As the NFL season kicks off this weekend, the Cleveland Browns regain a once-key player on their team.
Wide receiver Josh Gordon has returned to the Cleveland Browns after missing the majority of the past three seasons. Gordon, who violated the team’s substance abuse policy on many occasions and was suspended for 56 games, has completed treatment at the University of Florida and is now clean and sober.
The 27-year-old star athlete, nicknamed “the Flash,” was drafted in 2012 by the Browns, where he quickly found success. The success was short-lived, however, when he failed a routine drug screening during his second season with the team. In the 2014 season, Gordon was arrested for driving while impaired, and his battle with addiction continued to follow him.
Opening up about his addiction last fall (just after his reinstatement to the NFL), Gordon told GQ that he had previously been hesitant to call himself an addict. “Because the stigma that was attached with it,” he said.
In that same interview, Gordon revealed the extent of his addiction, stating that he was likely under the influence of drugs or alcohol for every game he had played in his career. He later cited his years-long use of alcohol, Xanax, marijuana, and codeine, among other substances—which he stated in a documentary that he “grew up” using.
Now that he is healthy, Gordon is poised for a comeback. After so many years of ups and downs in his addiction and recovery, he has been extremely candid about his journey and appears grateful for the opportunity to return to football.
“As I humbly return to being a member of this team with an opportunity to get back to playing this game I love, I realize in order for me to reach my full potential, my primary focus must remain on my sobriety and mental well-being,” said Gordon on Twitter last month as he announced his comeback.
Addiction and substance abuse have remained at the center of controversies in professional sports. Players are tested regularly for many substances, now even including synthetic marijuana, which has become increasingly prevalent in the United States.
Players were tested for performance-enhancing drugs beginning in the late 1980s; in light of the opioid epidemic in the US, widespread painkiller use in the NFL has also taken center stage, with a related lawsuit currently in progress. The suit alleges that the NFL facilitated now-retired players’ use of painkillers, which led to long-term damage.
But what about marijuana use? One former player, Martellus Bennett, estimated that “about 89%” of NFL players use marijuana, and despite recent rumors of the NFL relaxing or changing their marijuana policies, the league’s strict ruling remains.
Gordon, who abused multiple substances, was cited many times for his marijuana use; his personal use of the drug dated back to middle school.
Interviewed by ESPN, the Browns general manager John Dorsey gave kudos to Josh Gordon for his recent achievements, saying, “You and I know addiction is a hard thing to overcome, but I applaud him for taking a mature standpoint and saying, ‘You know what, give me a couple extra weeks here. Just to dial in and understand. I’m going to try to take care of myself and get this season right.'”
As we tune in to a new football season, we know we’ll be rooting for Gordon and sharing in that same applause. Addiction does not discriminate, as we further realize when individuals like Gordon come forward in sharing their stories. Any story of recovery deserves to be celebrated, as the achievement of sobriety is no simple feat.
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