In this quiet time during the NFL’s off-season, the only news these days is the plague of substance abuse in the league. On July 5, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was arrested for driving while impaired. A few days earlier, on July 3, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver LaVon Brazill was suspended for one year for violating the league’s substance abuse policy after failing a drug test. Adding to the problem is Johnny Manziel, the newly-drafted quarterback for the Browns, who was photographed in a Las Vegas bathroom rolling up a $20 bill.
On July 3, reports began surfacing that Brazill, a 25-year-old wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts, had failed a drug test. This is not the first time Brazill has had a run-in with drugs. After being drafted by the Colts in 2012, Brazill was suspended by the team for the initial four games of the 2013 season. At the time, Brazill said that he had learned his lesson, and would choose money over marijuna. Two seasons later, he is out for the year without pay. When Brazill has managed to make it onto the field for the Colts, he has shown himself to be a promising asset, with 23 catches and three touchdowns in 25 games.
The Cleveland Browns are having their own problems. Gordon was detained in Raleigh, N.C., on the night of July 5, after driving a car that was not his while he was drunk. The official charge is that Gordon was driving while impaired, and not intoxicated, in a car that belonged to P.J. Hairston, a guard for the Charlotte Hornets. Gordon’s blood alcohol level was reported as being .09. When reporters asked if there were drugs involved with the arrest, police spokespeople said they could not comment on the matter, but there were no charges pending concerning drugs. Like Brazill, this is not Gordon’s first run-in with league rules involving alcohol or drugs. Last season, he was suspended for two games for violating the policy. Only recently, Gordon failed a drug test and faces a one-year suspension from the NFL.
Finally, there is trouble with Manziel, also known as Johnny Football. Manziel played his college career at Texas A&M, where he was no stranger to controversy off the field. He was arrested in 2012 before becoming A&M’s starting quarterback. In the summer of 2013, the NCAA investigated reports as to whether or not Manziel violated his amateur status after being paid for autographs. While the NCAA did not find any evidence that Manziel accepted cash, he was suspended for the first half of their season opener. Now, as Manziel prepares for his first pro season after being drafted by the Cleveland Browns, he continues to make headlines for his off-the-field behavior. First, there was a picture of him partying with teen heartthrob and troublemaker Justin Bieber, and this week, a photo surfaced of Manziel in a Las Vegas bathroom rolling up a $20 bill, as if preparing to snort cocaine. While there is no visible cocaine in the picture, and some analysts say that he could just be tweaking the media, it is still not a good look for a young man who has been criticized for his behavior when not playing ball.
The NFL finds itself plagued with substance abuse problems, and these three rising stars have certainly played a part. Brazill and Gordon are two young men with serious problems, while Manziel feels that this issue is grounds for jokes . Perhaps he truly was just goosing the media, creating a story where there was none. In a culture where our sports stars are, like it or not, role models, it is an inappropriate joke to make, especially when the NFL is struggling with athletes who continually engage in foolish behavior. Manziel, Gordon, and Brazill need to take stock of their lives and careers. They need to decide which is more important: the party lifestyle, or the money that could be made from a successful career as a professional athlete. Brazill and possibly Gordon will have a year to think about this. Hopefully, Manziel will not need that kind of time.
Commentary by Bryan Levy