Can Josh Gordon be trusted?
That’s always been the question for one of the most talented athletes to ever play for the Browns. It’s particularly pertinent now.
Gordon is set to be activated later this week and play in a regular-season game for the first time in nearly three years Sunday in Los Angeles against the Chargers.
On Tuesday, SI.com posted a story in which Gordon further detailed his drug use and opened up about a life of crime in high school and at Baylor University.
“If I was going to be a thug or a gangster,” Gordon said, “I was going to be the best gangster out there.”
Reporter Ben Baskin also chronicled the motivation for Gordon to tell his troubling tales — the need for money after being on unpaid suspension for so long — the sketchy influence of business manager Michael Johnson and lies that needed to be corrected after the initial interview.
That’s the backdrop as Gordon has three practices left to get as comfortable as possible to retake the field.
Commissioner Roger Goodell granted his request for reinstatement Nov. 1. Coach Hue Jackson, Gordon and teammates insist he’s in a “good place” and doing all the right things.
It’s impossible to know if that’s true. Or how long it will last.
The details he provided Sports Illustrated only cast more doubt upon a return that was always an iffy proposition.
That didn’t stop the Browns, from owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam to head of football operations Sashi Brown to Jackson to the players, from welcoming back Gordon despite the history of lies and letdowns. The reason is simple: Desperation.
The Browns are 0-11 this season and 1-26 since Brown was put in charge and Jackson hired. Everyone’s job is on the line, and a sign of real progress — like a win or two — in the final five games could impact the Haslams’ decisions after the season.
Gordon immediately becomes one of the team’s best players, perhaps its best. The chances of victory are enhanced significantly with him at receiver.
Talent goes a long way in the NFL. It forgives a lot of sins and justifies second chance after second chance.
It doesn’t earn trust.
Gordon should be commended for trying to turn around his life. Whether it’s driven by the need for money, the realization his career could’ve been over or the paternity suit that gave him a daughter, if he’s sincere about his attempt to beat a decade-plus of addiction, more power to him and the best of luck.
But trusting Gordon comes with immense risk. And not just because he’s an admitted addict. He’s shown over and over he’ll make bad decisions.
The latest questionable one is aligning himself with Johnson, who was involved in the recruiting scandal at the University of North Carolina and is serving 12 months of probation as part of a plea deal in that case, according to Sports Illustrated.
That pales in comparison to the complete lack of judgment in his younger days.
He told SI he never “maliciously” shot anyone but often had to fire a gun to get out of dangerous situations. He sold drugs at his high school, made money by using counterfeit bills, was arrested for felony credit card theft when he was 17 and spent 35 days in jail.
As a sophomore at Baylor he said he would receive up to 6 pounds of marijuana in the mail every week and sell it across Texas, making $10,000 in profit a month. He was suspended from the football teams at Baylor and Utah but applied for the NFL’s supplemental draft in 2012.
“I figured, I’ll find out if I have what it takes to play in the NFL,” Gordon says. “Give that s— a shot.”
After repeatedly telling SI he had quit smoking marijuana for his first two NFL seasons, three weeks later he told GQ Magazine he smoked and drank before every game of his career. He explained the lie to SI as “protecting the content, protecting the narrative.”
Gordon has been to rehab at least twice since he left the Browns last year, including a lengthy stay this summer. He insists he’s finally “mentally at peace.”
The final five games will be a great test to see if Gordon can handle everything that comes with life in the NFL, especially so soon after leaving rehab. That’s only the beginning.
The Browns will control the rights to Gordon after the season — he’s not scheduled to become a restricted free agent until after 2018 — and will have to decide if he’s worth the risk.
Just as his awesome talent gives the Browns and their fans reason to hope, the stories of his past provide extra reason for doubt.
A quarterback needs to trust his receivers to give their all and be in the right spot. A coach needs to trust his players to be accountable. An organization needs to trust its greatest assets will be available.
Can Josh Gordon be trusted?
No one knows.