Forget, for a second, that the NFL and NCAA rules were drawn up by rickety old men in a very different era that even today’s rickety old men would call “unbending.” What exactly did Josh Gordon and P.J. Hairston do, on a genuine danger-to-themselves-and-others scale, to be painted with the scornful media brush that TV talking heads and e-pundits feigning concern have painted them with?
These aren’t hardened criminals or even whatever the other type of criminal is. They’re not even the standard “substance abusers” or “dangers to themselves” that they have also been made out to be.
Josh Gordon likes to get high, something that is perfectly legal in two US states and is fairly largely accepted in the rest of them.
P.J. Hairston, he likes free rides and hates losing pickup games at the YMCA.
Let’s not judge these two kids, and at 21 and 23, they are still kids, by the arbitrary standards of an NFL which fines players for the color of the shoe they’re wearing or an NCAA which once suspended Dez Bryant for a year for having a perfectly acceptable dinner with Deion Sanders – but then saying he didn’t.
We as a society have our own understanding of what is right and wrong. Brandon Marshall’s shoe color and who Dez Bryant has dinner with don’t even come close to wrong. We judge real wrongs on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being someone like Aaron Hernandez who is a genuine threat to society (allegedly!) and 1 being Louis Murphy, who was busted for possessing Viagra without a prescription.
So, let’s apply the scales of our own past-era-rules-aside justice to the cases of Josh Gordon and P.J. Hairston.
Josh Gordon is irresponsible for failing a second drug test and getting arrested for driving while impaired because he knew the NFL would suspend him again.
P.J. Hairston was irresponsible when he drove some “previously-convicted” friend’s luxury cars because he knew (or should have known) about the NCAA’s archaic gift rules. He was also acting irresponsibly when he (allegedly) punched another player during a YMCA pickup game because he is now an NBA player who risks a lot of money when he… well, punches people.
Hairston already fell from a potential lottery pick to the mid-20s in this year’s draft for his “problems” at North Carolina.
These two men, connected only by a “convicted felon” and a “vehicle used in a crime,” aged 21 and 23, have acted irresponsibly, as we all have, but have found themselves the victims of an all-too-happy-to-go-all-Dr. Phil-on-celebrities sports #hatersphere over minor strayings, most of which shouldn’t even be crimes or violations.
Over the weekend, former Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson tweeted “If you’re close to Josh Gordon please help this kid, it’s not about football anymore it’s about picking up the pieces of his life.” Oh D’Qwell, always the drama queen.
According to the “sports media,” we are to believe that Josh Gordon is a drug abuser, alcohol abuser, and criminal. And, he may have even been hanging out with – gasp – a known “felon.”
Wait? What’d he do again?
He was suspended for failing a drug test after testing positive for marijuana, a drug prohibited by the NFL but is legal in two states and is scientifically less bad for you than alcohol or cigarettes, both of which are perfectly legal, even in the always-overpolicing NFL.
The NFL suspended him for four games, he appealed, it was knocked down to two games and two games that he’d be allowed to play in but wouldn’t be paid for, because, you know, that’s something massive corporations non-profits can do.
Then, this year, he was suspended for failing another drug test, resulting in many a Twitterer feigning concern while also shaking their collective head in disapproval.
Josh Gordon, what a mess. Can you believe…he smoked weed?
I can. When I was 23, there was not a drug test in existence that I could pass. Yet I still managed to maintain a fairly-successful well-paying job writing for men’s magazines and websites that… had much looser drug testing policies than the NFL.
Clearly Josh Gordon’s obvious “abuse” of marijuana is the sign of a man “who needs to piece his life together,” not a man who broke an arbitrary rule that would go unpunished if he had just chosen a different professional sport.
His job performance surely must be suffering, like an alcohol abuser’s would.
Oh wait, he just had an ungodly season breaking multiple records while playing just 14 games, two of them unpaid. Nevermind.
But then, in another headshake-inducing twist, Josh Gordon was arrested for driving while impaired.
Ah ha! It was the weed!
Oh, it was alcohol. Okay.
He was driving while hammered! Oh, he blew a .09, a .01 away from the arbitrary number the state defines as “legal driving while impaired.” Damn, missed it like a Brandon Weeden red zone pass attempt.
He was released on $500 bail but the “terrible incident” brought upon the D’Qwell Jackson holier-than-thou Twitter “concern” and a number of fellow headshakers who now believe that Gordon will be suspended for the entire season for getting into a car 30 minutes before his blood alcohol content would have dropped to a perfectly “legal” driving while impaired level.
On our Hernandez-Murphy scale, Gordon is about a Kevin Kolb, who was recently arrested for drunk boating. Not to defend drunk driving, which is genuinely one of the most dangerous things you can do if you’re actually drunk, but if you’re okay with someone going 62 in a 55, you should be okay with going 0.09 in a 0.08. Life’s not black and white, we’re still allowed to skirt the edge a bit.
The media was also quick to find more narrative. Apparently, the man who “bailed him out” (how often does the person who bails out a suspect become the news?) is a “convicted felon,” with – oh, the sports media loves this – an adorable nickname.
Haydn “Fats” Thomas bailed Gordon out. AND! “Fats” is the same “convicted felon” who cost North Carolina budding star P.J. Hairston his eligibility! Forget the fact that “Fats” has never actually spent a day in jail and “cost Hairston his eligibility” by letting him drive some fancy gas guzzlers.
Oh! And Gordon was driving Hairston’s car when he got arrested! I bet it must have been a sweet car – but not nearly as sweet as the narrative this created for the sports media.
So many buzz words! Arrested! Felon! DWI! Drugs! Guns!
As we see with Gordon, his “crimes” are hardly that. His $500 bail suggests that the courts agree with that sentiment, even if the always-on-perfect-behavior sports media doesn’t.
Even the convicted felon that so beautifully adds color to both Gordon and Hairston’s stories, isn’t really a “felon felon” and pled down some gun and drug possession charges and has never been to prison.
But Hairston, surely the media has found a troublemaker there…
P.J. Hairston was suspended in his third year at the University of North Carolina and his “questionable character” caused him to fall from a potential lottery pick to the mid-20s where Miami grabbed him and traded him to Charlotte for Shabazz Napier. On Monday, Hairston got into a scuffle but no charges were filed.
These are all “more red flags” in a “long time of being in trouble.” He must have done something really bad to tic off the NCAA, the same organization that will punish your school if your coaches bought cream cheese for the players’ bagels.
Hairston “borrowed,” “drove,” “used” some cars provided to him as gifts by our good buddy “Fats.”
Now, that’s irresponsible in the sense that it breaks the rules of an always-tolerant, player-compensating NCAA which, in turn, costs you things like… NCAA eligibility. Still, it’s not exactly a “crime.”
So, his “troubled past” wouldn’t even make it onto our Murphy-Hernandez scale, seeing as he was a danger to no one and committed zero criminal violations, misdemeanors, or felonies.
He was involved in a scuffle at a YMCA pickup game but no charges were filed so, still fails to make our criminal chart.
Not the smartest move by a kid just drafted to the NBA but a minor dustup in a YMCA gym is hardly the sign of a career criminal. How about the fact he’s playing basketball in his free time rather than Manzieling it up?
On our Murphy-Hernandez scale, that’s about a Trent Williams, who punched Richard Sherman in the face and was fined $7,900 for doing something half the country would love to do.
Oh, and on the topic, that Johnny Manziel, lotta character questions there. Another falsely narrated “questionable character” player whose partying ways may cost him “time learning the playbook” and may “affect his ability to be an impact player.”
Never mind the fact that he partied all the same when he put up Heisman-winning seasons.
On the Murphy-Hernandez scale, Manziel is somewhere below the Jay Cutler smoking meme.
Back to Hairston, Gordon, and “Fats.”
In our rush to get page views, in our insatiable need to squeeze every possible quote out of a news topic (really, another LeBron story?), us sports media types have used vague terms to paint two young adults as “troubled,” “substance abuser,” and/or “criminal.”
It’s not our fault, we’re heroin junkies and reddit upvotes are our heroin.
But what Gordon and Hairston did is no more sinister than spinning a story about a “kid”, coming off a record-setting season, and smoking weed into a story of young man needing to piece his life together. It’s certainly no more sinister than an NCAA which puts young men’s bodies in danger yet doesn’t compensate them at anywhere near the same level as they compensate their coaches or schools, or an institution that puts billions into 32 owners’ pockets (not to mention all the players) yet still has the gall to call itself a non-profit.
Having a “friend” or “acquaintance” or “guy who bails you out of jail” who is a “convicted felon” is a nice narrative booster, painting Gordon and Hairston as “being mixed up in the wrong crowd,” but even he is not exactly the hardened criminal type we’ve come to expect on most NBAers’ and NFLers’ entourages.
Hairston, Gordon, and even our pal “Fats,” have become the victims of a narrative-driven, pageview-seeking sports media culture and the archaic rules of leagues from which they’ve been banned.
Smoking weed and blowing a 0.09 aren’t going to garner you praise but they’re not jailable offenses either. In a country where marijuana is perfectly legal in two states, medically legal in 23 states, and is accepted by the majority of the public, the NFL’s marijuana policies are more outdated than the Washington team’s name.
Driving some dude’s nice car while you’re leading your team (which has a head coach earning nearly $2 million per year) in scoring is not an Aaron Hernandez-like offense. It broke the NCAA rules. So did the entire USC team when one Reggie Bush got free stuff – apparently UNC was not as culpable in this case. Still, it’s hardly a “character issue.”
Getting into a scuffle at the Y. It’s hard to defend that. Except to write it off, as the state has, and say boys will be boys. Because they will be. And some just take longer to grow out of it than others, but that’s hardly the stuff of hardened criminals whose reputations have been demonized in the name of a sports media “trying to help” but, really, just trying to feed their own ego with a few added pageviews.