A full 15 days have passed since hearing officer Harold Henderson concluded the hearing in connection with the appeal of Browns receiver Josh Gordon’s one-year suspension. Nearly four months have passed since word of the suspension first emerged.
And there’s still no ruling. The substance-abuse policy requires that a decision be made within a “reasonable time.” That’s a fuzzy concept, but given the delays already inherent to the process, it’s all starting to feel unreasonable.
Under the plain language of the substance-abuse policy, it also would be unreasonable for Henderson to impose anything other than a one-year suspension or no suspension at all. Despite multiple reports and a clear suggestion from ESPN’s Mike Tirico during Monday night’s Cleveland-Washington game that Henderson could split the difference, the rules simply don’t contemplate it. If the policy is applied as written, it will be all or nothing.
While Henderson technically has the power to do whatever he wants, failing to interpret and apply the policy as written could result in the NFL no longer hiring Henderson to serve as a hearing officer. Unless, of course, the NFL wants Henderson to find a middle ground, so that Gordon’s suspension for smoking marijuana (possibly on a second-hand basis) won’t be quite as glaring in comparison to Ray Rice’s two-game ban for domestic violence.
The cleaner outcome, if the difference is going to be split, would come from a negotiation. As of Tuesday night, however, there have been no talks — and none are expected.
Still, if Henderson wants to work this out, he can get the parties on the phone and ask the NFL to offer an eight-game suspension and to keep it open for 24 hours while Gordon decides what to do, with a wink-nod understanding that, if a ruling is issued, it will be a full-year suspension.
Plenty of judges have used that and similar tactics to get cases settled. Don’t be shocked if it happens here.