Josh Gordon is Turning Over a New Leaf, Ready to Prove He Can Stay Sober

Josh Gordon exploded onto the NFL scene in 2013 with maybe the most impressive stats that season. He finished it with 87 catches, 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns. Many were projected Gordon to eventually be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL after that, his sophomore season.

Since then he has played only five games and been suspended since the 2014 season while struggling with alcohol and drug addiction.

He has been slowly trying to get his life together and work his way back into the NFL. He was recently reinstated by the NFL in October, and was able to return to Browns practice on Nov 20. He spoke with Ben Baskin for a Sports Illustrated story that ran this week where he opens up more than one might expect.

From the story:

Gordon, it turns out, is a willing storyteller, seemingly open and transparent, but it doesn’t take long for our conversation to mirror his career itself: a maddening series of interruptions, derailments and strange decisions that raise questions about his motives. Gordon is a few seconds into the saga of his past life when a knock comes at the door.

A bespectacled man with salt-and-pepper hair and a green medical tote bag enters the apartment and follows Gordon into the bathroom, where he observes as the receiver urinates into a cup. It’s a familiar routine; Gordon has undergone drug tests roughly twice a week since he arrived in the NFL in 2012. “Outstanding,” the man says on his way out. “Have a great day, will ya? Good seeing you again, Josh.”

Gordon sits back down and resumes chronicling his childhood in Houston: the gang banging, the drug-dealing, the carjackings and armed robberies and shootouts he says he took part in. He needs little prompting and speaks fluidly, without pause—except for the frequent interruptions from [his agent Michael] Johnson who, from his perch on the couch, constantly tries to steer the conversation toward his client’s NFL career. (It’s worth pointing out here: Johnson, a college QB at historically black North Carolina Central—and later an employee of agent Drew Rosenhaus before starting his own marketing group—was central to a 2013 recruiting scandal at the University of North Carolina, and he is serving 12 months of probation as part of a plea deal in that case.)

The manager isn’t as worried about Gordon’s getting himself in trouble as he is about giving away too many details of the Josh Gordon Story. Johnson wants the full narrative parceled out for profit. “We got other projects we’re doing,” he says, a vague reference to book and movie deals he and Gordon hope to secure. “I can’t give you his whole life story when you’re not even guaranteeing me the cover [of Sports Illustrated]. Because, first off, we are not getting paid for this.”

Gordon is suiting up for the Cleveland Browns this weekend for the first time since 2014. There is a lot he will have to prove not only to the Browns and the NFL, but also to himself. His fight to stay sober will be well-documented and the scrutiny will come down hard on him should he not win that fight.

The early reviews on that turnaround have been positive. Gordon spent the summer working out with Olympic sprinter Tim Montgomery (who was suspended himself by the USADA in a doping scandal, and who was convicted in recent years of check fraud and dealing heroin), and he was reportedly clocked running a 4.35 40 in his first week back with the Browns. Coach Hue Jackson has said the receiver’s return will be “like Christmas.”

But stats will be only a partial measure of Gordon’s comeback effort. He’s asking the football world not for a second chance but a ninth or 10th. He has been suspended by the NFL or by the Browns on five separate occasions since 2013, following failed tests for marijuana, codeine and alcohol. And while Johnson repeatedly told me throughout the past year how well Gordon was progressing, the receiver was still struggling to stay sober. In Gainesville he admitted that he had relapsed as recently as July, sneaking away at night to wander the streets in search of weed.

This isn’t the first chance Gordon will have to prove he is sober, but he’s hoping it is the last. He fell back on his vices before when he was reinstated by the NFL all previous times, but an “epiphany” he had over the summer is his reason for believing this time will be different.

He had an “epiphany” this summer, on one of those nights when he was wandering the streets of Gainesville looking for drugs. “If I was willing to go to any length to [get a fix],” Gordon remembers asking himself, “then at what point am I going to go to any length to get something positive for me?” The next day, he says, he spoke with his therapist.

He mentions that he was also grappling with the reality of being insolvent for years and facing the realization that he had a daughter to support. (Gordon fails to mention a second, as-of-yet-unresolved paternity case that was raised in April.) “Obviously these motherf—— are going to lock me up, if they want to,” Gordon says. “If you’re not paying child support, you’re going to jail. I’m not down for that s—, so let’s figure out how to keep myself sober.”

He checked himself into yet another rehab facility, in Gainesville. This time, he swears, it worked. He doesn’t want to talk about his treatment, or how many days he’s been clean. But he says he’s now “mentally at peace.”

“This,” he says, “is the first time ever that I can truthfully say that.”

All eyes will be on Josh Gordon’s return. He is expected to be immediately reinstated after he comes off the Commissioner’s exempt list. How much he plays is totally up in the air, but the very talented receiver is looking to pick up right where he left off.

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