury about the suspension, was that he had to drop Gordon and take the pick. But, after stepping back from my fandom and indignation, I reevaluated and told him that keeping Gordon and stashing him for the first two weeks was the move. Fans should rest assured that Gordon will still have the opportunity to contribute to the Browns offense this season, and there is no reason that the team won’t make him a large part of the aerial attack immediately upon his return.
The team released the following statement in regards to the suspension, “Obviously, we are all disappointed in this news. In our short time with Josh, he has done everything that we’ve asked him to do, and he has exhibited substantial improvement. We believe that he will continue to work diligently through training camp and the preseason. I am confident that others will step up in his absence.” As reported by various outlets yesterday, the news that Gordon was going to be hit with this punishment has been known in the organization and media circles for weeks. That advance notice allowed the team to take steps to shore up the wide receiver position and find those others who will step up in Gordon’s absence.
The Browns signed rangy free agent wide receiver David Nelson, formerly of the Buffalo Bills. The 6’5” Nelson is coming off of a torn ACL suffered in the 2012 season opener, but he figures to be ready for the opening of training camp. While he is not a speedster who can replace Gordon’s explosiveness, Nelson will add a veteran presence to the locker room, hopefully one that will assist in Gordon’s maturation. The other receiver the Browns added is Davone Bess, who was acquired in a draft day trade from the Miami Dolphins. While primarily a slot receiver, Bess can also play on the outside. He is penciled into Gordon’s starting spot during the suspension and should lineup opposite Greg Little against the Dolphins in Week 1 and against the Ravens in Baltimore in Week 2. This versatility is key and Bess should be a capable replacement during Gordon’s suspension. Joe Banner and the front office deserve credit for seeing the storm brewing and actively preparing for it.
Hopefully, they will also be able to get through to the young Gordon and save Browns fans from having to engage in this anger exercise again in the future.