On Dec. 3, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon played in his first NFL game since addiction nearly ended his promising career.
In the game, Gordon caught four passes for 85 yards, including a 28-yard catch that led to a touchdown in the second quarter. The Los Angeles Chargers defeated the Browns 19-10. Despite the loss, Gordon enjoyed his first game action since Dec. 21, 2014.
“It was fun,” Gordon told The Plain Dealer. “It was exciting to be out there and blessed to have the opportunity to get back to work.”
After the game, Browns coach Hue Jackson commended Gordon’s play.
“He made some plays,” Jackson said. “It was his first game back, and it looked like he belonged. He has some rust that he needs to knock off, but I thought he competed.”
Playing in an NFL game after years of drug problems is a feat for Gordon, whom many thought would never play another down in the league. In his football career, he has been suspended multiple times for failing drug tests, and he was charged with drug possession while in college.
But after a couple stints in rehab, the former Pro Bowl wide receiver has been given another chance to fulfill his NFL dream.
For years, Gordon struggled with drug and alcohol addiction.
In an interview with the sports website Uninterrupted, Gordon said that growing up in Houston he used various substances, including alcohol, cocaine, Xanax, marijuana and cough syrups containing codeine and promethazine.
In October 2010, while playing football at Baylor University, Gordon was suspended by the college after police found him and a teammate asleep in a car with marijuana. He was cited with a misdemeanor charge of drug possession.
But coaches and teachers often enabled his substance abuse. After his arrest, Gordon said that coaches at Baylor instructed him on how to pass a drug test. They went as far as providing him with detoxification liquids.
“That was my … first experience with like getting over on the system and that authority not really being taken seriously because it was kind of being guided by somebody that is employed by the same university,” Gordon said.
After failing a drug test in August 2011, Gordon was suspended indefinitely by Baylor. He transferred to the University of Utah and sat out the entire 2011 season. Around this time, he began using Adderall every day. After failing another drug test, he decided to turn pro.
In July 2012, the Browns selected Gordon in the second round of the NFL supplemental draft. He signed a four-year, $5.3 million deal with the organization. As a rookie, he notched 50 catches for 805 yards and five touchdowns.
But prior to his second NFL season, the league suspended him for two games for violating its substance abuse policy. Despite missing the games, he led the NFL in receiving yards and was named to the NFL All-Pro first team.
In 2014, he was arrested for suspicion of driving while impaired, suspended 10 games by the NFL for once again failing a drug test and suspended by the Browns for one game for violating team rules. In January 2015, the league suspended Gordon for a year after he tested positive for alcohol use.
Fans heavily criticized Gordon for his actions. They called him a drug addict. They called him a junkie. They called him an alcoholic. Frustrated by the criticism, Gordon went back to partying and substance use.
In July 2016, prior to the NFL season, the league reinstated Gordon. But after he learned about a warrant issued for his arrest relating to a paternity case, he began drinking again.
Afterward, he decided to make a change. He sought treatment at Florida Recovery Center in Gainesville, Florida, where he stayed for 30 days.
While in rehab, Gordon trained at a nearby athletic facility to prepare for his return to the NFL. After his request to return to the league was denied in May 2017, Gordon was granted reinstatement on Nov. 1, 2017, contingent upon compliance with clinical and other requirements.
Gordon’s journey to sobriety hasn’t always been smooth. Since leaving rehab, he has relapsed several times, and he spent more time in treatment in 2017. But that doesn’t mean his recovery has failed. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 40 to 60 percent of people in recovery experience relapse.
“I need to … try to make right with all my past transgressions and mistakes and show and prove that I can be a better person, a better man, somebody that is accountable, reliable,” he said. “If given the opportunity, I believe I can prove my worth.”
He has once again begun proving that worth on the football field. He is proving his worth off the field by attending therapy and committing to his sobriety.