So in case you live without the wonderful(ly horrible?) world of Twitter, news broke this morning that Josh Gordon was facing a possible indefinite suspension from the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy for like the third time.
#Patriots WR Josh Gordon is facing another indefinite suspension for violating terms of his reinstatement under the substance abuse policy, per source. He announced today he’s stepping away to address his mental health.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) December 20, 2018
Just 10 minutes earlier, Gordon put out a statement announcing he was stepping away from the NFL to focus on his mental health, and thanking the Pats for their continued support.
Like 40 minutes after the news broke, the Patriots put out their statement, essentially echoing their support for Gordon, wishing him the best, and asking for people to respect his personal privacy.
Statement from the New England Patriots on Josh Gordon: pic.twitter.com/tXmXrXVrJL— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 20, 2018
Now a lot, and by that I mean a metric fuckton, of people lost their minds about this news. Which, I suppose, is understandable. The Patriots are in the midst of what is being considered their worst approach to the playoffs in several long years, and they just dropped a tough one to the Steelers, a team that they’ve historically broken down into rubble year after year. On the other side of things, you have those pointing out that the timing of the NFL’s pending decision to possibly ban the guy from the league for life and his announcement of taking a break to address his mental health is a little aquatic. It smells like the salty air and the overwhelming scent of those that dwell beneath the waves. They think it’s fishy, folks. That’s what I’m getting at here. And that’s also a fair thing to point out. The two events are clearly linked. It’s pretty difficult to deny that with a sane mind.
However, there’s a caveat.
To me, personally, this is not a football issue. I’m not here to talk about Gordon’s play on the field or how this could affect the Patriots chances at another Super Bowl or anything. As a Pats fan, if Josh Gordon never plays another down of football again, so be it. And if that’s what it takes for him to get himself to where he needs to be, and where he feels healthy and good about himself, then I hope he never plays again. The important thing here is that he gets himself right. To be honest, to me, this is about something much bigger than a game—albeit a game I love deeply. This is about mental health. Specifically, about how we in the U.S. view addiction.
Now I’m not here to preach to anyone. In this great country, we’ve all got the right to say how we feel and feel how we want, no matter how shitty or incorrect our opinions are. And I support that right. But I also support, unequivocally, anyone who expresses a desire to take their mental health seriously. People forget that this isn’t the first break Gordon has taken to address his mental state. He did it this offseason with Cleveland, practicing on his own to make sure he was mentallybright prior to the season. And while the detractors will say that the timing is too suspect and we need to wait until everything is cleared up, I have news for you: that can’t be the way we address mental health issues, especially addiction.
Josh Gordon, as far as I know, is not a physically violent guy. All of his legal trouble, even dating back to his time at Baylor, has been related to his marijuana use [insert Stephen A. Smith “GET OFF THE WEED” .gif here]. The NFL has historically punished those who use marijuana more harshly than anything else, despite having much more pressing and, honestly, important issues running rampant around the league (looking at you, domestic violence). But, disregarding the medical evidence showing that marijuana is—as far as we know—less damaging than both cigarettes and alcohol to the healthy human being, it’s still a drug. I’ll never deny it. And while it does not necessary have any truly addictive chemicals, such as the nicotine in cigarettes, dependence to it can 100% develop. People use weed for all different reasons. It’s fun, it helps them sleep, it manages pain, it settles their nerves, relieves stress—the list goes on. But irresponsible use of it, like any drug, can result in dependence.
Now, I don’t know Josh Gordon personally, but I could bet he wasn’t smoking weed for any negative reason. Whether it was for “medical” reasons or personal preference, the intent was not to hurt anyone else. Drug use is akin to self-harm. Yes, it can hurt your friends and loved ones indirectly and emotionally, but ultimately it’s harm to yourself. Speaking as someone who has seen addiction, who’s family has been impacted by addiction, and who’s long understood that the way the United States in general views those who use drugs, it absolutely destroys me to see people failing to pick others up.
Using drugs doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make you scum, it doesn’t make you a loser. Sure, those people exist within the larger community of those who use drugs, but that doesn’t make everyone who does equivalent to shit on your boots. The reasons why someone uses a drug are never clear to the outside. The only person who knows why someone uses is the user. The only person who knows what someone using is truly going through is themself. That’s true for all drug use—no matter how hard the drugs are. When addicts are found out, we make it harder for them to get jobs, be productive members of society, and ultimately get help. We brand them as lesser, as outcasts, and we isolate them. In recent years, we’ve done a greta job of improving the conversation about mental health. But mental health extends beyond depression. It includes a host of other conditions, one of which is addiction. Talk to someone who got sober about their mental health and you’ll see that they’re one in the same. You have to be mentally right to fight addiction. And being called names and put down only makes that fight harder.
Whether or not the reason for Gordon stepping away is that the NFL is deliberating action against him is irrelevant. Because here’s the deal: Either he fucked up and is getting suspended, and is taking that as a message to himself to get his mental health right; or he fucked up and isn’t getting suspended and is taking that as a message to himself to get his mental health right. Either way, this is someone who’s recognizing that he either relapsed or isn’t where he needs to be. And either way he needs to be supported.
Right now, NFL fans have the opportunity to support someone who needs support, and who is asking for that support. In today’s day and age, where mental health is supposed to be a priority for us, I commend Josh Gordon for taking his seriously. If he can’t play football anymore, that’s fine. As long as he’s healthy and happy. That’s the shit that matters.
The real shame here is people who only care about his play on the field. Honestly, I wish people reacted to domestic violence the way they now act with addiction. But the issue is that the guys who hit women play well. The guys who struggle with drug use and mental health have down years. The only way to improve the climate of addiction in today’s world is to hold those up who admit they have a problem and make an effort to address it. Even if it’s not a genuine attempt, enough support can turn it into one.
I will always support those who seek help. Always. The Patriots do, and so do I. And I think you should, too. Get yourself right Josh, I believe in you.
Photo: Washington Post