Friday’s marathon appeal hearing regarding the Josh Gordon suspension will continue on Monday. Hearing officer Harold Henderson, a former employee of the league office designated by Commissioner Roger Goodell to resolve the issue, is required to issue a ruling within a reasonable time after the hearing ends.
There’s no middle ground; under the substance-abuse policy, a positive test occurring for a player in Stage III of the program results in a mandatory one-year suspension.
But if Gordon ends up being suspended for a full year, the blame won’t fall on lawyer Maurice Suh for anything he did or didn’t do during the course of the hearing. Gordon’s fate already was sealed at the bargaining table between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
Every provision, aspect, and wrinkle of the substance-abuse policy flows from negotiations between the league and the union. A violation for a player in Stage III triggers a one-year suspension because the NFLPA agreed to that sanction. The limit for marijuana metabolites is 15 ng/ml (an order of magnitude lower than the WADA limit of 150) because the NFLPA agreed to that amount. The inherently unfair “A” bottle/”B” bottle procedure, which allows the “B” bottle to confirm a positive test without actually being positive itself, exists due to the outcome of arm’s-length negotiations between management and labor.
Changes that may have helped Gordon’s cause remain caught up in the impasse that exists regarding HGH testing. Without a deal on HGH testing, no adjustments have been made to the 2010 version of the substance-abuse policy, nearly three years to the day since the latest labor deal was signed. If the league and the union had hammered out a deal on HGH testing, Gordon may not be facing a one-year suspension.
If Henderson decides not to suspend Gordon, it ultimately will happen because Henderson has decided (or was told) to give Gordon a pass. And that could happen because the NFL wants the ongoing criticism arising from the two-game Ray Rice suspension to die. It won’t die if/when a guy who may be addicted to a non-performance-enhancing substance now legal in two of 22 states in which the NFL does business gets thrown out of the NFL for eight times the magnitude of the punishment for a guy who intentionally (not mistakenly) punched a woman in the head, knocking her out.
Two wrongs ordinarily don’t make a right. In this case, choosing to go easy on Gordon despite the plain terms of the substance-abuse policy could go a long way toward getting people to quit complaining so loudly about the decision to go easy on Rice. While an incorrect application of the policy, it would be the right thing to do as to Gordon.