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.
Joe Banner, the 3-4 and the 4-3, and agent Jimmy Sexton
“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.
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.”
Prior 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.
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.
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. [↩]
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…” [↩]
Gordon had attempted to enroll into the University of Houston to be closer to his mother and brother. [↩]