In the event you were looking for the most eye opening story pertaining to Josh Gordon’s return to the NFL, look no more. No, it’s not the video from LeBron James’ UNINTERRUPTED which detailed Gordon’s bottoming out. And no, it wasn’t the GQ Magazine story that detailed Gordon playing every single football game of his career under the influence of something. It wasn’t his complete lack of remorse when he was left behind as the team traveled to an away game. It’s certainly not anything pertaining to his current physical condition or any Best Shape of His Life chatter.
It’s this story, a takeout-style profile from Sports Illustrated, that tops it all. While most will be caught off guard by Gordon’s openness surrounding his past—running with gangs, dealing drugs, stealing cars, getting shot during his junior year in high school, getting thrown out of two different middle schools for stealing electronics, taking a .38 special to school on a daily basis, trading in counterfeit money schemes, or being arrested for felony credit card theft—the most troubling part continues to be the people around Gordon, those looking to profit of a man with a troubled past, riding an addict as if he’s a show horse as he returns to the NFL field.
Here’s Ben Baskin:
The Browns wideout—who, despite the odds he once set against himself, did make it to his 26th birthday, in April—is lounging in the Gainesville, Fla., apartment of his manager, Michael Johnson. Gordon has been hiding out here for 10 months, crashing in the guest bedroom.
Gordon, it turns out, is a willing storyteller, seemingly open and transparent, but it doesn’t take long for our conversation to mirror his career itself: a maddening series of interruptions, derailments and strange decisions that raise questions about his motives. … He needs little prompting and speaks fluidly, without pause—except for the frequent interruptions from Johnson who, from his perch on the couch, constantly tries to steer the conversation toward his client’s NFL career.
The manager isn’t as worried about Gordon’s getting himself in trouble as he is about giving away too many details of the Josh Gordon Story. Johnson wants the full narrative parceled out for profit. “We got other projects we’re doing,” he says, a vague reference to book and movie deals he and Gordon hope to secure. “I can’t give you his whole life story when you’re not even guaranteeing me the cover [of Sports Illustrated]. Because, first off, we are not getting paid for this.”
As Gordon was dealing with his substance-related issues, many pointed to those he was close to as not having the best interests of the wide receiver at heart. As he was attempting to come back from previous suspensions, any story pitches about the talented wideout or were met with inquiries of how much outlets were willing to pay. Gordon, as some may remember, was to sign autographs at a local store several years back, only to have the plug pulled in the last minute due to financial disagreements.
Reading through the Sports Illustrated story, it quickly turns from a story about Gordon to a story about Gordon and those surrounding him, referring to the player as “content,” to the point where Johnson threatens to break Baskin’s voice recorder in the event something is discussed that could be sold to another outlet.
Johnson repeatedly made clear in our early correspondences that everything his client did had to be big, impactful. “Calculated.” Gordon, who signed a four-year, $5.3 million contract when he was drafted, had lost out on years of his prime—years of salary, of marketing opportunities, of positive public sentiment. Together they hoped to recoup all of this through interviews, tell-all books, movie deals. …
I reach out to Johnson to address this and several other smaller inconsistencies, and eventually Gordon calls me back. He sounds nervous and timid, and he admits to lying. He says he was being “directed to protect our interests as opposed to revealing certain information at that point in time. Protecting the content, protecting the narrative.”
And the piece de resistance?
Johnson is worried that Gordon will be portrayed as a liar, or that it might look like he had instructed his client to mislead me after I was ushered outside during our interview. I prod Johnson for additional perspective on the past year, but he balks. In the future, he says, someone will want to tell the story of the man who saved Josh Gordon’s career, and he doesn’t want to give away that content quite yet.
It makes your skin crawl. Gordon is far from innocent here. He took part in all of the illegal activities he laid out. He paid the price for many of them, be it in the moment or over the last several years as it has all culminated into a litany of suspensions. And he’s also choosing to hitch his wagon to people like Johnson, be it out of loyalty or desperation and needing a place to crash.
Gordon’s past is his past. Whether or not he is done with drugs and illicit behavior remains to be seen. Addictive behaviors tend to rear their ways, especially so when individuals are not surrounded by a community of others who are tasked with looking out for one another. But rather than surrounding himself with a support group, Gordon appears to be surrounding himself with walking business plans, people looking to make money off of his journey back from the dregs of day-to-day life.
As Gordon has dealt with his suspensions, many were quick to point out “It’s only weed!” as a way to blame the system more than the man. As details of Gordon’s lifestyle trickle out, it’s clear that the wide receiver’s demons were much more than marijuana—”weed” was simply the tip of the iceberg.
Here’s hoping that Gordon’s manager isn’t steering his Titanic.
This Week in #ActualSportswriting:
- “Scam Dunk: How a Bootleg Prep School Profited by Ripping Off Teens with NBA Dreams” by Luke Cyphers and Teri Thompson (Deadspin)1
- “One Game to Remember” by Ben Shpigel (NY Times)
- “Matthew Stafford’s Success a Result of His Drive To Improve—Oh, and That Cannon of an Arm” by Michael Rosenberg (Sports Illustrated)2
- “Did Tennessee fans have proof to paint over Greg Schiano’s reputation — or only mob anger?” by Dan Wetzel (Yahoo! Sports)3
This Week in #ActualNonsportswriting:
- “A woman approached The Post with a dramatic, false tale about Roy Moore. She appears to be part of a sting.” by Shawn Boburg, Aaron C. Davis and Alice Crites (Washington Post)4
- “Final Nights at the Trump SoHo Before Trump Checks Out” by Sarah Maslin Nir (NY Times)5
- “Chris Stapleton is the King of Country Music” by Rob Harvilla (The Ringer)6
- “Hooray for Fiona the Hippo, Our Social Media Bundle of Joy” by Rachel Syme (NY Times)7
This Week in Picks
That’s more like it. Things weren’t exactly the smoothest of sails, but fourth quarter play from Tennessee and Carolina coupled with the Green Bay Packers storming out to a lead that was going to be nearly impossible for Pittsburgh to overcome and cover, and we have ourselves another 3-0 week. Special shout to TigersandBrowns on that Green Bay game. That thing felt primed for the taking.
NEW ORLEANS (-4) vs Carolina
Houston (+7.5) at TENNESSEE
Minnesota (+2.5) at ATLANTA
YTD ATS: 22-14
Last Week: 3-0
- Investigative journalism FTW. [↩]
- This opening sentence—”People talk about Matthew Stafford’s right arm as if he can’t get it through customs without the proper paperwork.”—is fantastic. Also a fan of “Other QBs picked apart defenses. Stafford tried to set them on fire.” [↩]
- This week’s reminder that columns, too, can be #ActualSportswriting. [↩]
- This. Is. Insane. [↩]
- After LeBron James publicly refused to stay at the hotel last year, the corporate clients and 20 or so sports teams that had been regular guests almost entirely disappeared, the staff member said. Porters whose base salaries were once buoyed by up to $60,000 a year in gratuities have earned half as much in tips. [↩]
- Couldn’t agree more. [↩]
- If you can profile a hippo, you can profile anyone. [↩]