Taylor Gabriel

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (18) runs the ball against the Detroit Lions during a preseason NFL football game at Ford Field in Detroit, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014.

A year-long suspension levied against Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon last week eliminated one of the NFL’s premier playmakers.  It also delivered a serious blow to the Browns’ playoff hopes this year. But Cleveland saw this coming—and perhaps Gordon did, too.

His love affair with marijuana is a relationship in which he’s been entrenched for quite some time, since his college days as a Baylor Bear. Despite a record of drug-related offenses and penalties, Gordon blazed ahead like a man with a squeaky-clean rap sheet.

Following a record-setting 2013 campaign—despite missing two games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy—Gordon’s future appeared bright. You would think a player who arrived to the NFL via the supplemental draft; and who was on the verge of making a big mark in the league, would be on his best behavior as he tried to secure a big payday, but not Gordon. A DUI charge in July only added to Gordon’s substance abuse issues that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his staff were already reviewing. Again, you would think a player whose off-field activities were already under review would exercise a little more discretion. Again, not Gordon. It’s clear that Gordon just doesn’t get it at this point.

Gordon, a 6-foot, 3-inch, 225-pound sculpture at wideout, has the makeup to be the best receiver in the league. His incredible hands, deceptive speed and a knack for making huge plays—as evidenced by his back-to-back 200-yard receiving games last season, an NFL record—landed Gordon in the new elite class of 20-something receivers along with Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Dez Bryant. But before he could capitalize on that opportunity, he smoked it away. There’s something to be said about a player, or anybody for that matter, who keeps squandering huge opportunities for a quick hit. Gordon’s year-long suspension prohibits him from being present in any NFL or Browns facility, a move that could have disastrous results. Still only 23 years old, Gordon’s affinity for trouble couldn’t be more dangerous; with a year to himself, things could get worse before they get better for Gordon.

Gordon could turn into the modern-day Cris Carter and rejuvenate his career, and life, into a Hall of Fame caliber performance. Or he could crumble, as so many drug addicts have before him. Gordon’s talents are undeniable. But such talents when coupled with his off-the field actions make him an impenetrable mystery. We want Gordon to do well, help resuscitate the Browns franchise, make big plays and power fantasy football leagues. But for a guy who can’t seem to put the lighter away, even the brightest future can turn into a dark nightmare. Gordon’s one-year ban seems brutally harsh to some. But when it comes to a player who’s actions continue to defy drug policies and place his freedom and career on the line, why should we even care where Gordon goes from here—particularly if he doesn’t?


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO