In 2013, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon overcame a two-game suspension to take the sport by storm with 1,646 receiving yards, the most in the league by a substantial margin. He managed that shocking level of production in two less games than those receivers who didn’t miss time due to injury or suspension suited up for and while playing with three different starting quarterbacks, all of whom left something, if not a lot, to be desired.
The odds were overwhelmingly stacked against Gordon in 2013, but he still threw himself a spectacular coming-out party by routinely burning defensive backs with explosiveness, sure hands, fluidity and a superb blend of size and speed. Two months out from the start of training camp, the odds have, once again, turned against Gordon; only this time he might not get the chance to overcome them.
After failing a recent drug test for alleged marijuana use, Gordon is expected to be suspended for the entire 2014 season. With the assistance of agent Drew Rosenhaus, Gordon is appealing his looming ban, but if the best-case scenario plays out, the suspension would likely only be reduced to eight games.
Thus, one of the sport’s most electrifying young stars is, in all plausibility, headed to the sideline for at least half a season, if not the entire year, for smoking pot.
Rules are rules. Gordon and his camp were fully aware of the ramifications if he failed another test. And for that reason, Gordon isn’t exactly entitled to sympathy here. He knew the policy, and by choosing not to comply with it, he jeopardized an entire campaign for not only himself but the entire Browns organization.
None of that exonerates the NFL‘s questionable stance on marijuana, however. Not to advocate that the drug should be legalized in the NFL and in more states throughout the country. That is a debate for another day. But it is to say that the league is fighting the wrong battle by coming down so harshly on violators of this particular banned substance.
Marijuana may help players relax and can relieve stress during the rigors of a physically and emotionally draining season, but it’s hardly a true performance-enhancing drug. It doesn’t make players stronger or faster, nor does it help heal injuries more rapidly or mask them with pain relief. Marijuana doesn’t compromise the integrity of the game like those drugs that enhance performance or lessen the effects of injury, and grouping it in the same category is rather misguided.
Considering it’s widely believed that a large quantity of NFL players, if not the majority of them, smoke pot, punishing just one or a few of many is useless. According to an ESPN report in 2012, nearly 70 percent of draft hopefuls who competed at the NFL Scouting Combine two years ago admitted to using marijuana. Essentially, Gordon will be punished for not being sly enough to cheat the test, like the majority of those who use the drug are easily able to do, more so than the act itself of smoking the banned substance.
It’s also a bit head scratching that Gordon will be watching many peers who have acquired far more serious legal trouble play while he sits during the ban. NFL players being arrested for DUIs has become a far too common headline in recent years. Since January of 2013, 17 players/owners/front office employees have been arrested for driving drunk, none of whom faced or likely will face a lengthy suspension from the league.
Driving intoxicated is not only a more punishable offense than smoking marijuana from a legal standpoint, it puts the lives of others in danger. Cases of assault, battery and domestic violence, like Ray Rice‘s videotaped beating of his then fiance now wife in February, have also become far too frequent. Since January of 2013, 15 players have been arrested for assault, battery or domestic violence. Endangering others should induce harsher penalties than marijuana use, but that simply hasn’t been the case.
The NFL needs to reevaluate its stance on marijuana. There are far more crucial fights to be fought than a losing battle like preventing marijuana use while America grows more and more tolerant of the drug. Josh Gordon having a whole season potentially stripped from him is beyond excessive all things considered.
Cody Strahm is an NFL Senior Writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter.