Eight months ago, the NFL indefinitely suspended Josh Gordon for violating the terms of his reinstatement under the league’s substance abuse policy. His 2018 season therefore ended in disappointed after it had represented a renaissance of sorts: Gordon was traded from the Cleveland Browns to the New England Patriots in September, and he immediately started to show tremendous personal and athletic promise in his new environment.
However, it all came to an abrupt end on December 20. First, Gordon announced that he would step away from football to focus on his mental wellbeing. Later, the league followed that announcement by suspending him. Considering Gordon’s history of struggling with addiction, his teammates voiced their concerns about him at the time; Matthew Slater’s statements best encapsulated the general feeling in the Patriots’ locker room.
“First and foremost, our prayers are with Josh and our concern is with him and what he is dealing with,” the team captain said last December. “I think we have a tendency to become so infatuated with what’s going on on the football field, as players as media members, that we lose sight of what’s going on with the man sometimes. [...] The number one concern is you want to see him be fine, be okay and that’s what we’re praying for.”
After the suspension kicked in, Gordon lay low and focused on getting not just his career but more importantly his life back on track. In the meantime, reports about him were scarce. Only now and then did somewhat unrelated news hint towards his progress. In March, New England placed a tender sheet on the restricted free agent to keep him from the open market. In June, he held a private workout with quarterback Tom Brady.
Earlier this month, he ultimately filed for reinstatement and only two weeks later the NFL granted it: on Sunday, Gordon can officially rejoin the Patriots. This development obviously is great news for a team that lost some considerable receiving talent over the course of the offseason. However, the impact of Gordon’s reinstatement on New England’s offense pales in comparison to what it actually means for the 28-year-old himself.
It is so much bigger than football, after all, considering that the league would not have allowed him back in if he had not shown sufficient promise and dedication in his fight against addiction. Yesterday’s announcement is therefore an indication that Gordon is at a point in his treatment at which he is able to be inserted into the NFL again — and all that it means when it comes to being under the league’s and the Patriots’ microscopes.
“We are all rooting for Josh to succeed, both personally and professionally. Everyone shares in that hope and will continue to support him to every extent possible,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement accompanying the NFL’s press release about Gordon’s reinstatement. That statement sums up the situation well, especially since it also includes the following sentence: “[A]s Josh acknowledged, ultimately his success is up to him.”
Success has eluded Gordon when it comes to battling his addiction in the past, and there is no telling whether or not this time will be any different. He is working on his problems and has once again reached a promising point, however, even though the hard part continues: Gordon will need to show that he can repay the trust that has been placed in him by the NFL and the Patriots — not for their sake, of course, but for his own.