Josh Gordon knows he’s out of chances—at least, that’s what the frequently suspended Cleveland Browns wide receiver said last Wednesday, just hours before he went into meet with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to ask for another one.
With the exception of his 2012 rookie year, the 26-year-old Gordon has missed some or all of every season of his professional football career because of struggles with substance abuse. He has not played a regular season football game since December 2014, absent for 51 of his team’s last 56 games, and spending more than 100 of those 1,052 missed days in rehab. When he did play, he was exceptional, recording a league-best 1,646 yards in 2013 (and doing it in just fourteen games).
Last week, he came to New York for his reinstatement hearings, trying once again to convince league executives that he had a handle on his sobriety. And it worked. Wednesday evening, Gordon was conditionally reinstated into the NFL. “Subject to compliance with clinical and other requirements”—the language of the NFL statement that means, among other things, clean drug tests and AA meetings—he can rejoin Browns’ practices as soon as November 20th. Of course, it is precisely that compliance that has always been the problem.
Gordon has been slapped with multiple suspensions for repeatedly violating the league’s substance abuse policy—two games in 2013; ten games in 2014; the entire season in 2015. In 2016, he was reinstated (albeit with a four-game suspension to start the season) and on his way back to playing. Then during a team walk through about two games in, a member of the Browns’ security pulled him off the field and told him a warrant was out for his arrest for failure to comply with a paternity test. He said he wondered, “Who’s this girl? If there is a kid, who is this kid?” Two Sundays in a row, while the team was on the road, he stayed behind (suspended players don’t travel) and “self-medicated.” So, the fifth week of the season, the week he was going to return to the field, he opted to go to rehab instead.