Drugs in Sports: Latest Josh Gordon incident mandates more needs to be done to help pro athletes in need
Cleveland Browns Josh Gordon’s latest failed drug test illustrates failure of system to care for professional athletes suffering from substance use disorders
NFL receive Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns is potentially facing a one year suspension from football after his latest failed drug test. Gordon, one of the league’s most talented wide receivers, is now facing a shaky future with both his team and the National Football League after failing multiple drug tests during his time in the league.
NFL Drug Policy: Does the system fail athletes just as it fails everyday addicts?
A standout player for Baylor in college, Gordon first entered the NFL after being dismissed from that college team after failing a drug test for marijuana. He was then suspended the first two games of the 2013 NFL season for a failed drug test and then arrested last July for driving while impaired after being pulled over in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Josh Gordon is clearly one of the NFL’s best natural players and also one of the league’s biggest mysteries. Fans call into national and local radio shows and ask similar questions to national analysts and league experts: How can someone with so much talent risk his career and millions of dollars by continually failing drug tests for smoking marijuana and drinking? Why doesn’t he just stop? The answer is clear: Josh Gordon is suffering from a substance use disorder and is clearly incapable of stopping on his own.
A substance use disorder “describes a problematic pattern of using alcohol or another substance that results in impairment in daily life or noticeable distress. A person with this disorder will often continue to use the substance despite consequences,” quoted by Johnna Medina. Obviously, Gordon (and many past players in both the NFL and other major sports leagues) is suffering from this disorder as his continued behavior and consequences are in no way stopping him from continued use.
It is in this area that the National Football League and many other professional sports leagues have failed their athletes when it relates to substance abuse and addiction. The overwhelming general thought is that athletes will not continue to use drugs or alcohol because the fear of losing their career or the millions of revenue they stand to gain from their playing career and endorsements is enough to keep them clean and sober. As we know from anyone suffering from substance abuse, this is just not the case. However, many people feel that the consequences of lost fame and fortune is so great for professional athletes that the consequences will be enough. Again, this is not true.
The truth is that many professional athletes need more structure and support in dealing with their substance abuse and addiction issues. Professional athletes are raised in a culture that they are often given special treatment, taught that they are unique and that every day rules do not apply to them. Therefore, the level of help they need, of structure and of support and of drug treatment needs to be intensive. The NFL and other leagues have programs in place but they are often too loose and unstructured. Very little does the public ever hear about a league mandating treatment for a player after multiple failed drug tests? Why is this? The NFL and other pro sports leagues have a poor record in how they handle repeat offenders. Suspensions and fines do not a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program make.
The NFL and other professional sports leagues need to be more progressive in their handling of athletes suffering from addiction and substance use disorders. Mandating treatment, continuing follow care and consistent drug testing would make for drug prevention and treatment system of a higher quality. For a league making billions of dollars, it’s the least it can do for a disease that impacts so many.
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