A Flash in the Pan

Source: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

As a die-hard Cleveland Browns fan, there have been very few instances where I’ve been really gung-ho about a player. No matter how much hype or hubbub surrounds a player in a rare moment of excellence, those brief glimmerings of promise soon tarnish and mould (unless it’s Joe Thomas. Thank you, Joe Thomas).

The other week when my friends were drafting their fantasy football teams, I couldn’t help but do a double-take when a buddy of mine chose Seattle’s Josh “Flash” Gordon as a late round selection. Gordon is the epitome of pure, raw skill and talent sadly put to waste due to continuous suspensions for violation of the NFL’s drug abuse policies.

While the policies at hand have their questionable ethics, the fact of the matter is Gordon has been handed opportunity after opportunity to redeem himself. His current status of being an eligible receiver in fantasy leagues speaks volumes that there are still some folks who think he deserves another chance.

I mean, I think the guy is an amazing athlete and rightfully deserves to be reinstated if the league allows him to come back, but he’s currently serving his sixth suspension, and the fifth drug-related deferral. It seems like I’m always waiting for the lap of the merry-go-round to make another roundtrip, between being reinstated and being suspended once again. He just loves his weed.

Gordon himself claims that he was always getting high on weed, Xanax, codeine cough syrup, and drinking heavily as early as middle school. A credit card theft charge as a minor as well as numerous disciplinary measures stemming from drug busts at high schools forced him to stay within Texas and attend Baylor on an athletic scholarship.

A month into his sophomore year at Baylor, Gordon and teammate Willie Jefferson were found passed out in Jefferson’s car in a Taco Bell drive-through. The police found marijuana in the vehicle, and Jefferson was kicked off the team. Gordon got lucky, and was only suspended as the charges against him were dropped.

After hauling in 42 receptions and 7 touchdowns, Gordon was indefinitely suspended by Baylor after testing positive for marijuana, a decision that led to his transfer to Utah. He didn’t play a single snap in his Junior year, and declared for the 2012 NFL supplemental draft.

Selected in the draft by the Cleveland Browns, there were some concerns as to whether his suspension at Baylor would transcend to the big leagues. For myself, I never listen to the hype surrounding new Browns weapons until they actually prove themselves, which 9 times out of 10 they don’t pan out. Gordon ultimately has to fall in the over-populated ‘waste of potential’ category, despite teasing Browns fans with some extraordinary accomplishments.

After an impressive rookie campaign in 2012 that saw him catch 50 passes for over 800 yards and 5 touchdowns, Gordon’s second professional season saw him set a league record and earn a spot on the 1st All-Pro team. His quick bursts of speed after catching passes in stride (especially considering the lack of chemistry with a carousel of quarterbacks that included Brian Hoyer, Jason Campbell, and Brandon Weeden), along with his towering 6’3, 225lb frame gave defensive backs nightmares when he was both in the open field or along the sidelines.

He became the first receiver to ever have consecutive 200 yard games, and would finish atop the league receiving list with 1646 yards in just 14 games (he missed two games due to guess what….. a drug abuse suspension).

A month before he was set to begin his third season, Gordon was arrested in North Carolina on an impaired driving charge, and speeding. A month later, the NFL suspended him for the entire 2014 season for once again violating the substance abuse policy, though a new protocol would cut the suspension back to only 10 games.

Gordon was relatively productive upon reinstatement, and the Browns were actually in playoff contention heading into December, but of course both they and Gordon would blow it. The team lost their last 5 games, finishing a disappointing 7-9, and Gordon was suspended by the Browns for a violation of team rules (probably ripping heavy bowls and touring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame).

Exactly one year after earning a Pro Bowl selection, he was about to face a lengthy punishment that rendered all of his radiant accomplishments to seem like a thing of the past.

Part of the probation for his 2013 suspension was to refrain from consuming any alcohol. What was he doing when he was arrested for impaired driving the following summer? Hmmmmm, seems like the man they called “Flash” likes a little juice with his kush! By violating the terms of his probation, he was suspended for the entire 2015 season. His attempts to be reinstated for 2016 were stalled and/or refused once he again failed a drug test, testing positive for marijuana.

The NFL reinstated him in July of 2016, though he would be suspended for the first four games of the season. The week prior to his expected return, Gordon walked away from the Browns, opting to enroll in a rehabilitation program to get his life back on track. While this decision put his longgggg awaited return in question, many Browns fans still had faith that he would triumph over his addictions and return to his 2013 form.

The league had to reinstate Gordon once again when he was done with his rehab program, and while he managed to stay sober for quite a few months, he never played a snap in 2016. In fact, he confessed to celebrating his six-month sobriety by partying excessively, wandering the streets of Gainesville looking for a fix.

In March of 2017, he applied yet again for reinstatement and was denied in May. He wouldn’t be welcomed back to the league until November, but on a conditional basis. The Browns had gone 1-15 in 2016 and had yet to win a game in 2017 heading into week 13. Gordon was finally promoted to the active roster and played in the final 5 games (all losses), putting up admirable but not sensational numbers as the Browns became only the second team in league history to go 0-16.

Seemingly sober, 2018 was poised to be Gordon’s official return to elite status. Only 27 years old, it would be his chance to play the majority of a season for the first time in five years. His only touch in the opening week was a difficult touchdown reception against the Steelers, and all appeared to be well. During the mid-week, the Browns were looking to trade Gordon for apparently ‘breaking the team’s trust’ after showing up to practice late, and ‘not himself’.

The team’s fears that Gordon was struggling to stay sober were also coupled with the fact that he had injured his hamstring while shooting a promotional video for his clothing line, something that conflicted with team protocol. After six on and off years, the Browns (and myself) had finally reached their limit of tolerance, and Gordon was traded a couple days later to the Patriots.

Of course he would find a way to harness some of his ability with a franchise like New England. Gordon promptly provided Tom Brady with a deep-threat option, and hauled in the future Hall of Fame quarterback’s 500th career passing touchdown.

I’m sitting at home, steaming mad that Gordon was able to find success with a new team, proving once again that Cleveland is just simply a cursed franchise…. Oh hold on a second, Gordon was suspended in December for violating the drug policy AGAIN, as well as his probation terms. His addiction had again taken over, and he opted to step away from football (not that he even had a choice) to focus on his mental health and returning to sobriety.

For the fourth time, Gordon was reinstated post-drug-suspension in August of 2019, his rights remaining with the Patriots. He scored on opening week, and would play decently until a knee injury forced him onto the injured reserve in late October.

New England, through no clear explanation, chose to waive his rights a week later, allowing Gordon to sign with another team should someone risk taking a chance. Seattle would be that team, and Gordon would once again be given another chance to implement his freakish aptitudes. He lasted about a month and a half before violating the drug policy for the fifth time, thus putting him on the indefinite suspension list yet again. Six overall suspensions, five for smoking that maui wowie.

Though he hasn’t yet been reinstated, Gordon’s rights were retained by Seattle in early September of this year. Thus, should he be so lucky as to receive an additional chance at getting his life back on track, Russell Wilson will have another offensive deep-threat along with the emerging DK Metcalf, David Moore, and Tyler Lockett.

Gordon’s career was never supposed to end up becoming glorified; he was a 2nd round supplemental draft pick who showed such sharp signs of greatness that his repeated falls from grace have rendered him his own categorical status. What that status is, I can’t say.

There seems to be an abundance of empty pages that can hold several chapters in “Flash” Gordon’s manuscript. I’m as excited now as I pretended not to be back in 2013 when he was excelling on the field (and off the field too, I suppose).

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