By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Game on: The “secondhand smoke” strategy employed by the camp of Browns receiver Josh Gordon in its appeal of a possible NFL drug suspension is the legal equivalent of a “Hail Mary” pass.
But recent events mostly unrelated to the Gordon case have acted like penalties against, in this case, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and have moved the line of scrimmage closer to the end zone.
What once looked like a foregone conclusion – an indefinite suspension of repeat-offender Gordon, first reported on May 9 by ESPN.com – may not be so cut and dried now.
On Tuesday, Mike Florio of profootballtalk.com reported that Gordon’s one positive drug test for marijuana among at least 70 given him through the NFL substance abuse program was barely above the NFL concentration limit of 15 nanograms per milliliter. How barely? How about by one nanogram – one billionth of a gram!
Standard procedure in NFL drug testing is to divide a urine sample into two bottles and test both. Florio reported that Gordon’s “A” bottle tested at 16 ng/ml and the “B” bottle registered a 13.6, which is below the NFL threshold for a positive test.
Taken together, the average of 14.8 ng/ml would be below the positive test threshold of 15.0. But one of the questionable facets of the seriously flawed NFL substance abuse policy essentially states that the “B” bottle must simply show the existence of the tested substance to confirm the “A” bottle result.
Later on Monday, Adam Schefter reported for ESPN that Gordon’s legal team will argue that the lower reading of the two test results support their argument that Gordon was the victim of breathing in secondhand marijuana smoke and that he should not be suspended at all.
A perfect storm: The precise details contained in both reports suggest, to me, that the Gordon camp headed by agent Drew Rosenhaus and hired-gun lawyer Maurice Suh has elected to take Gordon’s case to the court of public opinion to pressure the under-fire Goodell into showing leniency on Gordon.
The strategy, I believe, is rooted in a perfect storm of events that have made it laughably unjust to give Gordon a minimum one-year ban for barely flunking a test for marijuana – even if the players-approved drug program mandates it.
These are the events that may be working strongly in Gordon’s favor:
1. There is an ongoing tug of war between the NFL and players union on the issue of testing for Human Growth Hormone, an easy-to-mask performance-enhancing drug that some believe is prevalent in the sport. Reportedly, the players would agree to it in exchange for loosening the threshold on marijuana testing – something many think is long overdue. Two states have legalized the use of marijuana and a year ago the World Anti-Doping Agency increased its marijuana threshold from 15 ng/ml to 150 ng/ml.
2. Everyone is waiting to see if Goodell will be as tough on Colts owner Jim Irsay as he has been in disciplining players. Irsay was arrested in March on a misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated and four felony counts of possession of prescription pills -- a controlled substance. Goodell’s discipline of Irsay is under the microscope because he has said that owners should be held to a higher standard than players.
3. Goodell has been excoriated inside and outside the NFL for an insanely lenient suspension of two games of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for a physical altercation with his then-fiancée in February. A video of the incident showed Rice dragging the seemingly unconscious victim, now his wife, from an Atlantic City, NJ, casino hotel elevator. Rice pleaded not guilty to a third-degree charge of aggravated assault. He avoided trial through a pretrial intervention program in May. Public outcry has intensified over the league’s insensitivity to the issue of domestic abuse. Goodell has not commented on Rice’s discipline.
All of which has characterized the league’s uneven system of justice as an abysmal failure in need of a total overhaul.
Ball in the air: Does Gordon deserve a minimum one-year suspension for barely testing positive for marijuana? As a multiple offender and participant in Stage Three of the NFL’s shady substance abuse program, the answer is yes.
(Gordon may also be disciplined in the future for a DUI violation in Raleigh, NC, on July 5.)
Rules are rules and these ones were collectively bargained by the players union and league management. In many cases, the league simply treats multiple offenders of drug violations more harshly than serious criminals.
Gordon’s appeal hearing is scheduled for Friday in New York. Goodell may not even be in attendance; he is expected to be in Canton for Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Weekend festivities. Even so, Goodell will be the one to rule on Gordon’s appeal and his decision is final, per terms of the substance abuse policy approved by the players.
There are larger issues at stake here for the NFL, such as the waning integrity of a discipline system careening out of control.
In the court of the NFL, which, critics say, places Goodell as judge, jury and executioner, Gordon’s strategy indeed appears to be a last-ditch Hail Mary pass.
But on the field, you would not doubt the chances of the supremely athletic Gordon coming down with such a pass, would you?
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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