Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was granted his conditional reinstatement by the NFL last week after spending the entirety of the previous year suspended for his repeated violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.
Those violations have not been much of a secret; since Gordon joined the Browns in 2012, his rookie year remains the only one he’s spent not under the purview of the league’s disciplinary arm. He missed time both in 2013 and 2014, was suspended for all of 2015 and, after another conditional reinstatement a year ago (which also carried with it another four-game suspension), chose to head to rehab instead of back onto the football field.
Gordon has recently been quite candid about his struggles with substance abuse. He sat down for an interview as part of a mini-documentary at The Uninterrupted in October, detailing his substances of choice (“I've used alcohol on many, many occasions, Xanax on many occasions, cocaine several occasions, marijuana most of my life, codeine, cough syrup, methazine is very prevalent where I'm from,” said Gordon) and the numerous levels of rock bottom he had hit over the previous few years.
On Monday, GQ magazine published an interview with Gordon, conducted by Clay Skipper, that went even further in depth on what Gordon has been going through—a struggle with substance abuse that started well before his NFL career and continued well into it, sometimes also onto the field on game days.
Gordon admitted that he was a “highly functioning” alcoholic who had a “ritual:”
“If I had already been drug tested that week, or the day before the game, I knew I had a couple days to buy to clean my system. Even before I was getting tested for alcohol, prior to my DWI in 2014, I would take the biggest bong rip I could. And try to conceal all the smell off all my clothes. I'd be dressed up to go to the game... I would have these little pre-made shots. I used to love Grand Marnier. I could drink it down smooth. I could usually drink a lot of it. But if it wasn't that, it might be a whiskey or something. And I would drink probably like half a glass, or a couple shots to try and warm my system up, basically. To get the motor running. That's what I would do for games.”
“We would stay at the team hotel and then players are allowed to go back home, get what they need, and then go to the game. So I'd leave the hotel early morning, go home, eat breakfast, do my little ritual, whatever it may be, some weed, some alcohol, and then go to the game. And then, I'd definitely be partying after every game, win or lose. Every game.”
Gordon confirmed to Skipper that he had done this—drinking, smoking marijuana, both before and after games—in “probably every game of my career,” including in college at Baylor and credits being “evasive enough,” in the NFL to be able to somewhat hide his issues, despite showing up late or even missing meetings.
Gordon went on to detail what he believes are the roots of his addiction—”a lot of childhood and adolescent trauma-based fear”—and noted that Xanax, marijuana and codeine became part of his everyday life beginning in the seventh grade. He admitted that he “didn't plan on living to 18.”
Now, however, he believes he has straightened his life out for the right reasons. Initially, said Gordon, “[t]he past times, every time I would try to stop, it would be for the wrong reason. It'd be a publicity stunt; it'd be for somebody else; it'd be for the coach, or whomever thought it was in my best interest to try to do that. Last time, I wanted to do it to save my career.” This time, though, he’s doing it for himself, after realizing it was either change or death.
But this change has taken place mostly away from Cleveland. Gordon said that he moved from the Browns’ hometown to Gainesville, Florida partially as a way to stay close to trainer Tim Montgomery, but also to avoid the scrutiny and harassment that was part of his everyday life in Ohio. Gordon detailed what he and his family experienced:
“Living in Cleveland, sometimes it could be a nightmare. I've been harassed, had drinks thrown at me. I've been [followed] in the grocery store, heckled everywhere. At the games, people harassed and heckled my brothers and my mom. [My] brothers got into fights in the stands. Cars [have] been jumped on. Somebody dented the hood of the car. Had to sue a guy and get the money back cause he damaged the car.”
But for Gordon’s NFL career to continue, he will have to head back to Cleveland and the Browns. As part of his conditional reinstatement, Gordon can now attend team meetings, conditioning and workouts. On November 20, he’ll be eligible to return to practice and could play as early as one week later. With the Browns currently sitting at 0-8 and needing all the help on offense they can get, the prospect of having Gordon—who had nine scores and 1,646 yards in the 2013 season—is an exciting one.
However, Gordon hasn’t played in an NFL game since December 2014 and has a long road ahead to regain the trust of his coaches and teammates—many of whom he is unfamiliar with—as well as the Browns’ faithful, some of whom ran him out of town. To those people, though, Gordon has a message: “Give guys a chance. Be patient. Allow him to see it through. If he lets you down, he lets you down. But know that's a human being there. He's dealing with something.”
Gordon has been afforded many chances, not just to revive his NFL career but to have a full and healthy life. The hope is that his days of squandering them have come to an end.