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Everybody loses in the suspension of Browns receiver Josh Gordon

Aug 28, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi |



The Morning Kickoff …

Only in Cleveland: Josh Gordon possessed more athletic talent than any player I have seen in 30 years of reporting on the Browns.

That includes the Hall of Famers who performed in my time – guard Joe DeLamielleure and tight end Ozzie Newsome.

You can recount the outlandish receiving numbers of Gordon’s 2013 season and draw conclusions about what his year-long suspension will mean to the 2014 team. I will tell you that those statistics don’t even come close to stating the loss of Josh Gordon.

I would say that Gordon possessed more natural, physical, athletic talent than any player in Browns history other than Jim Brown. Yes, in Browns history! He is only 23 years old and hasn’t scratched the surface as an NFL receiver. What could have been may never be known.

His season is over – and quite possibly his career – because he flunked a drug test for marijuana use by 1 nanogram per millileter in his urine sample. The NFL threshold for a positive drug test is 15 ng/ml. Gordon scored a 16. A nanogram is one billionth of a gram – per milliliter of urine. The threshold for Olympic athletes is 150 ng/ml.

And the second sample testing, which is a split of the original sample, registered a 13, below the threshold, according to reports. But the NFL substance abuse policy agreed to by the players union only requires the existence of the banned substance in the second sample to verify a positive test. Most every other organization on the planet Earth that uses drug testing – sports organizations, private employers, public employers – requires both samples to exceed the threshold to verify a positive test.

Because Gordon is a multiple offender, which means he has flunked multiple drug tests after being warned of the ramifications, and because the NFL players association agreed to the drug policy, the NFL threw the book at Gordon.


Not for dragging his unconscious fiancée out of a casino hotel elevator, as did Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who received two games suspension.

Not for drunk-driving and possessing in his car unauthorized prescription drugs, as did Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who has received no NFL discipline.

Not for killing a pedestrian while driving drunk, as did former Browns receiver Donte Stallworth in 2009, who received a one-year suspension and played thereafter.

So the hands-down most talented Browns player since Jim Brown – the only player in the past 50 years of the franchise with top 1 percent athletic talent -- is suspended for a year for failing a marijuana test.

So excuse me while I vent at:

The Browns

Where do I begin?

Gordon, who had a history of marijuana use, was drafted by Tom Heckert. Heckert recognized Gordon’s immense talent and was not blind to Gordon’s problems.

Heckert was fired by former CEO Joe Banner and replaced by Mike Lombardi, who agreed with Banner and wanted to trade Gordon – at the right price, which didn’t materialize. They were fired and replaced by Ray Farmer.

Through all the changes, the Browns have failed to do everything in their power to keep their best player eligible. Because of their recurrent regime changes, the responsibility of keeping watch over Gordon, who obviously has a drug problem, which some medical personnel consider a sickness, not a choice, fell through the cracks.

I would bet that any of the top-flight NFL franchises would have identified Gordon as a special player with special needs and would have seen to it that he received ‘round-the-clock care/support/babysitting. Whatever it takes, you do it.

The Browns, who have had fewer playmaking athletes than any NFL team in the last 15 years, who have fielded the worst offenses in the history of this once-proud franchise, should have done more to keep Gordon from flunking a test for marijuana.

The player needed help and the Browns obviously fell short of providing it.

The Browns (again)

The NFL hearing officer in Gordon’s appeal, Harold Henderson, a long-time league office executive, took 23 days to arrive at a decision. The league drug policy mandates an appeal to a suspension be made “in a reasonable time.”

Henderson’s foot-dragging certainly violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the drug policy, yet the Browns never raised a fuss about it, never applied any pressure for a resolution, never squawked like Jerry Jones, Robert Kraft, Tom Benson, the Rooneys or any other vested NFL team owner looking out for his franchise and its fans most certainly would have complained, legitimately.

The fact of the matter is the Browns’ organization, as presently constituted with rookies-in-training at every single layer of management, has no advocate to look out for the franchise in league squabbles.

It’s a competitive business of 32 organizations, and the timid shall be trampled.

Ray Farmer

The general manager knew of Gordon’s possible indefinite suspension heading into the May 8-10 draft. And despite having high picks in every round of a draft historically rich in receivers, Farmer hemmed, hawed, stayed “true to his board,” and committed the incomprehensible error of NOT DRAFTING A SINGLE RECEIVER.

This was like a doctor not prescribing medicine to a patient testing repeatedly for high cholesterol.

Instead, Farmer tried alternative measures, like signing beaten-down receivers on the verge of retirement and inviting young players left undrafted from the richest crop of college receivers in recent history.

All the while, Farmer pointed to the resident-genius Seattle Seahawks and concluded that since they won the Super Bowl without any premier receivers, surely that must be the formula to winning the Super Bowl.

Those 31 other NFL teams who drafted receivers? Idiots.

The NFL policies on discipline

The league has separate policies on substance abuse, performance-enhancing drugs, personal conduct and on-field conduct. Each may as well have its own commissioner, because there is no logic or consistency behind the discipline imposed in each policy.

Joe Haden received a four-game suspension at a cost to him of more than $1 million for using Adderal, a banned substance, to pull an all-nighter on a vacation in Las Vegas in July of 2012. And yet Rice was suspended two games for some form of physical abuse of his future wife.

Because Gordon had flunked previous drug tests, he was suspended a full season – maybe more – for testing positive for marijuana by a microscopic margin.

The NFL policies of discipline are morally repugnant. The NFL justifies it all by saying, “The players union agreed to it.”

The drug policy disallows the Browns from having contact with Gordon during his suspension. Gordon will have to pass numerous drug tests – up to 10 per month -- to even be considered for reinstatement. If he misses a single test, or flunks one, he will have no chance in front of the NFL parole board.

This is why some people predict Gordon will never play in the NFL again.

Because of drug tests. Crimes, you can recover from in the NFL. But not drug tests.

The NFL players association

I’ll keep this brief. Its biggest triumph in the most recent collective bargaining negotiations in 2011 was securing lighter practices and one day off every five days in training camp.



Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

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

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




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