Getting docked a suspension for a year or more is a tough hill to climb. It appears to be especially difficult when the cause for that suspension is substance abuse, and that is understandable.
After all, you are tasked not only with maintaining yourself through that year of isolation, it is also your responsibility, essentially, to reshape your lifestyle free of drugs, which for those who have serious enough problems to draw such a suspension is an integral part of your life.
The Pittsburgh Steelers would appear to have one of the few success stories on their roster in wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who served a suspension throughout the 2015 season for substance abuse. He was able to return this season, but while there have been bumps in the road along the way, he is back in the league and contributing, even if he failed to pick up where he left off.
It is because of where he has been and where he has gotten to that he finds himself pulling for another talented wide receiver in his shoes, Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns, who is scheduled to play his first game in in years.
“Hell yeah”, he said when asked if were rooting for Gordon to come back and exceed. He noted that he and his divisional rival spoke to one another a few months ago, forging something of a relationship while both of them were serving suspensions last year.
“It’s just about encouraging friends and knowing what he’s been through and what I’ve been through”, he told Jeremy Fowler. “When nobody expected you to come back and you actually do it, it’s a great thing”.
I think we can safely say that Bryant has proven to be the type of person who uses negative comments as fuel to drive him to succeed. Or at least he tries to use that as fuel to succeed, even if, at times, it seems to work against him. But clearly, his drive to get back into the league was inspired in part by the desire to prove people wrong.
And frankly, what he accomplished in getting back and contributing is no small task. Fowler notes that just two of 12 players since 2010 who have been given similar suspensions due to substance abuse were able to make it back into the NFL, with Gordon potentially being the third. The other one was John Jolly.
I must say, it will be quite interesting to see Gordon back on the field. He was a first-team All-Pro talent in 2013, his second year, which started out with a two-game drug suspension. His ascent that year kept Antonio Brown off the first-team list.
He didn’t look the same when he came back at the end of the 2014 season, and he hasn’t played since, so, like Bryant, it would be foolish to expect him to pick up from his previous best. But it will be good to see, all the same. As Bryant said, “it’s bigger than football”. A redemption story is always preferable to one of a could-have-been.