After his latest alleged failed drug test, Josh Gordon will be labeled "dumb." Or "an addict."
But Gordon isn't really either of those things. He's just guilty of not understanding the league he plays in.
This is the law and order league. It's not a corner store in Denver or Seattle where you can legally snag some dope. It's a sport that drug tests regularly and visibly, harshly punishing violators of its policies. Sure, players can beat tests, but that is happening far less in today's NFL.
The league's testing measures are increasingly sophisticated and accurate. You smoke, you snort, you stick a needle in your arm, and you'll get caught.
And you'll risk losing everything.
It wasn't always this way. A decade or so ago, a player could outsmart drug tests fairly easy (remember?). But technology and the NFL's strict policies are making it tougher to skirt the system.
Players know this. As one anonymously told me, team union reps constantly warn players about the drug testing. The basic message is always: be smart, or you will get busted.
In many ways, Gordon has taught NFL rookies a valuable lesson: You are being watched. You are being tested. Your body will constantly be probed and prodded.
Another part of that message is that your body does not belong to you. It belongs to the NFL.
It's not the same when players are in college. The drug testing policies with many athletic programs are a sham. Players fail tests in college but, for the most part, they can keep playing. Fail a drug test at the combine and your draft stock might fall.
Fail tests in the NFL and you end up like Gordon—facing a yearlong suspension, as ESPN first reported.
This isn't about fairness. Of course the NFL is hypocritical, taking money from beer companies while harshly punishing its players for weed. There are 88,000 deaths a year due to excessive alcohol use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No one dies from just smoking dope, though the number of Cool Ranch Doritos slaughtered post-toke can be alarming.
Tweeted star running back Arian Foster:
NFL needs to reevaluate it's street drug policy. Weed if far less harmful than alcohol & sell it at games. But players can't smoke a plant?— Arian Foster (@ArianFoster) May 9, 2014
No, they can't.
Foster makes a good point, but he still plays in the NFL. It's an exclusive club with a set of rules that are collectively bargained. If players want the NFL to change its testing policy regarding pot, then they have to fight for it. So far, they've shown no inclination to do that, so complaining now is senseless.
The notion I heard repeatedly from players tonight—that owners and team executives aren't judged as harshly by the public when they make mistakes as players are—rings true. Indianapolis Colts team owner Jim Irsay was portrayed as someone who needed help after he was busted for a DUI while allegedly in possession of prescription drugs and more than $29,000 in cash. Gordon is being painted as a buffoon who deserves little-to-no sympathy.
But remember, this is about the system, and whether a player chooses to follow it or not. Tyrann Mathieu, who admitted to failing over 10 drug tests while at LSU, tweeted one of the best pieces of advice Gordon could get right now:
I understand how Josh Gordon feels about now. I felt this way also, all I can say is look in the mirror & find yourself. Be Great.!— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) May 9, 2014
In speaking to people around the league about Gordon, no one believes he has an addiction. The belief is that Gordon has been coddled and there have been few people, employed by the Browns or in his personal life, who have been able to reach him.
One Browns player told me: "I feel for (Josh), but if this is true, I also feel disappointed."
When you look at Gordon's history, there has been a steady pattern of drug use. Last season, he was suspended two games for failing a drug test. In college, he was suspended indefinitely for failing a drug test.
I can tell you with certainty the Browns coaching staff is furious with Gordon. The franchise drafted Johnny Manziel with Gordon, one of the most explosive receivers in the sport, in mind as his future go-to guy. Gordon had an NFL-high 1,646 yards receiving last season. He's the only part of the Browns receiving corps that opposing defenses had to be wary of.
Now, the Browns are left with guys like Andrew Hawkins and Nate Burleson to slot alongside Greg Little.
A suspension could not only destroy Gordon's career, but significantly impact Manziel's as well. Even if Gordon beats this alleged suspension on appeal, why would the Browns ever trust him again?
I was told that after the suspension last season, Gordon promised teammates that his drug usage was over. He made a similar promise publicly.
"Despite everything I've been through, despite being a kid with a spotty background, the Cleveland Browns stuck their neck out and risked taking me and put their faith and belief in me, and I won't let them down," Gordon told The Plain-Dealer. "I'm grateful, and I know I can't go back to being the person I used to be."
It appears he may have done just that. At the very least, Gordon no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Part of this is on Cleveland. This is what can happen when you take a player with a spotty drug history. But most of this is on Gordon—a player who doesn't seem to understand what league he's in.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.