When it comes to players who have repeatedly run afoul of the substance-abuse policy, the NFL has tremendous discretion. Under Commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFL has often used that discretion aggressively against the players. Is it possible that the league is now using its discretion in favor of the players?
That’s the only way to explain the vague, ominous statements from the Browns, receiver Josh Gordon, and the NFL regarding Gordon’s status. Something has happened with Gordon to prompt his absence from training camp for at least one week, and his comments on the matter strongly imply that it has something to do with the condition that got him suspended for an extended stretch. As written, the policy creates for players in Stage 3 of the program (i.e., any player reinstated a year or more after a banishment) a clear link between something/anything happening and another banishment.
So if Gordon has slipped up in any way — including a positive test or any failure to cooperate with testing, treatment, evaluation, or any other requirements imposed by the policy of his treatment plan — he technically should be gone for at least another year. While that could still happen, it hasn’t happened yet. Which invites speculation that the NFL may be trying to find a way to not suspend him, again.
Ditto for Raiders receiver Martavis Bryant. Last month, a report emerged that the Raiders fear another Bryant suspension may be coming. A subsequent report insisted that Bryant hasn’t failed or missed a drug test. But the standard for a slip up is much broader than that. Any glitch, any problem, any issue gets a player in Stage 3 booted again from the NFL, for at least another year.
Maybe, then, the NFL finally has realized that its over-the-top obsession with players smoking marijuana hurts the game more than it helps the game, especially with marijuana no longer possessing the stigma it once did. Maybe the NFL is now willing to find ways to keep talented players on the field, instead of finding ways to keep them off the field.
Regardless, something has caused the swift, sudden hand of Big Shield Justice to do something other than promptly smack players like Gordon and Bryant out of the league. Whatever the reason, it’s a positive development.