BEREA, Ohio — Josh Gordon’s complicated and curious journey from drug-riddled streets to NFL stardom to suspensions to rehab to possible redemption is headed to a fitting location.
In Hollywood’s shadow.
Banned from the league the past two seasons for multiple violations of the league’s substance abuse policy, Gordon will play his first regular-season game since Dec. 21, 2014, when the Browns visit the Los Angeles Chargers.
It’s the next step for Gordon, with enough shadowy elements to spice up any feature film script.
But this is Gordon’s life, or at least the one he wants to the public to know, and he’s about to embark on another new beginning, one he hopes can provide inspiration to others.
“Perseverance story, really more than anything,” Gordon said Thursday when asked what message he hopes to convey.
“A guy that was able to bounce back. Overcoming. Defying the odds. The underdog story. That’s all it is. I think it’s something that sells hope for people — it’s realistic, it’s relatable. People want to know about it.”
An All-Pro in 2013 when he sky-rocketed to success by leading the league with 1,646 yards receiving, Gordon has missed Cleveland’s past 44 games. But despite the down time and personal challenges that kept him away from football, the 26-year-old believes he’s better prepared to resume his career.
“I’m having the most that I’ve ever had doing this, just playing ball for the love of it,” he said. “It’s the only thing that’s really giving me any type of, I guess, not really pressure but kind of just a boost.”
Gordon, who has been suspended by Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Browns five times since 2013, recently revealed some disturbing aspects of his background in an interview with Sports Illustrated. In a piece published this week, Gordon told the magazine that he engaged in criminal activity while growing up in Houston.
Gordon admitted to being involved in gang activity and in counterfeiting, drug trafficking and car theft. Gordon claimed he made $10,000 per month selling marijuana.
Gordon also said he used guns but that he never “maliciously” shot anyone.
The SI story came on the heels of Gordon telling GQ Magazine that he smoked pot or drank alcohol before every game of his NFL career.
While speaking to reporters following practice on Thursday, Gordon said he finds therapeutic value in opening up about his past.
“Just felt like using my platform, let my voice be heard, let people have a window into my life and get a full image of what I’ve gone through, what I’ve lived and my story,” he said.
“I don’t think anybody wants to question or have you guys just question me and want to guess what’s happened in Josh Gordon’s life. So now you know.”
Browns coach Hue Jackson said Gordon’s admissions caused the team to raise “antennas” and that it’s up to the receiver to regain the team’s trust.
Gordon, however, said he doesn’t regret his past, or revealing it.
“I do not,” he said. “Everybody makes mistakes, for sure, and you wish if I’d done this, if I’d done this. But I can’t sit back and just pore over every past mistake and say if I went this way instead of this way, what would’ve happened. So I know better than that.
“But I think to put me in the position that I’m in now, I definitely don’t regret it.”
Gordon said his comeback is not financially motivated, although he has squandered millions in potential contracts because of his addiction.
“I don’t have anything in place, or anything lined up,” he said. “I’m not trying to plug anything or sell anything.”
There are still so many unanswered questions about Gordon, but what has become clear is that he can still play football. He has blown away his teammates on the field since returning to practice last week, and Jackson nearly fell out of his chair when he was asked if Gordon will start Sunday.
“Are you kidding me?” said Jackson, who is 1-26 the past two seasons. “Yeah, he is going to start. Right away.”
The Browns (0-11) not only need Gordon to stay sober and on the straight and narrow, but to produce. Gordon doesn’t think that will be a problem.
In fact, despite the long layoff, Gordon’s sure he won’t miss a beat.
“I think I can do everything that’s within my power to do,” he said of his expectations this week.
“Anything that I’ve done before and anything that I haven’t done, hopefully I can achieve it. I think the sky is the limit. I feel that I’m in great shape, and if I can just help out there and try to make a play and try to put us in position to win. So it’s a question mark on it, but I know that I expect to do something positive.
“I know that much.”