Thank you for your recent outpouring of concern about my well being. In what has been a difficult time for my family, friends and fans, you — and those like you — have taken it upon yourselves to express just how much you care about me and my future. For that, I am truly appreciative.
The thing is, though, you don’t even know me.
Chuck, you have never so much as shook my hand, let alone exchanged a single word with me. Few of you have, to be honest. Respectfully, your worry over my “problems” with substance abuse and my twisting descent into darkness and, apparently, my impending death, is misplaced — mostly because you have very little idea what you are talking about. None of you do, even those of you who seem curiously obsessed with the goings-on in my life.
You’re done with me, Stephen A.? That presumes we ever actually got started. How, exactly, can you be “done” with someone you have never had a meaningful conversation with beyond a quick First Take spot? Regardless, I am relieved that you no longer need to harbor sympathy for me — mostly because I never asked for it, never wanted it, and certainly never needed it. I am not a victim here; I never claimed to be one, either.
And Cris, your level of interest in my life is even more puzzling, especially considering we have never met, either.
In addition to being concerned about me — like when you publicly called for the Browns cut me so I could learn the same lessons you learned — you also stated as fact that “we are dealing with addiction here.” Know this: We are not dealing with anything, Cris. We are not the same. Not at all.
So, in the interest of lifting the heavy burden of my welfare off your collective consciences, I’d like to set the record straight about a few things.
First, words cannot express the remorse and regret I feel over this latest incident. I acknowledge that the repeated transgressions that have led up to this point have damaged my credibility, and for that, the only person to blame is me.
I have let down many in Cleveland — my Browns teammates, our hard-working coaching staff, the team’s ownership, and the loyal fan base that wants nothing more than to win. Playing there is different than in many other cities. We feel the fans’ pain. We know how important this is to them.
Also, I have disappointed the family and close friends who have always stood by me — no matter how tough things have been at certain points in my life. Believe me, there have been more dark days than I care to remember.
Most importantly, I have failed myself. Again.
I failed myself when started using marijuana regularly as a young teenager. I failed myself when I ruined a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be Robert Griffin III’s running mate during his Heisman Trophy-winning season at Baylor. I failed myself when I didn’t check with the league office to ensure that my doctor-prescribed, codeine-based medicine was allowed under NFL guidelines. I failed myself when I was arrested for driving a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit. I failed myself when I missed a team walkthrough late in the season and was suspended for the final game of the year.
But you know what, Charles, Stephen A., Cris and everyone else? I also have succeeded.
I succeeded by escaping a youth riddled with poverty, gang violence and very little in the way of guidance or support. I succeeded by narrowly avoiding a life of crime that managed to sink its clutches into almost all of my childhood friends. I succeeded by working tremendously hard on my craft and my body to even have a chance to play professional football for a living. And, contrary to popular belief, I succeeded by overcoming my longstanding relationship with weed — because I knew I was risking my future over it.
Truth is, I have not smoked marijuana since before I was drafted by the Browns in 2012 — and there are years’ worth of drug tests to prove it.
So, then how did I get here, you ask? That’s easy. I messed up. But to even begin to understand why I messed up, you need to know the Josh Gordon that existed before the NFL.
I don’t speak of it often, and even less so publicly, but I faced a fair amount of hardship growing up. My father was pretty much out of the picture, which left my mom to fend for herself with three sons at home. She did the best she could, but there were large stretches of time as an adolescent when I was completely alone — with no supervision, no one to guide me, and no one to keep me in line.
We lived in a poor section of Houston called Fondren, and to say it was a rough place would be putting it lightly. The other kids in the neighborhood weren’t well off, either, but it always felt like we had even less to our name. We moved at least seven times, and things were so bad sometimes, there were days I would come home from school and there would be no electricity, heat or hot water.
Over time, particularly after my older brothers moved out, I started hanging out with the wrong kind of people. The kind who would think nothing not only of carrying guns, but using them. Back then, smoking marijuana wasn’t an addiction for any of us — we were still boys, basically. It was just what everyone did. It was everywhere, just like alcohol was.
So Charles, Stephen A., Cris — you judge me now, but what if you came from where I come from? Heck, maybe you did experience similar upbringings, but I wouldn’t know, because I do not know you. Each of you have dealt with more than your fair shares of self-inflicted controversies, though, that I do know.
Again, I make no excuses for my past. That culture didn’t make me do anything I didn’t want to do, but when you judge me without actually knowing me, you deny the existence of the world I come from.
Later, when I went to college, it was like a dream come true, but in retrospect, I wasn’t ready for it. I had to have that opportunity taken away from me before I could really look within myself and decide what I wanted for my future. Was I going to continue to break rules to get high, or was I going to get straight and make the most of my God-given talents?
I made my choice when it came to the NFL, and I haven’t wavered.
Now, I messed up again. It happened about four weeks ago.
As most everyone knows, I missed a considerable portion of the 2014 season because I was suspended by the league. The details in relation to my reinstatement, however, are important to understand.
In connection with the DWI case, the league — in consideration of the fact that my blood-alcohol level was just .01 over the legal limit — agreed to shorten my punishment from four games lost to two. These games were tacked on to my eight-game suspension that had been levied on account of my inadvertently inhaling second-hand marijuana smoke last offseason.
That punishment — while harsh, given what my lab results clearly showed, including a backup sample that was under the league threshold — was just. I foolishly put myself in a precarious situation, one which I could have easily avoided if I had thought more clearly about the potential ramifications of my actions and who I chose to spend time around.
As a strict condition to my reinstatement in Week 12, I had to agree not only to abstain from drinking for the rest of the season, but also to submit to an alcohol screen as part of my in-season drug testing under the league’s substance-abuse protocol. Did I think that was excessive given I had never had any issue whatsoever with alcohol? Yes. Did I think it was hypocritical that a professional league making hundreds of millions of dollars off beer sponsorships was telling me not to drink? Yes. Did I so much as blink at the condition? No.
My primary concern was — and is — being the best football player I can be; I really didn’t even view it as much of a punishment or sacrifice.
On Jan. 2 of this year, just days after our season ended earlier than we all had hoped — and yes, my actions during the prior offseason definitely contributed to our failure to make the playoffs; it killed me seeing our guys fight so hard when I wasn’t out there with them — I boarded a private flight to Las Vegas with several teammates. During the flight, I had two beers and two drinks. It was the first time I had consumed so much as a drop of alcohol since July 4, 2014, the day of the DWI.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am not much of a drinker. Even calling me a social drinker would be an exaggeration, but at that moment, on that flight, I made a choice. The wrong choice, as it turned out.
Upon landing, I received the all-too-familiar notice by phone that I was to report to a testing location within four hours. I failed the test, obviously, and the rest is history … colored by media speculation and faux outrage.
In the end, of course, I failed myself.
It doesn’t matter if I thought that the league-imposed restriction on drinking had expired at the end of the regular season; what matters is that I didn’t confirm whether or not that was the case. Now, that oversight has further jeopardized my relationship with my team and our fans, my reputation, and maybe even my career.
So that’s it, Charles & Co.
These are the actual facts surrounding my situation, and these are my words. What comes next is uncertain. I haven’t decided whether to appeal the latest suspension. That’s a matter for my agent and me to discuss.
To those of you who traffic in lies and innuendo over fact, with seemingly no consequences for your actions …
I really don’t know how you get away with it.
What I do know is the following: I am not a drug addict; I am not an alcoholic; I am not someone who deserves to be dissected and analyzed like some tragic example of everything that can possibly go wrong for a professional athlete. And … I am not going to die on account of the troubled state you wrongly believe my life to be in. I am a human being, with feelings and emotions and scars and flaws, just like anyone else. I make mistakes — I have made a lot of mistakes — but I am a good person, and I will persevere.
If I have a “problem,” it is that I am only 23 years old — with a lot left to learn. I’ve come a long way from those mean Fondren streets, but it’s clear that I can be a better me — one who kids coming up to me for selfies and autographs can be proud of. I want that future for myself. And I truly believe that what I am going through right now will only make me stronger. I believe that my future is bright.
If you see me someday, Chuck, Stephen A., Cris, or any other well-intentioned person to whom this letter is directed, please come on over, shake my hand, and say hello. I won’t be holding a grudge, but I will expect you to admit you were wrong about me.
Josh Gordon, No. 12
posted today on “The Cauldron” site: https://medium.com/the-cauldron/an-open-letter-to-charles-barkley-co-cb5c4e64cf3