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WR Josh Gordon says he's a changed man, needs to prove it, grateful to Browns for welcoming him back

BEREA — Josh Gordon stood in front of the mob of reporters for the first time since December 2014, wearing a Browns visor and workout shirt and just yards from the practice field he used to dominate.
He described himself as “elated” to be back. He admitted he was “selfish” in the past and declared himself a changed man following a “humbling” 17-month drug suspension that cost him the 2015 season. He proclaimed his gratitude to owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam and the Browns organization for welcoming him back, and pledged to be present and better for the team, fans and community.
He acknowledged that no matter how contrite, confident and straightforward he appeared behind the microphones, nothing he said would prove anything.
“It definitely can’t be done here at a podium, that’s for sure,” he said Thursday, with the opening practice of training camp set for today. “Nothing really gets done here, but out there on a field I can do everything I came here to do by my actions.
“But with the support that I have here with Mr. Haslam, through the team, through the coaches here, with the players who have shown me an extreme amount of support and love, I can only do that by showing it back to them.”
Gordon, 25, was reinstated by Commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday after a face-to-face meeting July 19. He must serve a four-game suspension to start the season but is allowed to participate in training camp and preseason games. He’ll be sidelined for at least a couple of weeks after injuring a quadriceps while working out earlier this summer.
“I definitely think I’m a different person,” Gordon said. “If you haven’t changed over a period of time, it’s definitely a bad thing. I think me standing here is a testament to that.
“To my fans, I just want to show them. The community, I want to be there for them.”
The suspension to start the regular season will be the fourth imposed by the league in the last four years. He’s missed 27 of the last 32 Browns games.
The organization taking him back wasn’t guaranteed, but the decision-makers heard what they needed from him to feel comfortable offering another chance.
“If the message from Josh and the pledge from Josh wasn’t consistent with what we wanted to see from him, we would’ve made a different decision,” executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said Thursday as veterans reported. “That wasn’t the case. He in earnest wants to make the most of this opportunity.
“And he knows his situation and so we’re going to get around him, give him that opportunity.”
Gordon said he wasn’t sure the Browns would welcome him back.
“Over that period of time, I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “But I was grateful to be back here. They definitely have things going in the right direction.
“I’m thankful to be here in Cleveland and I believe this is where I belong.”
He attributed his personal growth to several factors, perhaps the largest being his time out of a job and away from football.
“I wouldn’t wish that upon anybody,” he said. “But the point has definitely gotten across to me clear as day. It’s not a place you want to go back to or ever get to.”
Gordon has repeatedly failed drug tests, dating to his college days when he was dismissed from teams at Baylor and Utah. He said he’s ready to accept and capitalize on the support the Browns are offering.
“In the past I’ve been a selfish player, I’ll definitely admit that,” he said. “I wanted to do things my way. But things turn around, people change, it’s possible to change. It takes people some learning, but eventually you get to that point and I think I have.
“You definitely get that sense of need to do something important with your life and with my career, considering my age and how much time I’ve been out and how much time I’ve got left nobody knows. So I need to capitalize on that, not only for myself, but for the well-being of my family and be there for this team that held me together and allowed me to come back, which I’m very grateful for.”
He didn’t answer directly when asked if he went to rehab.
“I’ve taken the steps necessary to better myself as a person off the field just as much as on, seeking out help and support anywhere I can through the help of the Browns, through people in the front office, through Jim Brown, who’s been a great mentor to me as well as many other figures and ex-football players around the league who opened their doors and helped me out along the way,” Gordon said.
He reported to Browns headquarters Tuesday and met with Brown, coach Hue Jackson and others. The organization had very limited contact with Gordon during the suspension.
On Thursday he talked to veteran receivers coach Al Saunders while his teammates took the conditioning test.
“He’s excited to be back. We are glad to have him back,” Brown said. “It’s a long time for a player who’s on your roster to be away from the team. So just getting him back into the structure and with his teammates in the building I think will be a very healthy thing for him.
“I’m not trying to defend him, but he is, at his core, a good person.”
Jackson is in his first year in Cleveland, so he’s new to the Gordon drama.
“He’s going to have to be accountable to what it is that he needs to do, first and foremost,” Jackson said. “I truly believe that he wants to make it right.
“I think what’s important, his slate’s clean with me. The only way to deal with a player in these situations is to kind of hit the restart button for him and he has to go do it. The league has said what their expectations are, we have set what our expectations are, we’ve laid it out and I think it’s crystal clear what needs to happen as we move forward.”
Teammates such as left tackle Joe Thomas and cornerback Joe Haden saw Gordon at his best in 2013. Despite being suspended for the first two games, he led the league with 1,646 receiving yards and added 87 catches and nine touchdowns as he was named All-Pro.
Jackson said he’s watched film of Gordon.
“You better believe I did,” he said. “I know who Josh Gordon is as a football player. What really captured me is Josh Gordon as a person.”
Gordon spent part of this offseason hanging out with troubled former Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. That’s worrisome for fans who feel burned by Manziel, who partied himself out of the league less than two years after being drafted No. 22.
“It’s difficult to take people inside that relationship, but that’s one of my good friends,” Gordon said. “I’m always going to be there to support him and that’s what I’m trying to do and that’s what he wanted to do for me.
“We’re definitely two different people headed down two different paths and we’ll all reach our outcome at a different point in time. For the sake of my career I have to do what I have to do.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or [email protected] Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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