The Decomposition of Davone Bess

Davone Bess

I‘ve long been of the belief that the human condition is inherently marred with addiction. Something innate that we are all born with, a quality that simply becomes a part of who we are, the magnitude dependent upon its governance. By definition, this simply means that we all, in some shape or form, are psychologically or physically enslaved to habits or various practices. How we manifest these addictions, as individuals, can fall into a wide range of actions. Some of us are addicted, to levels of varying degree, to fitness—running, weightlifting, cycling, or even new-age programs like Crossfit. Others are addicted to information or the absorption of such, feverishly scrolling through their phones or tablets for incoming text messages, tweets or Instagram updates—the acronym acolytes refer to this condition as FOMO, or the fear of missing out. And, naturally, there is the sort of addiction that leads to television programs starring Dr. Drew Pinsky. The ones involving the abuse of narcotics ranging from prescription medication all the way up the ladder to inhalable or consumable items of which I’ve likely never even been made aware of. Whatever is one step beyond bath salts, for instance1.

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“While players like Teddy Bridgewater and
Jadaveon Clowney and Blake Bortles all put
on a show for their respective viewers, there’s
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“Maybe I’m being a little too strict with reading
something that Joe Banner said in a long
interview, but the word “need” is kind of strong.
Joe Banner is a pretty savvy and deliberate guy,
so it’s really hard not to look at his word choice
and find it to be a pretty definitive statement.”

There’s also the angle of addictions being used as a divergence; a way to break away from things that have forced you to drift away from a utopia. Some lift weights or run as a means to blow off steam rather than to build muscle or increase endurance. Some drink to aid the social enjoyment an event, others drink to forget.

There is a very high probability that, as a fan of the Cleveland Browns, you’re largely unaware of the recent decomposition of wide receiver Davone Bess. Given the way the 2013 season fell into the abyss and the team had decided to make headlines regarding the firing of their first-year head coach and the cavalcade of names being mentioned as potential replacements, it’s easy to forget about anything regarding the team’s starting slot receiver. Bess, as you may recall, went from Opening Day starter to being placed on what the NFL calls the reserve/non-football related illness list—a nebulous list to be sure, but one that allows teams to add members to their active roster while those who are listed get to tend to whatever non-football related illness may ail them. Bess was originally excused from two late-week practices so that he could attend to some personal issues in his home city of Oakland. It was only at this point where local reportage included apparent year-long issues that had plagued the team’s first-year wide receiver, a player who, prior to his arrival in Cleveland, had one of the surest pairs of hands in the NFL and just so happened to be leading the league in drops. Punts were muffed, games were lost. Exponentially more important than the games, however, were whatever personal issues were occurring back at home base.

It was at this very time, as Bess took his talents back to the left coast, where things started to get—for lack of a better term—weird. The player who was brought in to mentor the Browns’ young receivers, the guy who was given a multi-year contract extension and was, per Joe Banner, to be included in any grades given for their efforts during the 2013 NFL Draft, had transformed into what could best be described as a new age Bob Marley. Bess posted an image of himself on a back porch of sorts, draped in a Rastafarian flag, perched in front of a poster of Marley himself, attempting to light a self-made, paper-ensconced item of some sort with the caption of “Jah Live.”2 Putting the pieces of the puzzle together, it appeared that the veteran wide receiver was blatantly advertising his use of marijuana, an obvious violation of any drug-related rule in the National Football League. Position or political beliefs notwithstanding, the decision to do such a thing is astonishing on multiple levels. The image, which had long been captured by countless individuals, was abruptly deleted. Bess would make his Instagram feed private, reports circulated that Bess’ absence was not due to illegal activities and everyone else would carry on with their lives. Except this would only be the beginning.

Bess with a group of Costa Rican kids in Canitas
(Photo courtesy of The Bess Route Foundation)

Bess, who had his namesake on his picture-posting social media profile, changed his name to “natteydread” while his avatar has been replaced by a headshot that is half-man, half-lion. His Instagram feed, while private, is still linked in a social media-friendly capacity to his Twitter feed which he has seemingly abandoned. Nevertheless, the images he’s attempting to keep private from the judgmental and—as it could be assumed—misunderstanding world continue to hit his Twitter feed with incredible frequency. On January 2 alone, Bess uploaded over 60 photos to his Instagram account, an amount that would make any selfie-taking, LOL’ing, self-absorbed teenager blush out of admiration.

Starting at roughly 4 am eastern time, Bess littered his feed with images of a child, a woman (allegedly named Beyoncé, just not that Beyonceé), shouts out to hip-hop artists like Drake and Rick Ross, and various beach-front scenery. Every image included a small hashtag-laced caption with frequent mentions of Jah, various spellings of “love” and “giving thanks,” purity, God and Rastafarian faith; multiple emojis were added for good measure. And if that were not enough, there were several repostings of the infamous image of him on that back porch as well as new images of a High Times magazine (with Marley on the cover and a caption about chasing dreams) and one of a right leg, which is safe to believe is Bess, a Cole Haan wingtip, a bottle of half-consumed water and a book. On top of said book was another hand-rolled blunt.

Davone Bess transformed himself in a way that could not possibly happen overnight. If there were any warning signs, no one was made aware, at least until it was entirely too late. Whether this was rooted in addiction or an attempt to escape is something we may never know.

[Podcast: Craig and Andrew talk Davone Bess’ situation and more]

From 2008 through 2011, Bess was the subject of many heart-warming human interest stories. There was a piece penned following the 2008 draft which was rooted in the fact that the 5-foot-9-inch Bess was not one of the 252 men to have their name called that very weekend in New York. It discussed his troubled upbringing. It described the streets on which he grew up and subsequently witnessed friends being killed. It described his father as a “big time” drug dealer. It depicted a harrowing scene wherein a 10-year-old Davone watched as his uncle was murdered by several home intruders—during a birthday party. Bess was imprisoned for a year after high school when friends loaded his car up with stolen merchandise, a situation which nearly ended all of the hopes and dreams that were attached to the athletic scholarships he had received. The entire story was rooted in Davone overcoming all of these tribulations, ultimately netting himself an invite to Miami Dolphins camp and earning himself a contract in the National Football League.

In 2011, as the NFL was in the middle of a lockout, Bess took a trip to Costa Rica, one that was said to be the result of an epiphany. There, Bess and others dug ditches, helped build and finish homes and had a full hands on experience with countless members of various communities. The trip was eye-opening and inspirational, but it was also one that caused reflection of his faith and belief in God. Prior to this trip, Bess, a believer, had never been very outspoken about his faith. Upon his return, however, his sharing of his beliefs became somewhat more exposed. “Everybody is entitled to their own religion and their own opinion,” said Bess following his trip. “I’m not saying I’m perfect and that I don’t make mistakes. But I do believe in a higher power and I do believe that everything happens for a reason. We’re not on Earth by accident.”

QUOTEPrior to the 2013 season, Bess was dealt for a third-day draft selection, landing on the Browns where he would be immediately given a three-year contract extension with nearly $6 million of the $11.5 million being guaranteed. It was supposed to Bess who would serve as that release valve for whichever Browns quarterback was under center. When Rob Chudzinski was in Cleveland back in 2007, his offense turned Cleveland-native Joe Jurevicius into a household name due to his ability to make plays on third-and-crucial; many envisioned Bess adhering to this same role. Multiple times throughout the year, despite all of the issues that had been plaguing Bess with regarding to holding on to any footballs thrown in his direction, it was the Browns coaching staff that came to his defense, using words like “because we know him” as support for how the team was assured that he would improve, that the league-leading dropped pass total was simply a fluke. It was Bess who was brought in to show otherwise young and inexperienced receivers like Greg Little and Josh Gordon how to mature, how to be professionals. Bess, after all, was a “pro’s pro.”

“You get to know people, and you get to trust people,” said Chudzinski following a win over the Baltimore Ravens on November 3. “Davone Bess is one of those people.”

Interestingly enough, it was that very game where Little would be penalized multiple times for unsportsmanlike conduct. It was Gordon who was under scrutiny all season long due to his placement in the league’s substance abuse program. It was both receivers who would be chastised by members of the local media and card-carrying members of the unsolicited commentary community for their speeding tickets and parking violations. It’s been rumored that the Browns front office wanted Little to be cut midway through the season to “send a message” to an underperforming roster while Bess, with his league-worst marks remained safe. It would be just six weeks later before the veteran would be the one leaving the team, allegedly on his own accord.

[Related: Breaking down Davone Bess’ contract]

In early June, when word came down that Gordon had been suspended for two games due to an alleged use of codeine, it had immediately been assumed that the punishment being handed his way was due to marijuana. Gordon had been suspended three times in college, all for the use of the illegal drug—one incident occurring when he and a friend had fallen asleep in a Texas fast-food drive-through. He would transfer to Utah where he would sit out the season and undergo a thorough rehabilitation program that included bi-weekly drug tests a psychiatrist whose job was to seek out any signs of mental addiction. Transfer issues3 forced him to leave Utah and ultimately enter the supplemental draft. Cleveland was the only visit he would make.

“There was definitely a pattern there with the (three) failed tests, but marijuana has never had that strong of a hold on my life,” said Gordon. “I’m not an addict and I shouldn’t be treated as such.”

Gordon claims that he doesn’t drink and has never used any other drugs. He went on to lead the league in receiving yards despite playing in just 14 games, garnering a Pro Bowl appearance and plenty of accolades and countless headlines for a fan base that has no choice but to look forward to what 2014 can bring in the way of a competitive football team. How much Gordon benefitted from the NFL’s program and its counseling and treatment is unknown. .

Bess, meanwhile, remains underdiscussed. How much treatment he has recevied, if any, is equally a mystery. His actions, both the disappearance and interactions on social media, could only be best described as bizarre. What he provided (or didn’t provide) to Cleveland in the way of on-field production can best be categorized as a sunk cost at this stage. If the Browns are maintaining contact with the recevier throughout these seemingly unusual times, it certainly isn’t being reported. There is no denying that Bess came up through hard times, but all indications were that he had triumphed over the tribulations; he used his hard work and desire to make it big and take care of those close to him—it’s a storybook, but one that seems to have several crazy chapters that came out of left field.

One of his final Instagram uploads, hitting the web at roughly 6 pm eastern time on Thursday evening, was a message that he was off to Hawaii to “chill a bit” and simmer down. At this point, ensuring that Bess makes it back home safely and gets whatever help he may need should be of chief concern. Whether or not he catches another football as a member of the Cleveland Browns at this point is ancillary. Davone Bess was a man who countless people said they “knew.” Ensuring that that man doesn’t become another cautionary tale is exponentially more important.

  1. Personally, I would easily place myself in the information-hound category, in addition to several other anxiety-fueling addictions that often cast aside under the guise of “work ethic” or some other positive type of spin. []
  2. Jah, naturally being the shortened name for Yahweh, most commonly associated with the Rastafarian movement and anything regarding Marley. “We’ll share the same room, for Jah provide the bread…” []
  3. Gordon had attempted to enroll into the University of Houston to be closer to his mother and brother. []
  • Patrick Elder

    It’s nice that someone’s finally reporting on this saga. It’s kind of strange that it has gotten so little attention in the Cleveland media circles.

    However, I think it’s important to not jump to the conclusion that what Bess is doing right now is inherently wrong or that he’s struggling with addiction. This situation seems very similar to what Ricky Williams did.

    It’s entirely possible that there were other circumstances that caused Bess to need to step away from football. Maybe there’s something he couldn’t handle, something he needed to deal with, something that necessitated he take a step back.

    The point is, we don’t know why he’s evidently decided to shun football for the time being. But we shouldn’t jump to conclusions or be overly judgmental, which the article at times gave an air of. I may be misinterpreting, and I apologize if so, but there will still be those who need to hear this and not pass judgment too quickly.

  • Scott @ WFNY

    No, I completely agree with you. Had I not written this on the fly, I likely would have made the Ricky Williams comparison. I’m now mad at myself for having missed that corollary, so there’s that.

    I mostly wanted to get this out there as I think it’s something—amid all of the coaching discussions—that is going completely ignored. What the root of it all is is really an unknown. I hope I didn’t paint it as anything but that.

    Have I mentioned that writing 2500 words on the fly is never a good idea?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I just wish he could catch but I see why Miami got rid of him.

  • Craig Lyndall

    It’s so hard for me not to be totally cynical on this topic. Davone Bess signed a new deal with the Browns that guaranteed him his first two years of salary. He collected all his money this year and seems poised to collect all his money next year regardless if he plays or not.

    Yes, it might not be that simple, but I can’t help but think that it also might be just that simple…

    I explored that topic here…

  • Dion Weighters

    Decomposition of Davonne Bess? Maybe you shouldn’t of posted something like this on the fly. Your inherent addiction is turning far-fetched assumptions in to 2000+ word stories.

  • CB Everett

    When I read it, honestly, I thought more of a Bison Dele comparison. Obviously that one ended more mysteriously and tragically.

    Also, don’t sell yourself short about “on the fly”–it was a good and interesting read.

  • Scott @ WFNY

    Thanks, CB.

  • Scott @ WFNY

    What am I assuming, exactly?

  • newprodigy

    Thanks for shedding some light on this…I also found it very weird how the Cleveland media was ignoring the multiple bizarre twitter postings from his account…whereas if one of the other Cleveland sports personalities mentioned Lebron in a tweet there would have been 100 articles tweeted out shortly after referencing it

  • maidenhel

    the guy posts a picture of a J and you would think he was found in a gutter with a needle hanging out of his arm. give it a rest, it’s pot. it’s legal. it’s less harmful than alcohol. would you like me to keep going?! non-story…unless it’s about the fact that he might be handed a suspension from the NFL.

  • maidenhel

    you’re suggesting he’s an addict…

  • Brett

    Finally, someone writes about this polarizing topic. For one, I don’t think you should chastise Bess for his marijuana use. It is starting to become legal in some states, and it is not an addictive drug. The point is marijuana is not that bad. Now I understand, the NFL has it’s rules and they should be followed. Bess has no excuse to miss any time for his loving of marijuana, because it obviously affected the Browns negatively. Either way, I do not think he needs “help”, but he does need to get his head wrapped around football.

  • Dion Weighters

    Is his life really “Decomposing” after making his instagram account private or for smoking weed. Or the assumption that the countless people who say they knew him, may not know him now because Davone smokes weed. It sounds like Davone Bess is chilling in Hawaii right now, not rotting away.

  • Scott @ WFNY

    No I didn’t. I stated my belief that humans innately have addictive personalities. He’s a human. As am I. As are you, even in your anonymous state. Any suggestion that “addict” is being used as a pejorative here is simply false.

  • Scott @ WFNY

    I don’t think I was “chastising” anything save for doing something that is against the rules of his employer and broadcasting it for all to see.

    To insinuate that someone may need help is not a bad thing considering the bizarre behavior. Much prefer that than to turn a blind eye and have it be too late.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Craig they are going to eat all that $$$ from Chudzinski’s deal not to mention the assistants what’s one more deal for Bess?

  • rick

    lol i think this is WAY too much thinking about someone smoking weed – something that probably 99% of the peopel reading this blog do daily/weekly

  • Scott @ WFNY

    Bess completely changed his public persona and completely abandoned the items and topics he discussed. His life may not be decomposing (though we could argue that it may if his career is over) but Davone Bess, the individual we knew, has certainly molted in a way no other Cleveland athlete has in recent memory. Again, this story is to point out the alterations and add an attempt to piece it all together. This attempt to make it sound like I’m assassinating his character is bizarre.

  • Scott @ WFNY

    PSA: As this piece has nothing to do with anyone’s beliefs on the legalities or effects of marijuana, I will not be addressing or replying to any comments regarding such.

  • Craig Lyndall

    Chud $$$ doesn’t carry cap implications. That’s the only diff that matters to me. I certainly don’t give a hoot about Haslam cash. :-)

  • The_Matt_Of_Akron

    We are glossing over the real news here. The Cleveland Clinic has performed the first ever successful brain transplant between Josh Gordon and Davone Bess!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Great point oh well I tried.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    This tokes 4 u bro!

  • JNeids

    This comment is pure awesomesauce.

  • kipsmudilike

    Dr. Robert J. White would be proud!

  • JNeids

    I don’t know why you’re bothering to respond to everyone else who is trying to twist your written words around – this article was not an opinion piece, merely shedding factual light on a situation that many were curious about but don’t have the proper media access to quench the curiosity. I also don’t know why people are coming out of the woodwork to try and attack your article.

    Full disclosure: I would be doing the same exact thing as you.

  • Super Sal

    I feel that by him being a vet on such a young team that he would show a better example of how to be a professional in the NFL. Imagine if Josh Gordon was hanging out with Bess. They both would’ve been gone…

  • force5143

    decompensating is the correct word the weed part is definitely secondary

  • Cynic

    I cannot overemphasize how poorly I feel this reflects upon Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi’s judgement.

  • Jason Hurley

    It’s legal *in some places*. Ohio and California are not two of those places where recreational use is legal, and the collective bargaining agreement also dictates that it’s not allowed. I don’t think anyone is being harsh on Bess, this is an exploration of how things have changed – not a condemnation of him as a person.

  • Jason Hurley

    Well, as you know, they should be able to foresee everything that will ever happen to a player they sign. So, yeah, I’m with you.

  • Harv 21

    count me cynical as well. His contract extension about doubled his previous annual salary, and some athletes simply do not react well to significant increases in take home pay. Locally, Matt Lawton, Hot Rod Williams, Larry Hughes and Alonzo Gee come to mind.

    What amazes me about Bess is not just the urge to publicly self-immolate (exactly how did he think the team,or the image-conscious league will react to the pics?) but how it’s claimed “personal issues” lead him to drops. He appeared to get open all season. He didn’t forget snap counts. He has world-class hand-eye coordination and a lifetime of catching everything thrown his way. Hard to accept he was thinking of other things the instant the ball was hitting his hands. To me, it looked like he lost his nerve. He had a lot of drops when a defender was closing and flinched or when he had a wide open field and tried to score before the ball even arrived. Who knows what goes on in a guy’s head, but if I’m guessing he relaxed after his extension and then lost the edge that made him a pro.

  • DirtyWax

    Not sure of the direction you’re trying to take with the blog, but these type of forced “pieces” are not working that well. In my opinion.

  • BenRM

    legal? lol

  • bupalos

    Totally agree with this. I don’t think the on-field had anything to do with the off-field, or if it did, it’s in reverse order.

    Personally I think the source of the drops and him basically quitting the league were the Browns deciding to run him on slants into 3 linebackers every 3rd down, with Weeden throwing light-em-up balls. That’s seriously about 70% of what they were doing with him early in the year. That’s not the guy he is. If I had 8M in the bank, was aware of the CTE risk, and started to catch crap on my performance, I’d find Jah too.

  • bupalos

    Interesting read but I have to kind of side with the folks calling out the oddity of the negative assumptions here. Decomposition? Getting the help he needs? It’s hard to understand the use of terms like this when all we’re really talking about as far as ‘bad actions’ is a few dropped passes. You’re right that Bess seems to be essentially retiring from the league here, but I think the only clear implication you seem to make is a very Mary-Kay-like approach to ‘being on the marijuana.’

    I’d love to have heard a couple words about the way the Browns decided to use him, which was something of a departure from his career role and had him taking heavier hits. This guy was Brian Brennan, and they basically put him in Little’s shoes as an across the middle rac guy. I’d like to cue up some rewind and see if he was taking the kind of hits in Mia that he did here.