For the first time in over two years, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is set to rejoin the team in Berea on Tuesday after being reinstated by the NFL on a conditional basis last Wednesday. Over the past few months, Gordon has began opening up about his personal life, something that he had never done previously. In a video on UNINTERRUPTED in early October, he discussed his drug use and rehab in a documentary. But, even so, he has never been as open as he was in a GQ interview with Clay Skipper that was published Monday afternoon.
Although he has played in just 35 games (32 starts) in three seasons while dealing with multiple suspensions, the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder proved that he is a physical freak and can be among the best receivers in the NFL. For as good as he was on the field, the addictions and habits off the field were just as bad. Suspended since 2015 and not having played a full season clear from any disciplinary action since his rookie year in 2012, Gordon has had quite the NFL career so far.
Even when he was in uniform for the Browns, he admitted that he was a “highly functioning” alcoholic who had a “ritual” both during the week between games and on game days.
“I used to make a ritual of it before every game. If I had already been drug tested that week, or the day before the game, I knew I had a couple days to buy to clean my system. Even before I was getting tested for alcohol, prior to my DWI in 2014, I would take the biggest bong rip I could,” he said. “And try to conceal all the smell off all my clothes. I’d be dressed up to go to the game. A bunch of guys smoke weed before the game. But we’re not talking about them.
“I would have these little pre-made shots. I used to love Grand Marnier. I could drink it down smooth. I could usually drink a lot of it. But if it wasn’t that, it might be a whiskey or something,” Gordon mentioned. “And I would drink probably like half a glass, or a couple shots to try and warm my system up, basically. To get the motor running. That’s what I would do for games.”
But why did he need this in order to do that? It started at a young age, when he was given Xanax in seventh grade. Whether it was his anxiety, trying to fit in, or something else, Gordon thought he needed to do it. The addiction started then and didn’t stop until recently.
“I was in middle school, in seventh grade. I was in the delivery ramps on the side of the middle school with some friends. [I] was given some Xanax, smoking weed and shit like that. In that class, I ended up—not passing out, but really nodding off, off the Xanax. [I was] only supposed to take half the bar, [but] took the whole bar and I’m like drooling over the desk,” Gordon said of his first experience. “Kids started laughing in the class. The teacher’s back was turned, and I just kinda raised my hand and asked to go to the restroom real quick. That was my first experience of a high. In 7th grade. And it was to that extent. So I was definitely out of control.
“Truthfully, that’s where it started from for me. The anxiety, the fitting in and stuff. Not being comfortable with who I was. Socially, I felt awkward, talking with people, telling them where I was living. Other kids have nicer stuff than you, “you’re poor” type of shit. A lot of inadequacy, I think, is the reason why I initially got into it.”
Gordon failed multiple drug tests at Baylor, which caused him to be kicked out of school prior to the Browns using a second-round pick on him in the supplemental draft. After being in and out of rehab over the past couple years, it seems as though Gordon has (finally) figured it out off the field, which is most important. While Browns fans want him to succeed on the field and make the team better, for the wide out, getting his life back together and on the right track is what’s most important. His thoughts moved from wanting to have a career in the NFL to wanting to live. That’s when Gordon seemed to start to work things out in his life.
Looking back at his first stint in the NFL, Gordon had plenty of interesting things to say, the first of which was just how often he did it and how well he played it off. Whether it was before or after games or practice, whenever Gordon drank his alcohol, he was highly functioning, almost as if it was normal for him to play while under the influence.
“Highly functioning. For sure. [I] definitely pushed the limit. I don’t know how I did it. It could be before games, it could be before practice, after practice. You see other guys kinda doing it, but I would take it to another level a lot of times,” Gordon said of his drinking habits. “Feeling as though I was being enabled, I thought it was an okay thing to do: Well, this is the norm. And it wasn’t. It definitely wasn’t.”
How addicted was he? Gordon claims did this for every game, both in college and as a professional. He had a set plan on game days, one that would allow for him to drink and smoke before heading to the stadium to play a football game. Yes, he even did this prior to every game in 2013, when he racked up 87 receptions (159 targets) for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns and five carries for 88 yards in 14 games, a season that ended with him being named an All-Pro. In case you were wondering, when Gordon became the first receiver with back-to-back games with more than 200 yards receiving, he wasn’t sober for either of them. If he had already been drug tested that week, he knew that he was fine for a couple days. Whether it was smoking weed or drinking his alcohol, everything became a habit for Gordon, so much so that he was fully functional when he did so. Just how much alcohol would he drink prior to a game? Half a glass or a couple shots of his favorite, Grand Marnier. He did this because it “got his motor running” and got him ready to go.
“I used to make a ritual of it before every game. If I had already been drug tested that week, or the day before the game, I knew I had a couple days to buy to clean my system. Even before I was getting tested for alcohol, prior to my DWI in 2014, I would take the biggest bong rip I could,” he said of his habits. “And try to conceal all the smell off all my clothes. I’d be dressed up to go to the game. A bunch of guys smoke weed before the game. But we’re not talking about them.
“I would have these little pre-made shots. I used to love Grand Marnier. I could drink it down smooth. I could usually drink a lot of it. But if it wasn’t that, it might be a whiskey or something. And I would drink probably like half a glass, or a couple shots to try and warm my system up, basically,” Gordon said. “To get the motor running. That’s what I would do for games.
“We would stay at the team hotel and then players are allowed to go back home, get what they need, and then go to the game. So I’d leave the hotel early morning, go home, eat breakfast, do my little ritual, whatever it may be, some weed, some alcohol, and then go to the game,” Gordon said of his pre-game ritual. “And then, I’d definitely be partying after every game, win or lose. Every game.”
Gordon had a feeling that others knew about his rituals, but that didn’t stop him from fulfilling his addiction. The receiver thought that he was hiding it enough where others wouldn’t know, but he was wrong. His closest call came in 2016, when he wrapped his car around a telephone pole when he wasn’t sober. He thought it was all just for fun, but that made him realize just how lucky he was to be alive.
When Gordon plays in his next game, which could be as early as December 3 when the Browns travel to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers in Week 13, it will be his first game of his entire football career that he won’t have any alcohol or drugs in his system. For some, football is not only a way of life, but a way to get away from the realities of life as well. For Gordon, it’s something that has (Apparently? Finally?) made him turn his life around. Hopefully, he has learned and matured enough to know how great life can be and that he doesn’t have to be high or drunk to enjoy it. Kudos to Gordon for speaking out about this. It not only had to be very tough for him, but it also allows many others who are fighting the same battle to believe that they can get through it as well. December 3 may just be another NFL Sunday for some, but for Gordon, it has the chance to be a milestone and a life-changing moment.