In an open letter that was published by The Cauldron, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon discussed his recent issues with alcohol and marijuana that has led to previous league suspensions and will likely cost him the entire 2015 season. While taking responsibility for his actions, the 23-year-old star receiver also called out a number of well-known figures in sports for overstating his apparent issues with substance abuse without having any personal insight into life or the situations that led to his problems with the league. In doing so, Gordon essentially shined a flashlight onto the profession of sports punditry and why most pundits’ opinions are worthless.
Earlier this month, news broke that Gordon had failed a drug test under the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Due to previous suspensions under the policy, Gordon is facing a year-long suspension from the league. It was revealed that Gordon tested positive for alcohol. Per the conditions set forth from his previous suspension, which centered on marijuana use and a DWI that occurred in 2014, Gordon was not to touch alcohol and was subject to random tests. As Gordon relayed in his open letter, he was aware of this condition but failed the test after having four drinks with teammates days after the regular season ended.
The issue Gordon has isn’t that he’s been criticized over his screwing up — he accepts and expects that — but with the preaching nature and over-the-top reactions from men like NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley and ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and Cris Carter. As he pointed out in his essay, none of these men really know Gordon in a personal manner. However, each one has waxed philosophically about Gordon’s life and how his actions are destroying him and his loved ones, and could even lead to his death.
Barkley commented to ESPN during an appearance on His & Hers that “Josh Gordon is going to die if he keeps going on this road he’s going.” Yes, Sir Charles feels that a 23-year-old athlete is heading towards certain death because he’s been caught smoking weed and was popped for a DWI. Mind you, this is the same man who was nailed for driving under the influence in late 2008 because he was trying to pick up a girl for oral sex. Oh, and Chuck also happened to have a loaded gun in his car. How old was Barkley when this occurred? 45. Somehow, Barkley has managed to survive another six-plus years but fears Gordon is headed for a certain demise.
Gordon didn’t mention Barkley’s own DUI — or his compulsive gambling habit — in his letter. Instead, he took umbrage with the fact that he hasn’t ever met Barkley in his life.
Chuck, you have never so much as shook my hand, let alone exchanged a single word with me. Few of you have, to be honest. Respectfully, your worry over my “problems” with substance abuse and my twisting descent into darkness and, apparently, my impending death, is misplaced?—?mostly because you have very little idea what you are talking about.
As for Smith and Carter, he pointed out their reactions after he was arrested for his DWI last summer. Smith said during an episode of First Take he was “done with Josh Gordon,” while Carter said the Browns should release the wide receiver for his own good. Regarding Smith, Gordon said the following:
You’re done with me, Stephen A.? That presumes we ever actually got started. How, exactly, can you be “done” with someone you have never had a meaningful conversation with beyond a quick First Take spot? Regardless, I am relieved that you no longer need to harbor sympathy for me?—?mostly because I never asked for it, never wanted it, and certainly never needed it. I am not a victim here; I never claimed to be one, either.
In terms of Carter, Gordon was just as bluntly honest.
And Cris, your level of interest in my life is even more puzzling, especially considering we have never met, either.
In addition to being concerned about me?—?like when you publicly called for the Browns cut me so I could learn the same lessons you learned?—?you also stated as fact that “we are dealing with addiction here.” Know this: We are not dealing with anything, Cris. We are not the same. Not at all.
Many have already commented on the eloquence of Gordon’s essay, as they should. It really is a well-written and deeply personal piece that provides some real insight into the issues surrounding Gordon and how they may have been overblown when presented by the sports media and NFL. At the same time, he doesn’t let himself off the hook, as takes responsibility for his actions and realizes he needs to be accountable for them.
However, the thing that is interesting about Gordon’s piece is how well it exposes the awfulness of today’s sports journalism landscape. (A case can be made about it being a good case study on respectability politics as well.) In an effort to give the hottest of the hot takes, you have guys tripping over themselves to pass judgment on a person or event they have little to no relationship with or knowledge of, all in order to be quoted far and wide or to bring some additional ratings.
As if to perfectly prove Gordon’s point, Smith spoke to ESPN Cleveland on Friday to respond to the Cleveland star’s letter. You can listen to the entire 15-minute interview here. While Smith almost, kind of, made a legitimate point about Carter, Barkley and him being more concerned about what Gordon represents to the African-American community at large, he fell right back into his chest-puffing, blustery buffoonery when he said Gordon “made a big-time mistake coming at me because I am the wrong brother to come at with this kind of stuff because I’ve been there.”
You do you, Stephen A.