So Josh Gordon’s appeal hearing has come and gone, but it may be a while before we hear anything in the way of an official ruling. Though he has missed a few minutes here and there to tend to some personal matters, Gordon has been in Training Camp this entire time. Oh, and the preseason starts in just a few days.
What was discussed? Who was there? Why is this taking so freaking long?
As the questions pile up, we here at WFNY have compiled a bit of an FAQ of sorts to help guide you through the process. Enjoy.
Q: Let’s start from the beginning. What the heck happened?
A: Funny you should ask. As we were all anxiously awaiting the beginning of the second day (night?) of the 2014 NFL Draft, word came out that Gordon was staring down the barrel of a indefinite suspension for violating the league’s drug policy. Belief was that the incredibly talented wide receiver failed a drug test and, being in Stage 3 of the NFL’s substance abuse program, was due for an automatic suspension that would also include him having to apply for reinstatement after the year had come to a close.
Q: Wasn’t he suspended last year?
A: Yes, for just two games, but the substance in question was allegedly codeine, that was prescribed to the player to fight a cold.
Q: You’re not really buying that, are you?
A: Pardon the pun, but where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. This said, Gordon’s camp came out, immediately following this latest incident, defending the Browns record holder. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, referred to the news as inaccurate. Gordon’s former teammate, Greg Little, referred to the news as “a mistake.” From there, speculation swirled that Gordon may have simply missed a drug test instead of failing one. Unfortunately, when we are dealing with the NFL, the results are the same.
Q: Then what did happen?
A: It’s complex, but one can’t help but raise an eyebrow when seeing how this all unfolded. Gordon reportedly provided a urine sample that was then split into two separate specimens as per league policy. The first specimen registered at 16 nanograms, one billionth of a gram more than the league’s 15 nanogram threshold. Once this came to fruition, the league went to confirm the first specimen with the second, which registered at 13.6 nanograms—less than the threshold, but enough to trigger the league’s confirmation procedures.
Had the specimens been tested in a different order, the 13.6 ng/ml specimen would not have triggered the testing of the second one and Gordon would have passed 71 tests as opposed to the alleged 70.
Q: You’re right. That is complex. So how does this compare to other leagues?
A: Good question. For comparison’s sake, the World Anti-Doping Agency requires 150 nanograms per milliliter to test positive for marijuana. Baseball requires 50 nanograms per milliliter, as do the states of California and Nevada—how often do you hear about MLB players suspended for marijuana? The U.S. military requires a positive test of 50 nanograms per milliliter to flag potential violators of its drug policy, and then only a 15-nanogram-per-milliliter sample when the test is confirmed. At the end of the day, the NFL has restrictions far greater than essentially every other governing body when it comes to the use of marijuana.
Q: So that whole math thing. Will Gordon get off on a technicality?
A: He may. This is what his legal team, led by Heather McPhee of the NFLPA and Maurice Suh, has reportedly argued—that the wide receiver’s test results were inconsistent. His “A” and “B” specimens turning up different amounts, one below league threshold, and that Gordon should not be subject to banishment. They’re also claiming secondhand smoke due to the low amount found in the sample—an argument that has yet to work in a player’s defense but could very well lead to a reduction (and a watershed moment) this time around.
Q: Who heard the appeal?
A: With Roger Goodell in Canton, Ohio for Hall of Fame festivities, Gordon’s hearing was held by an arbitrator, Herold Henderson, spanning roughly two full days. Henderson served as NFL Executive Vice President for Labor Relations and Chairman of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee for sixteen years. In that capacity, he had responsibility for all aspects of the League’s player and labor relations, with a legal and professional staff of 44 reporting to him. Henderson, now Executive Vice President for Player Development, has focused on Player Development programs, drug, alcohol, steroid and conduct policies, and benefits for current and former players. Per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, the team is expected to hear word on any impending punishment in one-to-three weeks. For what it’s worth, first cuts are August 26 at 4 p.m.
Q: So does the whole Ray Rice issue come into play?
A: By “Ray Rice issue,” you mean the two-game suspension he received for knocking his fiancée out in an elevator and then dragging her body to a hotel room?
Q: I’ll ask the questions here. Yes. That one.
A: It depends who you believe. The NFL received incredible backlash for suspending the running back for just two games given the footage that circulated, clearly depicting the incident in question. Given that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been under fire for not issuing punishment to owners like Jim Irsay, but coming down on players, there is extreme scrutiny surrounding Gordon’s case and what, if any, public relations will play a part. One school of thought is that Goodell could throw the book at Gordon, showing that he is in fact not being lenient on players, perhaps leading to some collateral damage from the Ray Rice issue. Another is that if Gordon is in fact suspended for the season, it will only further tarnish any credibility the league has when it comes to punishing players, essentially saying that a marijuana violation (regardless of Stage) is eight times worse than domestic violence.
Q: Why does Roger Goodell get any say in these matters? Doesn’t this defeat the point of an appeal?
A: Yeah, pretty much. The NFL, arguably the worst union of the three major sports, collectively bargained for Goodell to be judge, jury and executioner in hearings of this nature. It’s expected that this changes at some point in the not-so-distant future given the outcry over each individual ruling.
Q: What about that whole DUI? Will that play a role?
A: No. Gordon has a separate hearing for the DUI he was cited for on July 4 weekend. Similar to the marijuana test, Gordon’s Blood Alcohol Level during his arrest was a swish of mouth wash above the legal limit. His team is attempting to have the charges dropped on this account. He also checked himself into rehab immediately following the arrest.
Q: So where does this leave the Browns?
A: Gordon, as of Tuesday morning, was listed at the top of the Browns’ depth chart at the wide receiver position. If he is in fact suspended for the season, his salary is paused until the following year, meaning that the Browns would continue to have a relative bargain when it comes to the cost of having one of the most talented players in the game.
Owner Jimmy Haslam and general manager Ray Farmer have both gone on record stating that the team has no plans of cutting Gordon despite all of his off-field issues. Mike Pettine referred to the whole situation as a “process.” And as former Browns tight end Ben Watson tweeted, “[Gordon is] clearly a troubled man who needs help. But his life is worth more than the balls he can catch and how fast he can run. I don’t believe anyone is unsaveable. The question is, will we give him the support and tough love they need before just writing them off.”
(Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY)