Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon has not played in an NFL game since December 2014, his NFL-mandated suspensions piling up one after the other. But now, in a short documentary for LeBron James’ Uninterrupted digital video company, Gordon finally is admitting to his substance-abuse problems in his attempt to return to the field.
“I’ve used alcohol on many, many occasions, Xanax on many occasions, cocaine several occasions, marijuana most of my life, codeine, cough syrup, methazine is very prevalent where I’m from,” said Gordon, whose latest petition for reinstatement was denied by the NFL in May. “It’s what I grew up using.”
Gordon’s first suspension, for the first two games of the 2013 season, was levied after he failed a drug test for codeine, which he said was an ingredient in the cough syrup that was prescribed by a doctor. He then was arrested on a DUI charge in 2014, earning a one-year suspension that later was reduced to 10 games. Gordon checked himself into rehab after the arrest, though in the video he says it wasn’t a serious attempt to get clean.
“My first thought was: ‘This is a publicity stunt. This is just going to help the media deal with me. It’s going to help the fans be able to deal with it. I don’t know what they’re so worked up for anyway.'” he said. “I definitely wasn’t listening. I definitely wasn’t paying attention. ‘Okay, it’s a business move. Alright, cool, let’s do it.’ I was there for like 14, 15 days, it was a joke. It was pretty much a vacation. I had a bunch of good gourmet meals and took a little break and then got right back to work. And then led the league in receiving yards.”
Gordon returned from that 10-game suspension in November 2014 and played in five games for the Browns. On the night before the sixth — in which he needed to play to achieve limited free agency the next year — he partied late into the night and slept through the team’s walk-through the next morning.
“The sixth game, end of the season, stayed out late but the thing is we had to be up in the morning for like a 7:30 team meeting.
“I didn’t wake up until 10 o’clock, 10:15, coming out of a blackout, I’m getting a bunch of texts and calls, from coaches like ‘Where are you at, we’re headed to the tarmac already.’ I’m like, ‘Aw sh–,’ so drove up to the tarmac, and our general manager at the time, he kind of pulls me to the side and talks to me, he’s like, ‘I’m sorry Josh, but you’re not going on this plane.’ I was watching the plane go off and it was like, well, ‘F— it, let’s go home, let’s party.’ ”
Gordon is working out in Gainesville, Florida, with former U.S. track star Michael Johnson, who also is his financial adviser. This summer, Gordon said, he found his rock bottom and checked himself into rehab again.
“I found myself around the city of Gainesville just wandering, looking for a drug dealer,” he said. “Looking for people on the street corner, whatever, smelled like weed, somebody that looked like they had something, asking random people, knocking on like smokeshop storefronts seeing where I could find some stuff at. I was just looking for something, some type of relief. I was walking down [the boulevard] at 11:30 at nighttime, and that night in particular I couldn’t find anybody with drugs and I just began to have a flashback and remembered all the negative things that have happened in my life that transpired, like what led up to this point? How did it get this bad? Like it’s so dark out here, I’m all alone, what the hell am I doing? I was scared. I was scared for my life.”
Gordon also alleged that his drug use was first enabled in college by one of his Baylor coaches, who he says provided him with a masking agent so he could pass drug tests.
“I’ve been enabled most of my life honestly,” he said. “I’ve been enabled by coaches, teachers, professors, everybody pretty much gave me a second chance just because of my ability. Not too long after I got arrested for possession of marijuana at Baylor, one of my coaches came by saying: ‘You are going to get drug tested by the compliance office. This is how it’s going to work, this is what they are going to do. If they do call you in, here goes these bottles of detox.’
“He showed me how to drink them, showed me how to take them. That was my real first experience with getting over on the system and that authority not really being taken seriously because it was kind of being guided by somebody that’s employed by the same university.”
Gordon still has to apply for reinstatement again, and likely will be suspended for four games upon his return. But at least based on outward appearances, he’s taking this comeback attempt seriously.
“I need to live out my amends. I need to try to make right for all my past transgressions and mistakes and show and prove I can be a better person, I can be a better man,” he said. “Somebody who is accountable, reliable because I know what’s on the other side of that. If given the opportunity, I believe I can prove my worth.”