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Monday, July 7, 2014
Inside Slant: Josh Gordon's familiar spot

By Kevin Seifert


Call me cynical. Maybe I'm naļve. Perhaps there are some private facts I'm just not aware of. Regardless, I don't understand the current handwringing suggesting that Josh Gordon's NFL career could be over.

Let's be clear: Great players routinely get second and third chances to return to the field after major off-field problems. The Cleveland Browns' Gordon arguably was the league's best receiver in 2013, and assuming he can back away from the police blotter for a while -- and the money at stake usually provides ample motivation, either for the player or those around him -- there is every reason to believe he will resume his career at some point.

This might not be what you want to hear. You know that you're getting fired, and will have a hard time finding work, if you incur multiple arrests connected with your job. The NFL's star system works a bit differently.

Josh Gordon
If Josh Gordon recovers, history shows that he'll undoubtedly catch on in the NFL, whether in Cleveland or elsewhere.
It's true that Gordon has almost no hope for playing in 2014, given the latest in a series of incidents to have played out over the past few months. He was arrested Saturday for the second time in two months, this time for driving while impaired. He is also facing a year-long suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

While Gordon is undoubtedly in big trouble at the moment, sometimes we forget how many players have turned themselves around -- or, at least, been given multiple chances to do it -- in recent years.

Remember Plaxico Burress? He accidentally shot himself in the leg in 2008 while at a New York nightclub, triggering a two-year jail term. He signed with the New York Jets two months after his June 2010 release.

Donte' Stallworth served jail time for DUI manslaughter in 2009. The NFL reinstated him in time to play with the Baltimore Ravens in 2010. And let's not forget Michael Vick, who is entering his sixth season since a three-year prison sentence in connection with dogfighting charges.

At age 22, Gordon led the NFL in receiving yards last season (1,646) despite a two-game suspension at the start of the season. He did so for a 4-12 team that had no established quarterback and cleaned out its front office and coaching staff after the season. If Stallworth and Burress got back into the NFL, why do we think Gordon would somehow be denied?

I realize there are more pieces to this puzzle. This isn't a simple matter of the NFL reinstating him and a team signing him. History tells us that will happen. The biggest obstacle, and the only part that should cause genuine concern, is whether Gordon can get himself straightened out.

Scores of people with NFL connections are expressing concern about Gordon's path. Indianapolis Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, a teammate in Cleveland, told ESPN.com that "he needs help." ESPN analyst Cris Carter, who overcame drug addiction during his Hall of Fame career, suggested the Browns should release Gordon to give him the shock he needs to turn his behavior around.

Cris Carter
Cris Carter faced similar circumstances to Josh Gordon early in his career, and he made the Hall of Fame.
"We're dealing with addiction," Carter said on ESPN's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" . "If Josh had cancer, we'd put him in a treatment center, and right now that's what we need to do for him. But nobody wants to do the hard thing. Everyone wants to keep coddling him the same way they did in high school, the same way they did in Baylor, where he had problems. And eventually it's going to blow up, and now it's been blown up in front of the National Football League and his career is in jeopardy."

To be clear, Gordon's career is in jeopardy only in the sense that he will remain suspended if he keeps getting arrested. Again, I might be cynical, but it seems to me that Gordon's performance last season provides enormous incentive for the people around him -- and perhaps some newcomers as well -- to help in every way imaginable.

When in good negotiating position, the best NFL receivers get contracts that average anywhere from $12 million to $15 million per season. Gordon's agent is Drew Rosenhaus, who also represented Stallworth and Burress and is well-versed in navigating a troubled player's path back to NFL credibility.

We can be dramatic and call for the end of a superstar's career at age 23. We can pound our fists and hammer Gordon for his mistakes. Or we can be realistic and recognize that similar problems have arisen and been quelled often in recent history. Unless and until we learn something more sinister, what we have is a 23-year-old professional athlete with a substance abuse problem. That's hardly an unprecedented problem.

Gordon's troubles seem particularly galling mostly because they are happening right now. If you followed the NFL during Stallworth's arrest or Vick's troubles, you probably remember similarly dire warnings. This isn't to say there haven't been genuine washouts. The tragic story of Chris Henry comes to mind. But history tells us that Josh Gordon will get every chance, and then some, to resume his NFL career.