Josh Gordon the person matters more than Josh Gordon the NFL player after latest setbackDecember 21, 2018
Josh Gordon’s NFL career should be the least of anyone’s concerns.
Gordon is not a robot or a football-playing machine. He’s a human being, one who needs all the support and compassion he can get after his announcement Thursday that he’s stepping away from football to “focus on my mental health.”
“I have recently felt like I could have a better grasp on things mentally,” Gordon, a receiver who has spent most of the season with the New England Patriots, said in a statement posted on Twitter. “I would like to thank Coach Belichick, Mr. Kraft, as well as countless others within the Patriots organization for their continued support.
“I want to thank my fans for their support as well as I continue down the path getting back to 100%.”
When or whether Gordon sets foot on a football field again is irrelevant, and the notion that he’s somehow a disappointment is offensive. Gordon has been public about his mental health issues and substance abuse problems, and the NFL confirmed Thursday afternoon that he’d been suspended indefinitely again, this second time for violating the terms of his reinstatement.
Yet some, most notably ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, berated Gordon for his moral failings. As if he simply doesn’t have the willpower to resist drugs and alcohol. Or that he’s just not trying hard enough to shake the depression, anxiety or whatever else it is he feels.
That’s as enraging as it is ignorant. This country is slowly coming to the realization that mental health issues and addiction – often two sides of the same coin – are chronic diseases. Much like diabetes, epilepsy or asthma, they require constant vigilance and, often, lifelong treatment.
And, like any other chronic disease, some people with mental health or substance abuse issues respond better to treatment than others. Live better with their diseases than others.
Gordon’s relapse doesn’t mean he’s a failure or that he’s weak. It means he and his doctors haven’t hit upon the right combination of medication or treatment yet, and they need to keep working until they do. At 27, he’s far too young to give up on or be written off.
Maybe he won’t play in the NFL again; he has already missed two full seasons because of suspensions and played just 10 games between 2014 and 2017. But so what? Josh Gordon the person is far more important than Josh Gordon the player.
MORE: Good, bad and ugly: Josh Gordon's troubled career in football
MORE: Josh Gordon stepping away from football, suspended indefinitely by NFL
That’s a mistake too often made with athletes – and other celebrities, for that matter. They’re reduced to their signature talent, as if they have no value beyond their ability to catch a ball or hit a home run. Should they lose that, for whatever reason, they might as well be dead to us. They’ve exhausted their usefulness and can serve no other purpose.
God forbid we should look at them as real people. Or have concern for their well-being as our fellow humans.
Josh Gordon is fighting for his life, in a fight that will last the rest of his life. Winning that is far more important than football.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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