There are two men associated with the NFL who have been in the headlines recently. Both have made headlines for alleged drug use, both face possible league suspensions, and both men have severely hurt their franchises in the process.
Yet these two stories have played out so drastically differently in the media that reasonable observers are starting to backlash against the coverage.
This first man, who we’ll call Subject 1, allegedly tested positive for marijuana use, a substance that although is legal in some states, it’s use is strictly prohibited by the NFL. He faces no legal action outside of league discipline. Subject 1 was well aware that his use could lead to a suspension and loss of a huge amount of money. He had also dealt with drug use issues in the past, including suspensions. His story has been well documented for years, and has almost turned into that classic sports ‘soap opera’ that the big networks love to follow.
The second man, Subject 2, is facing league disciple due to an arrest stemming from alleged drug use. Subject 2 was reportedly found allegedly driving while impaired and in illegal possession of drugs. In addition, Subject 2 was found with a staggering $29,029 in cash in the car stuffed in the car floorboard and laundry bags in the back seat, money that reasonable speculation leads people to believe was being used in below-the-board ways. This man faces criminal action; four felony charges, and up to 12 years in prison.
Both Subject 1 and 2 have made extremely poor decisions that have led to serious personal and organizational turmoil. However, while Subject 1’s actions involve continuous personal drug use that will harm his bank account and his team’s success on the field, it is Subject 2’s alleged actions that seem far more heinous. Subject 2 reportedly drove while seriously impaired, crashing his car and endangering many other lives around him. This is why his actions carried with them four felony charges.
The way that the national media and the NFL themselves (via the league operated NFL Network) have covered these two stories is disturbing, and deserves deeper examination.
Meanwhile, there’s the coverage of Subject 2’s alleged actions. While the early coverage centered on the shock of the allegations and his arrest, the majority of coverage now talks about this man’s “addiction” and the “genetic disease” he faces. There’s also been extensive coverage of how he is getting treatment for his addictions.
If you’ve clicked on those links you know now that we are talking about the divergent cases of Cleveland Browns’ star wide receiver Josh Gordon and Indianapolis Colts’ owner Jim Irsay.
The bi-polar reaction by the media has been either just incompetently lazy or intentionally misleading, depending on your view. Why is it people seemingly want to throw Gordon out with the trash, while a man who is facing felony drug charges, a man who allegedly drove while drunk and high, putting the lives of other people in severe danger, is constantly described as diseased and someone who deserves our compassion as he works thru his addiction and treatment?
This was the first time Jim Irsay was caught, but is there any reasonable observer out there who thinks this was the first time he had done things like this? Even his famous Twitter outbursts over the years look much differently in retrospect.
Yet this week I read article after article on how Jim Irsay deserves our compassion, that we shouldn’t rush to judge, and how it is treatment, not scorn and ridicule, that he deserves.
Where are these same people on Josh Gordon? His drug related problems since college have been well documented. If you think Irsay faces a dependency problem & deserves compassion and treatment then shouldn’t the same be said of Gordon?
This doesn’t even factor in the difference of each man’s actions.
Yes, Josh Gordon broke a league rule that every player is fully aware of. They are tested, they know they are going to be tested, and it’s impossible to claim ignorance. The NFL is Gordon’s employer, and they have every right to set rules by which their employees are to abide. These rules are even collectively bargained by the ultra-powerful NFL Players Association.
We can have a cultural debate on marijuana, and the national trend is pointing towards legalization. Two states, Colorado and Washington, have already taken that step. However, if an employer sets a rule then their employees have to follow it. The NFL can, and should, punish Gordon in accordance with recent precedent.
However, let’s not be coy about this. Gordon smoking a little weed is in no way comparable to the public endangerment that Irsay allegedly displayed.
So the question must be asked: Why is media coverage generally one of compassion towards Irsay yet dismissive of Gordon?
There are some prominent national columnists who have railed against showing Irsay leniency. While those stories shouldn’t be discounted, they barely tilt the balance of the overwhelming pro-compassion coverage towards Irsay recently.
So what is the reason for the divergent coverage of these two men?
Is because Irsay is powerful and wealthy, and as is our tradition in this country we show him more deference than the ‘common man’?
Do we view prescription drug abuse as more blue-collar and tolerable than marijuana use?
Is it race?
I don’t think it’s any one of the above but rather a combination of the three. I actually think race plays less of a role in this than other factors, but shouldn’t be discounted. I realize race is now always the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about, but I think reasonable people can agree it is factoring in public perception some way.
Truthfully, both men deserve compassion. Gordon’s drug use, in my view, is certainly less problematic than what Irsay is alleged to have done. However drug addiction is real. The science of alcoholism and drug addiction is clear.
Josh Gordon is no villain. He is a young man who obviously struggles with addiction and has made poor choices that affect his team. This doesn’t mean we discard him as an irredeemable miscreant who has no place in the sport.
While Jim Irsay may deserve less compassion, he also shouldn’t be discarded to the dung heap of NFL history for his mistakes. He has been a good owner for his team and the city of Indianapolis, and should be given a chance to reform himself.
However, the media and the NFL themselves don’t deserve your sympathy for their laziness and incompetence in covering this issue. Treating Josh Gordon like a vile criminal while at the same time treating Jim Irsay as a man in need of an intervention is disturbing.
I’m not sure if that’s a strong enough word.
It’s disgusting, and makes me feel complicit and dirty as a fellow member of the sports media complex.
It’s time for the NFL and sports media to grow up and cover these issues with the nuance and honesty that fans deserve.