May 21, 2014; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon (12) during organized team activities at Cleveland Browns practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Understanding Josh Gordon

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Josh Gordon was arrested in North Carolina yesterday and Cleveland Browns fans are understandably distraught, frustrated, angry, worried, concerned and whole host of other adjectives. Gordon had an amazing season that had Browns fans looking forward to having a dominate offensive player for the first time in many of their memories. Trying to look through rose colored glasses, a rare thing for Clevelanders, fans hoped that this breakout would also assist Gordon in overcoming his personal demons.

Yet we knew last year that Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi were looking to possibly deal Gordon last year. Fans would of been in a uproar had that deal gone down, reportedly the San Francisco 49ers were closest to making the deal. Even this off-season there were rumblings that the new regime wasn’t high on Gordon’s character, though everyone loves his on the field talent. Unfortunately due to the combination of the risk of a suspension, the fan backlash and the amazing season he put together last year Gordon was never going to bring back enough in draft picks or players to make a trade possible.

On the second day of the NFL Draft, and then yesterday again, fans were reminded of the difficulty of having Gordon on the Cleveland Browns. He is a tantalizing player with a troubled character. A player that lights up the field but also sees the lights of police cars far to often. A player that can take the top off the defense and cut the legs out from under the team all in the same weekend. Gordon is now untradeable but who could be the top receiver in the NFL for the next decade.

Fans on Twitter were obviously highly frustrated with the most recent arrest. Many want him cut. Many want the Browns to hire a babysitter for him like the Cowboys did Dez Bryant (Side note: Gordon would have to accept that and once he is suspended the Browns cannot do so.) The one thing that is clear from fan reaction is that it is difficult to understand Gordon and his behaviors. Like any situation most people try to think what they would do if they were in his situation. The problem with that logic is that all of our experiences lead us to make all of our decisions and all of his experiences lead him to make his decisions. Placing our life experiences directly into his life to make decisions is unreasonable.

Any logical person can logically say that Gordon, with all of his future earning potential and responsibility to his teammates, should keep from any substances, from all his friends and change his lifestyle. For many of us with a 9 to 5 job we understand that we would make any number of sacrifices to play a game and make millions of dollars. Many of us have made those sacrifices for much tougher jobs, for far less pay.

Over at Factory of Sadness this writer has written 2 long pieces on Gordon in the past few months. Both articles are written from the perspective of my 9 to 5 job as a counselor licensed with the State of Ohio. It is important to note that none of what you are about to read is trying to make excuses for Gordon or make you feel bad for him. I repeat, no excuses. The goal is understanding for Gordon and some of his experiences, both with marijuana and his culture. Some of you have had similar experiences and made far better decisions then Gordon, and we applaud you. This is about Gordon.

First we addressed Marijuana use and concerns related to it:

Why the Concern: The effects aren’t great. The withdrawals are similar to a cold or bad night sleep. Many states have legalized the substance. What is the concern for Gordon, other NFL Players or the normal everyday citizen? As a counselor there are a few reasons to be concerned:

  1. Motivation - A unmotivated Gordon is less likely to work hard on his craft, whether physically or mentally.
  2. Social - Most substance users hang out primarily with people who also use the same substance they do. A non-diverse crowd can always be problematic. Especially when substances are involved.
  3. Legality - Factually it is illegal in many states and is banned in the NFL. Using something that is not allowed is concerning for an athlete who needs to be disciplined as well as the common man who could get in trouble. In states where marijuana is illegal often users limit their job choices to ones where they are not drug tested, often lower paying jobs.
  4. Emotional Regulation - (Expounded on deeper in this article which opens in a new window)

Second we addressed the Culture that Gordon may be influenced by:

Long Term Planning

Most people in CoP (Culture of Poverty) never learn the skills of long term planning because they have to learn how to survive day to day. Those day to day skills beget decision making that limits the ability to make longer term plans. Cyclically planning ahead, even 24 to 48 hours ahead, is not beneficial for today and becomes an unused or unlearned skill. This plays out in how they spend their money (spending their bank account down to zero is normal), how they socialize (doing whatever comes up at any moment) and the type of employment/money making opportunities they take (make as much money now as possible).


In the CoP community is vital. Many of these communities learn how to lean on each other for help. When one family in the community is struggling others come around to help that family. It might not be with money but a couch to sleep on, a car to borrow, a little food here and there. In non-CoP communities they have the finances to deal with their own issues and problems. Often in CoP that dependence spawns loyalty on both sides. Gangs will often given young athletes a pass, and actually provide protection, instead of recruiting them. Those that actually make it out of the CoP then feel a sense of loyalty to take care of those who are still in, in the same way they saw them taking care of their family growing up. That loyalty creates situations where, especially those who hit it big like Gordon, make it a point to stay loyal, Blind Loyalty, to his people from when he grew up.


Pride and image go together greatly in the CoP. Financial status, especially for men, tends to be an identifier. In the CoP, even if you don’t have the money, presenting well and putting off a good image, like you have money, is important. It isn’t surprising to see cars with really expensive systems but the bumper falling off. Children wearing the newest desire labels but crying because they are hungry. Buying expensive electronics or jewelry when the tax refund check comes in, instead of getting a new roof put on the house. All of these things are to present an image, to feel proud.

Remember there is not a goal of making excuses for Gordon here. Many people, generally about 25%, make it out of the CoP and are successful in their lives. Gordon has the opportunity to do so himself but needs the support, education and patience to make that happen. The Dr. Phil answer, someone who isn’t licensed and is not respected in the MH community, is to just stop making poor decisions. As a fan of the Browns and Gordon, I want it to be that easy. Sadly it is not.

I hope something here was beneficial to you today. I hope it sparks discussion not derision. I hope Gordon gets his act together, and is not suspended at all, before his career spirals away. I hope no matter what Gordon is successful.

Josh Gordon is not like you. Josh Gordon is not like me. That doesn’t make him better, that doesn’t make him worse. It makes him Josh Gordon. Yet just like you, who has overcome a variety of things to make it to where you are today, Gordon has a chance to do so as well. It is important as fans, as people, we stop putting our experiences and our expectations on other people. We should expect all people to make healthy, positive and lawful choices. When they don’t, as many don’t, the legal system has the responsibility of judging and holding them accountable. What you and I do is up to us.

The Browns on the other hand have a decision to make. Should they cut Gordon to make it clear they won’t allow poor choices? Gordon then could go on to sign anywhere if/when he is reinstated. Gordon could then go on to destroy the league at the receiver position, not on the Browns. Or the Browns can keep him around, since they won’t have to pay him during his suspension, look to help him while risking his behaviors getting worse and possibly reap the possible benefits on the other side. There is no wrong decision, but hopefully an informed decision.

Can you relate to Gordon? Do you understand Gordon better now? What do you think the Browns should do?

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  • comedianchrissmith

    I think your article touches on a bigger problem for society; not just the woes of one millionaire that has a problem. As an inner city educator, the “Culture of Poverty” is a very real concept. It is very difficult to motivate children that have to worry about meals, getting to school and getting back from school without a violent incident, and whether they live to reach graduation.
    Then what? What happens next?

    If the Cleveland Browns are committed to success then this isn’t an issue of what they should do, it is in fact, what are they committed to doing. It first must be about the success of Gordon. The employer which should have a deeper understanding of their employees than the general public should evaluates, assess, and create an action plan. The NFL’s contribution to major charities is evident whether it’s the pink accessories players wear in October, the commercials that highlight all the good that players do in the community, or their logo which pops up alongside some of the top charities in the United States. The NFL is a “giver.”

    What about Josh Gordon then? The Browns have made him a millionaire and provided him with a place to showcase his inarguable talents. Isn’t that enough? If it’s about winning football games, they have a responsibility. If it’s about taking care of people, they have a responsibility. If it CAN be about winning football games and taking care of people, the Cleveland Browns can and should do both. I hope it’s the latter if only because people follow examples and the NFL is a trendsetter.

    • Jared Mueller

      Great thoughts Chris.

  • Sam Gold

    Jared, I generally enjoy your perspectives on most issues to date but in this instance I find your perspective revolting. Your article centers on a culture of poverty yet in all my readings of Josh Gordon I can find no such reference.

    In your own words from your Factory of Sadness piece:

    “Gordon was born in Houston, Texas besides that a long exhaustive Google search yielded very little information about his childhood, family and up bringing…With no other information, and for the point of this article, we will assume that Gordon, parents Elaine & Herald, was raised in the typical low-middle class, pay check to pay check family.”

    WOW! I mean…WOW!

    Your entire premise rests on this very shaky, incredibly racist assumption: He’s black and from Houston, he must be poor.

    I feel an enormous sense of disappointment in you and the editors of this site.

    • Jared Mueller


      Thanks for your honest feedback. We have information that supports our understanding of his family financial dynamics but because that information was unable to be corroborated with reputable sources we chose to move forward with it as an assumption to help educate readers. If/when we get more reputable background we will update the article. Personally I am confident in the assumption but professionally will never do anything that made an assumption look like a fact. I understand your concern, just know we have good information just not enough that we feel good about passing it on as fact and chose the assumption to protect our credibility as well as the truth if we are incorrect.

      Thank you again for all your feedback with us and hope we haven’t lost you.

      • Sam Gold


        I appreciate your efforts to educate based on an informed assumption. Unfortunately, the “internet” rarely takes your measured approach and will run with an assumption as fact. I realize this is not your responsibility to police. I do think it is bumping up against journalistic integrity. From your response that sounds like it’s important to you. To that end assumptions are tricky things; I would advise caution when employing their “truth.”

        You have not lost me. The thoughtful and level headed approach taken in your articles and responses is worth the occasional misperception. I very much applaud your professionalism and the seriousness with which you treat your readership. Well done.

    • KDMMD

      Actually, I seem to remember a MMQB posted a while back, titled something like “Josh Gordon Has Arrived”‘ that presented his adolescence as fairly bleak. Google doesn’t know everything, ya know?

      • Sam Gold

        Strangely, it was Google that allowed me to find the following 12/13/13 MMQB piece:

        “But as he grew older and his middle-class family life began to deteriorate, Gordon found it tougher to discern fact from fiction. Just like that, the radio ad sales game turned on his father, Harold Sr., leaving his mother, Elaine, an elementary school teacher, to pick up the slack. The family moved eight times (a few times separately after a divorce in 2006), and the accommodations around southwest Houston—already a dodgy part of town before Hurricane Katrina refugees took it over—weren’t getting any cozier. Death always seemed to have their forwarding address. There was the loss of an aunt to lung cancer, a grandfather to another lung ailment, another aunt to heart failure; only his oldest brother Andrew, who survived an IED explosion while stationed in Iraq, dodged a visit. This all happened within a four-year span, starting with Gordon’s high school transition from Westbury Christian (enrollment: 600) to Lamar (enrollment: 3,300). Outwardly, Josh never broke from his strong, silent-type character, but under his stony exterior was a mess of hurt.”

        Sounds like life may have forced his family into a less than desirable part of town for a period of time during his teenage years but that wasn’t where he grew up through most of his formative years. Middle class, less than desirable and a “Culture of Poverty” are not one and the same.

  • Joe

    The phenomenon of substance abuse transcends socio-economic categories.
    When I was very young, I drank a lot of beer on weekends. So did my friends.
    Then I stopped. They didn’t.
    I can drink a beer or two, once in a while, but they can’t go without it for even a day.
    Some went on to marijuana, and one has ruined the lives of his parents, wife, and friends with a decades-long, crack habit.
    All of us were college-educated; all of us lived in upper-middle class or upper-class society.
    If I thought any of the others would encounter these demons, I would have never taken a drink from them or with them.
    That would not have impeded their descent.
    No offense to the wonderful people who work with addicts, but their success may be due more to the Hawthorne effect than methodology employed.
    One-on-one, psychologically intimate contact is critical for every individual.
    When you don’t connect with someone, you become susceptible to the false friendships that illicit sex and drug confederates can provide,
    Josh Gordon has a psychological problem, an extremely severe one, and no one has ever been able to cure those despite the many movies and books that promote dangerous lies of cures.
    Josh can manage his need to belong to this “tribe” of friends with near-constant supervision, and with medication’s aid.
    The medication may rob him of his ability to excel on the field.
    Traumatic brain injury is more than a risk for wide receivers; it is a guaranteed result.
    Josh needs an extensive examination, and he may be advised to never play another down.

  • trinity

    Stupid is stupid, no matter how much money you throw at it. That’s what i understand about Josh Gordon. when he’s 30, he’ll be broke and begging for a shot on someone’s roster. And that’s his own damn fault.

  • davewr58

    Good balanced article, but I don’t feel Gordon deserves anyone’s sympathy. He has had many chances in colleges and the pros and has spit in the faces of all who tried to help him. He may never learn what it means to be responsible for his own actions, but it doesn’t matter at this point. He has become a gigantic negative distraction for the Browns and he needs to be let go, period. Time to wish him well, but it appears he has an addictive personality and is weak-minded. He will never succeed without much professional help. He needs to forget about football for a few years and get into intense therapy.

  • friendship220

    Getting high and having a few drinks and speeding a little bit is extremely normal behavior for any time of young person, anywhere. The problem is that we have way too many laws. Government is too big, and now they’re screwing with the Browns. The NFL is harsher and more punitive than Colorado and Washington, and arguably many other states where possession gets you a small fine. I assume that the NFL doesn’t care at all about DWI because it’s got nothing to do with football. But, watching the rest of the leagues turn to police state / PC BS, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. Josh Gordon isn’t troubled and doesn’t need help. Leave him alone, stop hassling him? If he does something that actually hurts someone else, maybe that’s a different story, but so far, it just seems like open season on Josh Gordon, trying to catch him doing one or another victimless crime.

  • Sam Gold

    Great listen:

    Herm Edwards explains on Mike & Mike why he wouldn't cut #Browns WR Josh Gordon. Audio:— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) July 7, 2014