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NFL

Josh Gordon’s Got Bigger Fish To Fry Than Playing In The NFL

Football is just a game, but Josh Gordon’s daily struggle is one of life and death.

“If you ever come looking for me, you know where I’m bound to be, in the bottle.
Turn around, look around on any corner, if you see some brother looking like a goner, it’s gonna be me…” – Gil Scott-Heron, The Bottle.

Gil Scott-Heron — The Bottle (Official Version)

music video for Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Bottle” Directed by Steve Rivo and Adam Shore. Produced in 1998 as part of CD re-issue of “Winter In America” on TVT Records.

 

When Gil Scott-Heron’s classic cut, The Bottle, is pumped over a booming system, it’s easy to get lost in the incredible musicianship and elements that make your body vibrate. It takes some moments of reflection to become fully immersed in the lyricism and its inherent, biting social sermon and commentary on alcoholism and addiction.

In a parallel sports universe, it was easy to become enthralled with watching Josh Gordon‘s majestic athleticism, speed, strength and skills as a wide receiver on the football field.

We’d long known, going back to his college days at Baylor when his drug suspensions ruined what could have been one of the most iconic NCAA careers on par with the likes of Randy Moss while playing alongside Robert Griffin III, that Gordon had a problem with drugs and alcohol.

Josh Gordon 2010 Baylor Highlights

The only videos of Josh Gordon that I was able to find in college

 

But those issues always seemed to take a back seat, with the thoughts focusing on when he’d return to the field as opposed to the internal fissures that have haunted this talented young man for most of his life.

Like Gil Scott-Heron’s brilliant cut, the deeper meaning of Gordon’s personal tragedy was always lost because his brilliance as an athlete was so exultant, it masked the importance of the overall message.

There is not one family in America that can claim that they’ve been immune to the plague of alcohol and drug addiction. Whether it’s a beloved parent, sibling, cousin or friend, we’ve all been negatively impacted by this scourge in one way or another.

And yet, when the news broke this morning that Gordon was stepping away from football once again, for the second time this season after having missed training camp with the Cleveland Browns, I was greeted with a social media timeline that focused on what that meant for his current team, the New England Patriots.

Some people went as far as to laugh at Gordon, and to vilify Patriots coach Bill Belichick and franchise owner Robert Kraft for signing the troubled receiver in the first place. They railed about what this would mean to their fantasy teams, or exulted in the fact that the Patriots would be missing their most potent offensive weapon heading into the playoffs.

Some simply called Gordon an incorrigible drug addict who never deserved to be in the NFL in the first place.

This afternoon, we learned that Gordon has been returned to the Reserve/Commissioner Suspended list indefinitely for violating the terms of his conditional reinstatement under the Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.

Adam Schefter on Twitter

Now official: Effective today, Josh Gordon has been returned to the Reserve/Commissioner Suspended list indefinitely for violating the terms of his conditional reinstatement under the Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.

 

He’s being shamed as a victim of his own stupidity. When in actuality, his struggle with substance abuse and mental health is as American as apple pie.

This isn’t a football story at all. It’s one of a man fighting against demons that have affected all of us, either directly or tangentially.

And really, when you boil it down, who cares if his NFL career is over?

That’s the least important part of the swirling discussion today. The most paramount question is, can this tortured young man reclaim a life of promise?

Gordon wasn’t merely a pot head, or someone who smoked weed to ease the physical pain that comes along with playing football.

Twitter Moments on Twitter

Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon has announced that he’s stepping away from football to address his mental health. According to @TomPelissero, Gordon is facing another suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. https://t.co/Jf18ZVC3ro

 

He told GQ that he initially began self-medicating with Xanax, marijuana, and codeine in middle school. He said his initial usage stemmed from social awkwardness, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, and “adolescent trauma-based fear.”

According to Gordon, the drugs helped “numb those nerves so [he could] just function every day.” When he was in seventh grade, Gordon said he took a “whole bar” of Xanax and ended up “nodding off” and “drooling” in class.

He grew up with two older brothers in a rugged section of southwest Houston, bouncing from place to place. Eviction notices appeared regularly and he was tossed out of two middle schools for robbing other students.

Marijuana and Xanax were as much a part of his daily diet in middle school as McDonald’s.

He was thrown out of Westbury Christian, a prep school in Houston, in 10th grade for marijuana. He then attended Lamar High, where he subsequently joined a gang, the Six Deuce Harvard Park Brim Bloods, an offshoot of the South Central L.A. street gang.

As Ben Baskin wrote in Sports Illustrated in November of 2017, as Gordon was trying to make his way back into the NFL after being suspended for two years –

“He’d go every morning to a tattoo parlor and pick up a small .38 special that he put in his pocket or backpack, then he’d return it at the end of the school day. Every weekend, he says, a fight would break out and there’d be a flurry of bullets; he caught one in the left arm during his junior year. Gordon says he never “maliciously” shot anyone, but he often had to shoot “to get out, to cause some type of hesitation—a pause so you could keep moving.” He says he sold drugs, mostly weed and mostly at school, “to feed myself.” But the majority of his income came from counterfeit money. The gang would spend $100 to get $2,000 in fake currency, Gordon says, then he would go to McDonald’s and buy five $1 cheeseburgers with a large bill in order to get the legit change.

Gordon would steal cars “almost every day,” he says, because “we just needed a ride.” He would either shatter a vehicle’s window or manipulate the locking mechanism, and his partner would do the hot-wiring. He also worked on a three-man crew that broke into homes—always empty, he says, but he was often carrying a gun—to steal electronics. “Whenever [the gang] could use you, exploit you on anything that puts you in danger of going to prison,” he says, “[I’d] be the guy.”

Darren Rovell on Twitter

When someone has taken or abused drugs, we assume addiction is the main issue. In many cases, drug use is a coping mechanism for emotional pain/suffering. Along with @AllALittleCrazy, wishing Josh Gordon the best. 1 in 5 people aren’t affected by mental health. 5 in 5 are!

 

Gordon said he sold drugs to “feed” himself and smoked marijuana every day and drank vodka from Minute Maid bottles during class. He said he also started drinking codeine syrup mixed with soda his junior year and experimented with Xanax, hydrocodone, and oxycodone at nearly every opportunity. Before football games, he would chug Mad Dog 20-20 to gauge whether he could play drunk.

Despite all of that, his talent on the football field brought recruiters from the top college programs in the country. One of the reasons why he attended Baylor was because his supervised probation following a felony credit card theft when he was 17 years old prevented him from living outside the state of Texas.

He couldn’t go far because he had to return home to Houston once a month for drug tests. And the only reason why he passed those tests, he said, was because his diluted samples were never flagged.

Baylor was probably the worst possible place for him, due to the criminality that was rampant in the football program. Coaches helped him pass drug tests, he was arrested numerous times for possession or driving under the influence. But he was always enabled, despite serving numerous suspensions.

A dealer from home would send him as much as six pounds of weed per week that he would sell in Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio. He estimates that he banked over $10,000 per month with those endeavors.

After numerous failed drug tests, he was suspended indefinitely and decided to transfer. His past problems did not stop the likes of UCLA, USC, Oregon, and Utah from offering scholarships. He eventually wound up at Utah, but never played a down of football. That’s where he said he tried cocaine for the first time and began taking Adderall daily. After failing another drug test, he returned home to Houston, where he said he began selling marijuana again to support his family.

Despite all of that, the Cleveland Browns selected him in the 2012 NFL’s supplemental draft.

Louis Riddick on Twitter

If u have any experience w/loved one that struggles w/mental health/addiction, u know just how difficult it can be to overcome & control. My heart breaks for Josh Gordon on a basic human level. The hell w/football. I’m talking about the man. Never quit fighting @JOSH_GORDONXII

 

Most people know the rest of the story from there, the shots of Grand Marnier or whiskey before kickoff to go along with some bong hits.

“I would drink probably like half a glass, or a couple shots to try and warm my system up,” he said. “To get the motor running. That’s what I would do for games.”

Gordon estimated he had something in his system for “probably every game of [his] career,” including those in college. He frequently missed meetings and often showed up late with bloodshot eyes. But that talent inside the lines could not be ignored, despite the demons that ate away at his soul.

His rookie year with the Browns was the only season that he played in all 16 games, snagging 50 passes for 805 yards and five touchdowns.

Despite missing the first two games of his second season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, he had 87 receptions for a remarkable 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns. In Weeks 12 and 13, Gordon became the first NFL player to record back-to-back 200-yard receiving games. He finished the year as the league leader in receiving yards and earned first-team All-Pro as well as Pro-Bowl honors.

His path from there to New England this year has been well-chronicled. It’s among the saddest stories of wasted talent that’s ever been seen in pro sports.

New England Patriots on Twitter

Statement from the New England Patriots on Josh Gordon:

 

Given his upbringing, the forces that forged him from an early age, the depths to which he’s fallen, it’s miraculous that he’s still standing. And if he’s played his last NFL game, that isn’t what anyone should be fixated on.

Substance abuse is an equal opportunity destroyer. If we take an honest look around, we all know a Josh Gordon, someone with otherworldly talent whose vices conspired against what they ultimately could have become.

His fight for sobriety and mental health will be a never-ending one. The man should be in our thoughts and prayers instead of his name casually rolling of your lips like he’s some joke.

For his entire life, he’s been trying to chase his troubles away, like Gil Scott-Heron’s prescient lyrics, from the prison of the proverbial bottle.

And from here on out, we should all be cheering louder than ever for him to reclaim his life and inner peace than we ever did for for what he could do on a football field.

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