League suspends Gordon for season


You knew the hammer was about to drop after a slip of the tongue by Browns coach Mike Pettine.

It was delivered officially Wednesday when arbitrator Harold Henderson announced that he has denied receiver Josh Gordon’s appeal of a one-year suspension for a third violation of the NFL’s drug policy. League rules state that suspended players can’t be on team grounds for the length of the suspension, and all players must seek reinstatement with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Gordon, who tested positive for marijuana, released the following statement:

“I’d like to apologize to my teammates, coaches, the Cleveland Browns organization and our fans. I am very disappointed that the NFL and its hearing office didn’t exercise better discretion and judgment in my case. I would like to sincerely thank the people who have been incredibly supportive of me during this challenging time, including my family, my agent, my union, my legal team, and the Cleveland Browns staff.”

Pettine hinted of impending bad news during a conference call last Sunday. The call was a day after Gordon didn’t play a single down in an exhibition loss to the St. Louis Rams.

Now that the lengthy appeal process has ended, the most important step isn’t how Pettine will adjust to losing one of the NFL’s elite playmakers. The issue of getting Gordon’s life on track supersedes anything that happens on the field.

This is obviously a troubled man with a demon lodged deeply within. He’s had repeated incidents with substance and alcohol abuse that miraculously haven’t ended his career or, thank God, cost him his life.

Gordon parties hard and drives fast, seemingly casting aside all chances of securing financial security for life with a mega contract. Fans, coaches, teammates and those of us in the media are surprised how he can let all that football talent slip through fingers that are too often wrapped around booze-filled glasses and marijuana joints.

That shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that has never dealt with an addiction problem. To the outsider sitting at home glued to the television for nine hours on autumn Sundays, Gordon comes across as foolish and careless. Those that know him better should see that he’s dealing with much more than a trivial matter.

Gordon can turn a slant route into a 60-yard touchdown by running from slower defenders with ease, but he can’t outrun his personal problems. He recently spent a short amount of time at a rehabilitation center after being ticketed for DUI in North Carolina, a small start on what he needs to do to remain clean and sober.

Recovery is a fulltime job that makes football preparations – as exhausting as they can be – seem like a hobby. It’s scary to think that league rules prohibit Gordon from being on team grounds until he’s been reinstated by the commissioner. A full year away from the most stable environment in his life is a recipe for more wayward steps.

Second-year defensive lineman Armonty Bryant is proof of how an extended family can be a panacea. Bryant was arrested almost two years ago after selling $20 worth of marijuana to an undercover cop for the second time. The arrest occurred during a football practice at East Central University in Oklahoma.

Bryant has been a model citizen since then as he’s developed into arguably the best pass rusher on the roster. He’s intentionally stayed away from bad influences at home during the offseason, committing his life to an opportunity of which young boys can only dream.

Gordon needs to stay close to Bryant and others like him that truly want the best for him. It won’t be easy to tell friends and relatives that may have been dragging him astray that they’re no longer welcomed in his life, but Gordon has no other choice at this time.

Team management needs to be diligent in this matter. It can’t be all about scouring the waiver wire in efforts to improve the roster. There has to be a concerted effort to provide Gordon with the guidance he so clearly needs.

“While we may have strong feelings on the timing and the process of this decision, we have also consistently communicated that we will focus on what we can control in our day-to-day approach,” general manager Ray Farmer said in a written statement. “Right now that is preparing our team for the 2014 season and at the same time supporting Josh however we are able under NFL guidelines during his suspension.”

Pro football is great for keeping a man busy. In addition to 17 weeks in the regular season and six weeks of preseason activities, there are two to three months of offseason conditioning and allowed practices to consume time in the spring.

There will be none of that for Gordon in the next year. Many skeptics have already predicted that he has played his last game for the Browns, and they may well be right. Worse yet, there are those that are convinced he won’t win the larger battle in his life.

For the sake of a 23-year-old man standing at a crossroads in his life, let’s hope they’re all wrong.