With receiver Justin Blackmon, the fifth overall pick in 2012, still serving a suspension arising from multiple violations of the substance-abuse policy, the Jaguars have not turned their back on him. And they don’t plan to.
Ed Werder of ESPN reports, and PFT has confirmed, that the Jaguars intend to welcome Blackmon back if/when he’s reinstated by the league. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Jaguars have not ruled out a reinstatement for Blackmon at some point during the 2014 regular season. But they don’t expect to have him available as of Week One.
Even though Blackmon wasn’t drafted on the watch of current G.M. Dave Caldwell or current coach Gus Bradley, they’re making the right decision, for several reasons. First, the kid has shown that, when he’s available to play, he can perform at a very high level. Second, as Blackmon tries to overcome his substance-abuse issues (which presumably arise from alcohol or marijuana or both) while exiled from the team, he needs to have a reason for hope. Knowing that his employer is ready to bring him back could be the difference between Blackmon winning and losing the broader battle he’s fighting.
Regardless of whether Blackmon’s issues arise from alcohol or marijuana or some other substance that doesn’t enhance performance, his case provides another example of a heavy-handed NFL policy that elevates discipline over treatment, throwing guys out of the league for matters in their private lives that in most cases have no impact at all on their ability to perform their duties as players.
Whether it’s Blackmon or Josh Gordon or Daryl Washington or Onterrio Smith or Ricky Williams or anyone else who consistently chooses a recreational substance over football, important questions need to be asked. First, if it’s not a PED, why does the league care what a guy drinks, smokes, or ingests on his own time? Second, why isn’t the focus helping get and keep these guys clean?
We’ve yet to detect much public sympathy for players who, in many cases, already have developed their habits before showing up in the NFL. Many college football programs have done little to help players overcome substance abuse, and for many players who have substance abuse issues in college, the problems started in high school.
Shouldn’t the NFL be willing to take a broad, common-sense, and compassionate view of players who developed these issues before ever showing up for work? Doesn’t it make sense to find ways to help highly-talented players stay in the league?
This situation provides a prime example of the negative consequences of a monopoly. If there were another viable pro football league, the NFL wouldn’t be in the business of running off guys like Blackmon, Gordon, and Washington. Here’s hoping the NFL eventually behaves the way it would if there were another professional league that doesn’t feel compelled to snoop into a guy’s urine as part of a private police force aimed at telling guys how to live their lives away from their places of employment.
The system needs to change, and more people need to start calling for it to happen.