Let me just start this article off by saying that Josh Gordon’s issues go far beyond smoking marijuana. This isn’t a simple issue of him needing to “Stay off the Weed” in the wise of words of Stephen A. Smith. Gordon has had well documented issues with alcohol, cocaine, codeine, cough syrup, and methazine, along with marijuana.
On top of all that, Gordon deals with anxiety and other mental health issues, which is fairly typical of those who use these drugs. While, yes, there is a certain amount of personal responsibility that plays into these issues, the narrative surrounding incidents tends to veer towards personal slandering rather than genuine concern for a player’s health.
A Bevy of Takes
Though I was pleasantly surprised by the relative tameness of the responses to the recent Josh Gordon situation, at least in New England, there were still plenty of hot, unsympathetic takes. Again, Stephen A. Smith may have been the harshest, claiming that his situation is entirely self-inflicted.
Now, Stephen A. tried walking back some of his comments later, making a point on how these issues started early in Gordon’s life. I think we all can understand that middle school kids don’t always make the best decisions, and drugs are included in that.
There are many reasons why an individual may become addicted to drugs, but it shouldn’t be our job to judge them for it. Rather, empathy should lead us to attempt to help them and figure out ways to prevent others from going down that road.
Josh Gordon and the Patriots
Josh Gordon has been indefinitely suspended from the NFL, but before that he left the Patriots on his own terms. Part of this may have been to get ahead of the story and talk about it on his own terms. If that’s the case, then good on him, because lord knows he can’t count on the media to support him.
This article isn’t about how his absence affects the Patriots, which I have already discussed. This article is about how the NFL treats drug use, and how that can and should change, but even that is a conversation far longer than one single article.
The NFL and the NFLPA
Scanning the NFL collective bargaining agreement, I cannot find a specific reference to marijuana, but rather vague references to illegal drugs. Despite the decriminalization of marijuana on a state by state basis, federal law still prohibits the use of marijuana. This allows the NFLPA to make claims about marijuana usage not being an issue of criminality, but of the NFL CBA. Even though it is decriminalized in states such as Colorado and Massachusetts, it is still technically an “illegal drug” thus not allowed under the CBA.
The CBA will be renegotiated in 2020 so we still have another year until there can be a more in depth conversation over how the NFL will solve this issue, if at all. This is not a change many owners will want to see even if the NFLPA fights hard for it. Not only that, but the NFL has a pretty strong history of making wrong decisions, not treating its players like human beings and putting its priorities in all the wrong places.
In full legal transparency, in some cases these charges are dropped, such as with Foster, but that doesn’t erase the lack of effort the NFL shows in getting to the bottom of these issues. The NFL also isn’t prevented from taking some action of its own if they deem that the incident, while not perhaps prison-worthy, affects the character of the league.
Now while punishment eventually comes down on the player, whether in the NFL or in college (such as in Hill’s case, who was dismissed from Oklahoma State University’s Team), it often comes too late and after the NFL has already taken a major public relations hit. In Hunt’s case, the NFL never even spoke to him while investigating the incident that happened in 2018. That’s just not acceptable.
As this all applies to Marijuana
I digress a bit from my main point regarding marijuana usage, but I believe it is important to contextualize where the league stands in regard to social issues: in the past. Despite the evidence for marijuana usage being effective for pain management and even possibly brain health, the NFL would rather prescribe its players dangerous opioids that increase risk of addiction, enabling a dangerous cycle.
This brings me back to Gordon, who has described his time at Baylor as being enabling, with coaches giving him bottles of detox before drug tests because of his talent. Going from this atmosphere to the NFL which harshly punishes drug use of this variety is difficult and frankly, neither is healthy or morally sound.
We’ve grown to treat athletes not as human beings, but just a collection of raw physical talent used for our entertainment. We care about stats and big plays and get upset when injury or life takes them off the field, rink, or court. Society tells them to “shut up and dribble” or to not use their fame for the good of society. Until we start seeing these individuals as individuals, the issues we see won’t go away.
Just like Josh Gordon’s issues aren’t limited to marijuana, neither are the NFL’s. It’s just one aspect of a much larger problem with this league, but it is nonetheless one that has to be fixed, and until it does, many more individuals will be harmed.
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