Joe Haden Defends Josh Gordon: A Good Teammate or Enabler?


While barely listening to the radio in the background at work yesterday, I heard a two local sport-talk hosts (who will go nameless here because I do enjoy their commentary and usually do respect their viewpoints) rail against Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden for his defense of Johnny Manziel. Even though Manziel’s struggles and apparent lack of preparation during his rookie year are clearly a cause for concern, it was still unfair to attack Haden for trying to defend his teammate.

How quickly would your ambition be squelched if you saw those who continually ignored the rules and hurt the organization have excuses made for them?

What is troubling, however, are Haden’s comments on his other much-maligned teammate, Josh Gordon. In an interview this past Wednesday, Haden defended Gordon’s character and said that “It’s time for people need to stop bashing Josh Gordon.” Haden stressed the need to figure out what Gordon’s issues are and care for him as a person.

The comparisons between defending Manziel and defending Gordon may be blurred to some, but there are differences. In short, Manziel is still young and a rookie, and hopefully this year has opened his eyes on what it takes to succeed on the pro level. Gordon, meanwhile, has 3 years in the league, and had enough issues in college to open his eyes at the problems that his behavior has caused.

Haden certainly isn’t wrong for having concern for Gordon as a person. As Jared pointed out in his response to Gordon’s open letter, concern for Gordon improving himself as a person is a priority.

The problem, however, is that Haden is supposed to be, and is likely seen as, a leader on this team, both as a veteran and one of the best players on the roster. No matter what Gordon’s problems may be, he is still failing not only himself, but his team and its fan-base as well. When Haden failed to speak up on that portion of the matter, he both appeared to be excusing Gordon’s behavior and playing favorites as his friend. If a player of a lower caliber talent than Gordon were to make a mistake that jeopardized their roster spot, would they feel that they could expect the same support from Haden if they weren’t as close to him personally? What message is Haden sending to other young players with similar talent to Gordon’s? “If I’m buddies with Joe, it won’t matter if I slack off a bit when I feel like it-after all, he defended Josh through a lot worse.” If that kind of attitude began to permeate the team, the roster would be filled with players who simple don’t care enough because they won’t think they have to.

Haden certainly isn’t wrong for having concern for Gordon as a person

Then there’s the other side, and one that many of us have possibly experienced. Imagine yourself as a “rookie,” in any given organization: excited, proud, and willing to work as hard as you have to in order to accomplish your goals and move up in the workplace and the world. You may not have the most natural talent needed for your job, but you have the smarts, guts and character to make an impact. How quickly would your ambition be squelched if you saw those who continually ignored the rules and hurt the organization have excuses made for them? Most of us would look for a way onto greener pastures in a hurry-in this case, the team would have one hack of a time retaining their talent base once players hit free agency.

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The point here isn’t to bash Haden. He’s been a very good football player and has been an overall excellent citizen in the time he’s been here. Perhaps his words come from his own experience of getting into trouble in the past, when he missed 4 games of the 2012 season while serving a suspension for abusing Adderall. The difference is that Haden has not only stayed out of trouble since, but has gotten better as a player. I’m certain that he’s tried to use those experiences to mentor Gordon, and no one should suggest that he end his friendship with him or cast him aside. But at some point, as a leader, he needs to hold Gordon accountable, both privately and publicly.  Otherwise, he risks losing the support of 51 other players who have done much more to prove their worth to the team.

(Editor’s Note: Strong, well done take from Joe here. One concern/question I would have for Joe Haden is this: “How does the fact that Gordon’s latest suspension came after drinking on a plane ride you were apart of impact you?” Just something I find interesting.)

What do you think about Joe Haden’s Defense of Josh Gordon?

Next: A Counselor's Response to Josh Gordon's Letter