Gallant: How are we supposed to feel about Seahawks WR Josh Gordon’s indefinite suspension?

Dec 17, 2019, 11:43 AM
Seahawks WR Josh Gordon...
Josh Gordon was suspended by the NFL five games into his Seahawks tenure. (AP)

I wish I was surprised by Seahawks wide receiver Josh Gordon’s indefinite suspension Monday after another violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. You probably wish that you were too. Unfortunately, we all had a feeling that his time in Seattle would end like this.

Seahawks’ Josh Gordon suspended indefinitely

For the Seahawks, this is nothing more than a speed bump. After all, we’re talking about a guy who played in Seattle for about a month and a half who had just seven catches for the Seahawks. They took a low-risk flyer on a super talent who can’t get out of his own way. It just didn’t work out.

But for Gordon, this is probably the final chapter of a sad but unsurprising NFL tragedy. Worse, it has the potential to ruin his life.

Addiction is a massive global problem. But when we talk about it, we treat it with kid gloves. Should we?

Don’t get me wrong. The ways that we discuss addiction and mental health have taken a massive step in the right direction. After all, our country demonized the two issues not too long ago.

American culture swings back and forth on a pendulum of over-correction. After decades of dealing with those two problems by sending people to prisons and asylums, we’ve drastically altered our approach to addiction and mental health. These poor people don’t need to be punished. They need help. And to get them back on track, we’ve become extremely accommodating and understanding towards people dealing with those afflictions.

We don’t quite lionize the people that battle both every day. But we certainly root for them. Hard. You probably saw a lot of this cheerleader sentiment on social media after the news of Gordon’s suspension broke. “Man, that’s so sad, but I hope he gets help!”

Empathy for our fellow man might be the best thing we humans have. And in the world of sports, that empathy has us obsessed with redemption stories. What’s more compelling than seeing someone rise from the ashes?

Unfortunately, our love of a feel-good story sometimes makes us forgive and forget the inferno that created those ashes, not to mention the others that end up as fuel for that fire along the way.

It’s naive to think that addiction only affects the addict. It can swirl and engulf family, friends and even the very people who are trying to help. And as we’ve swung in a progressive direction on that pendulum of over-correction, I’m bothered by this thought of mine: That we’re now more willing to absolve an addict of personal responsibility. Responsibilities to themselves. Responsibilities to the people that go out of their way to take chances on them. And responsibilities to the people that depend on them.

That’s what bothers me most about the latest Josh Gordon suspension. I pity his plight and how things got to this point. But look at all the chances he’s been given:

• October 2010: Suspended at Baylor for marijuana possession.

• July 2011: Suspended indefinitely by Baylor for failing a drug test.

• June 2013: Suspended for the first two games of the 2013 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

• August 2014: Suspended the entire season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

• December 2014: After the suspension was reduced to 10 games under the NFL’s new drug policy, Gordon was suspended the final game of the year for violating team rules.

• February 2015: Suspended the entire 2015 season for alcohol use.

• January 2016: Gordon applied for reinstatement, but his request was denied after he reportedly failed another drug test.

• March 2017: Gordon applied for reinstatement, but was denied (in November, he’d be be reinstated for the last five games of the season).

• September 2018: The Browns traded him to the Patriots for “violating the team’s trust.”

• December 2018: Gordon – now with the Patriots – announced he’d be stepping away from football to focus on his mental health. The NFL later stated that he’d be facing an indefinite ban for violating the substance abuse policy.

• August 2019: The NFL conditionally reinstated Gordon to the Patriots. But in late October, the Patriots waived Gordon from injured reserve with a knee injury. When it was determined he was still healthy, New England was forced to expose him to waivers due to NFL rules, and Seattle picked him up. That begs the question, however: What was the real reason for his release?

No matter how you might feel about the NFL punishing violators of the substance abuse policy, let’s agree on this: They’ve bent over backwards to give Josh Gordon opportunity after opportunity to turn his life around.

I realize that beating a disease like addiction isn’t easy. And I don’t want to portray Josh Gordon as a bad guy, especially since he seemed to fit in well with the rest of the Seahawks’ locker room. But in failing to make the most of all those chances, it feels like Gordon took advantage of:

• The Browns, who kept Gordon employed for the first six years of his career through many setbacks.

• The Patriots, who took a low risk flyer on him and kept him after another slip-up.

• The NFL, which was very lenient in enforcing his indefinite suspension at the end of 2018.

• The Seahawks, who took a flyer on him when even the offensively-anemic Patriots grew tired of him.

Not to mention all the teammates and coaches that counted on him over the past 10 years.

I hate to sound hyperbolic when talking about the day-to-day responsibilities of an athlete, so let’s focus on the biggest tragedy of all. Gordon, a 28-year-old athletic marvel with two children, will likely never play football professionally again.

How will he provide for his family? Will he be able to find a new career – especially while battling addiction, without the NFL’s addiction managing resources at his disposal? And given the fact that he spent under three years in college, not to mention the notoriety of his problems with substance abuse, what industry would be willing to take a flyer on him?

Years from now, I hope that Gordon will be able to look back at this moment as the turning point in his life. And if he can turn this all around, it’s going to be quite the story.

Until then, we’re rooting for you, Josh.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Paul Gallant on Twitter.

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Gallant: How are we supposed to feel about Seahawks WR Josh Gordon’s indefinite suspension?