Despite a belief in some league circles that the person designated to handle the appeal of Browns receiver Josh Gordon’s one-year suspension can split the proverbial baby by imposing a suspension somewhere between zero and 16 games, the NFL characterizes the substance-abuse policy in a way that makes clear the absence of discretion.
“The disciplinary penalties were negotiated by the NFLPA and NFL more than 20 years ago and there has never been a proposal to change them,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy tells PFT via email. “When they were first established, the union expressed the strong view that they needed to be stated and mandatory to ensure that all players be treated the same regardless of position, experience, level of ability, or competitive considerations. On appeal, the hearing officer’s responsibility is to determine whether the violation was established and, if so, he is bound by the agreed-upon sanctions.”
For players in Stage III of the program, a positive test automatically triggers a one-year suspension.
For Gordon, then, only two options exist: full-year suspension or no suspension at all.
If the terms of the policy are applied as written, Gordon could indeed be facing a one-year suspension, no matter how unfair or heavy-handed or otherwise wrong. Or maybe the hearing officer will, consciously or otherwise, broaden the lens and consider the reaction to a one-year suspension for Gordon versus a mere two-game suspension for Ray Rice and his far more heinous conduct.