Embattled NFL Player Josh Gordon Tells Critics They Can’t Take His Pride

By Jamilah King Jan 30, 2015

Here’s what you need to know about the Cleveland Browns’ Josh Gordon: He’s one of the most talented wide receivers in football, but he has dealt with multiple suspensions in recent years for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. It wasn’t clear exactly how he’d failed the tests, but he’s been a constant topic on sports TV where media have cast him as a classic case of a tragically flawed black athlete. So he responded to critics in a beautifully written open letter published on Medium to commentators Charles Barkley, Stephen A. Smith and Cris Carter:

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.

This is probably the first time when a player of his magnitude has written a response like this in the middle of high-profile drama. It’s also important because of the way he, like many allegedly troubled black athletes, have been caricatured in the media for their use of banned substances. Read the letter in full