Two of the NFL’s best young football players may not be playing football this year, because they consistently have chosen marijuana over football. But how voluntary were those choices?
It’s a question the NFL, the NFLPA, and everyone else with a direct or indirect interest in the story needs to ask before passing judgment on Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington and/or Browns receiver Josh Gordon.
Their most recent violations of the league’s substance-abuse policy (Gordon’s remains subject to appeal) trigger a banishment from the league for a minimum of one year. Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter, who admirably overcame his own addiction issues, recently has wagged a finger at Gordon for being unable to do the same. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who welcomed draft-day steal Tyrann Mathieu into the fold after a litany of marijuana incidents at LSU, has essentially shunned Washington.
“He made a choice and we’re all living with it,” Arians said earlier this week in slamming the door on any further discussions about Washington.
How much of a choice was it? Unless Gordon and Washington are simply too dumb to understand the overall career consequences arising from smoking marijuana, they either deliberately and consciously opted to spit into the wind regarding the contents of their piss, or they couldn’t help themselves.
The policy and program crafted by the league and approved by the union doesn’t take that into account. If owners, who aren’t (but should be) subject to the substance-abuse policy and program, were subject to the same policy, maybe it would.
Here’s where it gets interesting for the NFL. With Colts owner Jim Irsay presumably getting behind the wheel of a car with potent drugs in his system not because he made a conscious choice to put people’s lives at risk but because he couldn’t help it, will he be the recipient of compassion and understanding? Or will he be banned for at least a year, too?
The league talks of holding owners to a higher standard than players. Players get multiple strikes before the league turns its back on them. How many strikes will an owner get, if a higher standard indeed applies?
If the league is inclined to show compassion and understanding for Irsay, that same spirit needs to apply when it comes to players who may be clinically addicted to a substance that is now legal in two of the 22 states in which the NFL does business. It’s an important nuance to the ongoing Irsay situation that requires careful attention as the league decides what to do.