Thursday, August 28, 2014

Save the Sympathy For Someone More Deserving

Everyone is for drug testing until they are against it.  And they’re usually against it when the outcome effects them in a personal way.
That is the only explanation I can muster as to why so many are sympathetic to Josh Gordon at the moment.  The mercurial Cleveland Browns receiver received confirmation this week of the fate that was inevitable once he struck out swinging at the NFL’s drug policy, a year long suspension.  The thought that this putrid Cleveland Browns team could be deprived of its only playmaker for the season suddenly turned soft the noggins of fans and media types alike.
Without belaboring to state the obvious, this team has more than proven that it’s a perennial 4-5 game winner, even with Gordon.  Things aren’t going to change in the near future for this team’s fortunes for reasons well beyond the control of Gordon.
But as for what’s in the control of Gordon, that’s actually hard to say.  From all the evidence presented, he appears to be a drug addict.  He’s now tested positive at least 6 times for illegal drugs, in college and the pros.  This is not about second chances.  It’s about seventh chances.  He’s more than worn out the patience of those continuing to enable his demons.
One could argue forcefully that the only group effected personally by the positive drug test result of Josh Gordon is Gordon himself and his family.  But the way the media and fans are reacting it’s as if they’ve been kicked in the gut as well.  Hardly.
Gordon is no one’s cross to die on.  We all should simply ignore the embarrassing and tone deaf second hand smoke defense that his legal team offered. The outcome of the arbitration hearing was hardly in question.  Well before he tested positive this time, Gordon knew the tightrope he was walking and the consequence for tripping.  Like any headstrong, immature, pampered egomaniac, he thought he could beat the system.  He couldn’t and he didn’t.  The punishment he got he deserved.
Bill Livingston, a columnist for the Plain Dealer (assuming the name hasn’t been auctioned off by the Northeast Ohio Media Group in order to buy more servers for their digital strategy), has taken up Gordon’s cause as a fan proxy by questioning the strictness of Gordon’s penalty given what are the rumored “facts” of this case, meaning the relative levels of marijuana in Gordon’s system and how other leagues use other levels.
It’s hard to avoid the most obvious pun by calling this line of argument a smokescreen.  But Livingston’s been in a fog for most of his career anyway.  The league and the union have a collectively bargained drug policy and protocol.  This is what the parties voluntarily agreed to and the rules under which Gordon and his co-workers operate. 
The purpose of this argument about the relative levels is to somehow give credence to the ridiculous defense that somehow this serial drug user ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time and was victimized by exposure to second hand smoke. 
Gordon is no victim.
There’s a far more plausible and simple explanation.  Gordon is lying.  Indeed why would he even deserve the benefit of anyone’s doubt?  He has the most to gain or lose in offering up an argument that isn’t even correct medically, let alone practically.  Gordon has been caught smoking dope numerous times in college and the pros but suddenly he’s reformed and just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time?  Why would any logical thinking person think that’s more likely than the far more likely scenario that Gordon once again smoked dope and didn’t think he’d get caught?  Obviously Harold Henderson, the arbitrator in this case didn’t buy it and neither should anyone else.
Indeed what’s most offensive in this case is Gordon’s abject unwillingness to own his own misbehavior and mislead the team and it’s fans into thinking that this time he didn’t do anything wrong.  The reason guy’s like Gordon don’t seem to ever learn is because they are surrounded by enablers, including gullible media types and lawyers, willing to further a bullshit narrative in order to avoid the real life consequences of bad actions. 
The Cleveland Browns are a worse team without Josh Gordon but the only person responsible for that statement is Josh Gordon.  The unwillingness of the arbitrator to buy into Gordon’s “defense” doesn’t make the arbitrator the bad guy here.  Neither is the league nor the union to blame for the outcome.  Gordon simply can’t learn the simple lesson of what it would take to stay in the league and for that he now finds himself on the outside looking in.
It’s almost comical really how twisted the thought process of others has become.  Livingston, for example but hardly the only example, goes down the path of noting the supposed number of drug tests that Gordon passed already as, what, proof that he’s reformed?  I don’t think we even need to stretch as far as the Lance Armstrong fraud to talk about how ludicrous it is to make the argument about how previous positive tests portends compliance.  The reason Gordon was subjected to such long term testing was precisely because he has a history and eventually if a person hasn’t reformed he’ll get caught again.  Gordon hasn’t reformed.  He got caught again.
Gordon put together an amazing, record-setting season last year while dancing on the head of a pin.  Where opposing defenses couldn’t trip him up, where a parade of mediocre at best quarterbacks throwing to him couldn’t slow down his accomplishments, all it took for Gordon to regress was an off season filled with more time then he knew what to do with.
The decriminalization of marijuana may be your issue, have at it.  But that has nothing at the moment to do with Gordon’s status as a multi violator of league rules.  Gordon’s job, his life, is in jeopardy because Gordon lacks the self control to change the course.  Given his history, there’s no reason to think that even this suspension will move his needle.
I think it’s dangerous to take up the cause of someone like Gordon in order to further the larger debate about the relative dangers of marijuana.  It matters not at all whether marijuana is legal in a few states and otherwise available by prescription in most others.  The same can be said for most performance enhancing drugs as well.  The point, again, is that the league and its union voluntarily put in place a set of rules on what substances are prohibited, what the testing protocol for those substances should be, and what penalties would be assessed for violations.  It’s up to those parties to decide if and when they want to change their rules. 
Of course the other thing that’s getting people twisted up in their shorts is the severity of Gordon’s penalty in the context of the league’s kid glove treatment of Ray Rice for beating his then girlfriend and dragging her out of an elevator in an Atlantic City casino.  One of the local television stations even ran a “fan poll” asking if the Gordon penalty was too severe compared to Rice’s. I’m guessing they didn’t consult an expert in polling as the question answers itself nor should they be surprised by the results.  Of course a year-long suspension is more severe than a two game suspension. Duh.
Rice ran afoul of the league’s personal conduct rules.  His actions reflected poorly on the league and that’s what put him in the crosshairs of the commissioner.  There are no prescribed penalties for domestic violence.  It is case by case.  Roger Goodell may have done a lousy job in exercising that discretion but it was his to exercise.
There was no discretion to be exercised in Gordon’s case.  His previous violations put him down a path of progressive discipline with the next violation resulting in a season long suspension.  There was no dispute that Gordon had dope in his system.  Case over.  The only real mystery is why the arbitrator waited so long to issue the opinion.  Perhaps he was on vacation.
I have no sympathy for Gordon and neither should anyone else, at least in the context of the punishment meted out.  My sympathy for Gordon extends to him personally with the hope that he gets help for the problems that he clearly has.  But if he never plays another game for the Browns or in professional football, it won’t impact anyone’s life but his own and those for whom he’s supporting.
The next step is his.  What would make this story better is if Gordon really uses his time away to make positive changes in his life.  Everyone likes a resurrection story.  With Gordon, though, there’s reason to worry.  He’s still in hard denial about his actions this time and he didn’t learn any lesson from the previous five (at least) positive drug tests.  There’s no reason to think he’ll learn anything meaningful from the sixth.

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