Josh Gordon's life has been a roller coaster ride the past 12 months. He has gone from starting off the season on suspension to having one of the best receiving seasons in Cleveland Browns history to potentially facing an indefinite suspension.
It's a sad situation for a player with such talent, and it's not the only time this has happened. Sports history is full of tales of athletes sidelined by addiction and being a part of the wrong crowd, and Josh Gordon is merely the latest name on that list.
Yet, as bleak as things may seem now, he has the ability to turn things around, and there are success stories from the NFL where players who had to deal with similar struggles were able to overcome the odds.
The story that stands out in particular stands comes from the same player who directly stated that drugs were more important to Josh Gordon than football. That player was Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter.
Sure, it's easy to refer to Carter as a Hall of Fame wide receiver, but his path to NFL success was far from easy. Carter was a supplemental draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1987 and spent his first three seasons with the team before being cut.
The release was the wake-up call Carter needed, and he turned his career and life around with the Minnesota Vikings, evolving into one of the league's most feared receivers.
These situations are not identical, but if Carter can survive an outright release with what he had to go through, then there are opportunities available for Gordon to bounce back.
The rub is that he has to want it. If he does want to move past this—and I would have to think that deep down he does—then there is a way for him to do so. It's a difficult path, but it could be an extremely rewarding one not just for Josh Gordon the football player, but Josh Gordon the person.
The first, and hardest, step is that he has to break from the influence. Driving around with a friend in possession of marijuana when the league already has a close eye on you tells me that there's another layer to Gordon's struggles, and it's one I believe most people miss.
The social element can be just as tough to break from as the drug itself. If Gordon has remained friends with the same people, or the same group of people, as he hung out with when he was removed from Baylor's football team, then even a decision to stop using will not do much good.
As a professional athlete making millions, any pressure Gordon already faces is magnified further, and there will be many more people in his life that who either steer him down the wrong path, or simply be there alongside him as he steers down that wrong path.
The Browns, to their credit, have taken steps to help Gordon spend time with more upstanding players. New wide receiver Nate Burleson has stated that he wants to be a mentor to Josh Gordon, and he's the type of class act from whom Gordon could learn.
Spending time off the field with positive influences like Burleson might something Gordon needs to focus on in the coming months.
The second step is that has to be honest with himself, as well as with everyone else. When you're on your third speeding violation as a Brown is and are pleading not guilty, then it across as if Gordon hasn't learned from his mistakes and is still making excuses for his actions.
Even though it's not related to his suspension, manning up to a traffic violation can be a baby step, and it could snowball into making him accountable for himself.
I'm not referring to damage control or getting involved in the community. Yes, it would be nice if Gordon was front and center, volunteering throughout Cleveland, but that's for further down the road.
If you man up to your shortcomings, it makes it easier to overcome future ones. Being honest with yourself will help you realize your own weaknesses and work to move past them and avoid those pitfalls. This is the kind of lesson Josh Gordon needs to take to heart.
Should he rid himself of bad influences and understand what he has to do to avoid these situations in the future, then that is when he can move to rehabilitation. When I say rehabilitation, I'm not necessarily talking about Gordon's marijuana usage, as I do not know the extent of his usage and whether or not that would be needed. Rather, I mean image rehabilitation.
For every Cris Carter story of bouncing back, there are many other players who were unable to overcome their drug issues and ended up out of the league. As talented as Gordon is, he knows, as does everyone else, that he could end up out of the NFL.
But overcoming the issue and resuming his professional life is but one stage. Perhaps reaching out and assisting other players with similar issues would be helpful as well. Gordon speaking out and helping other players affected after he himself rebounded would not only give a sense of hope to others, but it would cast people's perception of him in a different light, much as it did with Chris Carter.
It would also serve as a reminder for Gordon as to how close he was to losing it.
That reminder might be all he needs to move past it. Josh Gordon cannot change the past, but there is not that much time for him to change the future either.
If he wants to be the feared receiver that the NFL saw last year, then he needs to begin working now on salvaging his career. Another day off could mean another news story, and another news story could damage his career further.
A lost career is something no one wants—not the NFL, not the Browns, not their fans and certainly not Josh Gordon. All he has to do is get through day one.
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