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

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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