In Defense of Josh Gordon

Only Divas chew on their chinstraps, right?

Over at the OBR we’ve been running an Email chat/group talk/discussion type of thing on a variety of subjects. Naturally, the subject of Josh Gordon as a potential top wide receiver/diva came up. This was a subject that I touched on last week – basically breaking down Pat Shurmur’s clumsy attempt at trying to motivate his young wide receiver (I guess).

Fundamentals of Communication

Or you could say that Shurmur just made Gordon’s life exponentially more difficult by outing him as a sloppy practice player.

Anyway, the OBR piece will eventually run. But in the meantime, I thought this was an appropriate time to post my initial response – before Gordon is forever pegged as a “diva.”

The Josh Gordon Post

There are many layers to this prompt.

First, the diva label is certainly a stereotype – one that is unfairly attached to any NFL wide receiver who doesn’t meet some specified criteria set by either fans or the media. The label itself is basically a license to criticize a player for exhibiting any type of behaviors that are simply noticeable. Or, if an NFL player doesn’t meet the standards, morals or values of a given fan or media member, then it’s fair to attach such a problematic label.

In Gordon’s specific case, this diva label is the result of exactly two things that he can’t control:

1. He is playing for the same team that once featured Braylon Edwards. And he’s a wide receiver. Somehow, this combination must make Gordon a diva.

2. His head coach implied that Gordon was a bit lost – as most NFL rookies are at this point of training camp. Again, somehow this implies that Gordon is a diva. Yet, no one in the major Cleveland media has questioned Shurmur’s tactic – which was either purely motivational or an incredibly incompetent display of public communication. If you prefer the incompetent choice, then who is to blame for the Gordon/diva association? Also, does Shurmur even understand that he’s dealing with a 21-year old?

Second, Gordon was closer to finding a college to play for than he was entering the NFL. By most accounts, Gordon was not expecting to be in an NFL training camp when Tom Heckert spent a second-round draft pick on him. For anyone to seriously think that Gordon could be plucked from college exile and thrown into the NFL without encountering some obstacles is delusional. And again, for a still inexperienced head coach to actually call this same player out on such a thing is astonishing.

Model. Unhappy with his contract. Dropped a big pass. Diva?

Third, exactly how does Gordon’s “problematic past” affect his current struggles as a rookie wide receiver in the NFL? Is there some connection between smoking pot in college and trying to figure out NFL defenses, learning routes and adjusting to both the speed of the game and the rhythm of a foreign offense? Again – what exactly did fans and media expect from Gordon? And really – how is someone smoking pot in college somehow an issue in the NFL? Could you only imagine if this criteria were extended to every other profession in society? Are people really that naive – or just mindlessly repeating things that other people say and making careless judgments?

Finally, as for his worth – such a question has to be framed within the context of the current roster. For over 12 years, the Browns have struggled to find both quality wide receivers and any type of play maker via the draft. In all honesty, Kevin Johnson probably remains the team’s best expansion receiver draft pick – along with the aforementioned Edwards. So in spending a high future draft pick on Gordon, Heckert is obviously taking a chance on a player who is clearly still developing. But then again, considering the roster Heckert inherited – which is the result of a decade of absentee ownership – the Browns’ GM didn’t have many options.

Yet, because of the Browns’ thin depth at the position – and surely because of the huge investment – Gordon will have to immediately produce or fall victim to the mindless labels that fans and media will surely attach to him. This much is obvious – especially in a city starved for any type of winning. Fans are quick to turn on a player and media always love a story that is easy to write and will create cheap heat. However, to have his own head coach essentially stoke these fires is absurd.

If somehow Gordon emerges successful from what is an already stacked deck, I truly hope that he takes every opportunity to act as much like a diva as he wants.

Whatever that even means.

Anyway, let me know what you think. I feel this is a worthy discussion – especially given how quickly fans turn on players and media pounce on words that they don’t understand and narratives that are easy to write.

But maybe I’m way off here.

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Comments (12)

  1. Berlin-T

    I feel you’re being a bit hard on Shurmur. After all, he deals with the young man every day and perhaps, just perhaps, has a good handle on how to motivate him. Let’s see how it all works out this season before rushing to judgement on Shurmur’s handling of his players. They seem to be responding well to him judging by the first two preseason games. (And yah, I realize it’s only the preseason)

    I do agree with you about the media and fans being too quick in coming down on and falsely labeling players. As far as the marijuana issue goes – the hypocrisy of the American people knows no bounds as just about everyone in the land has experimented with weed at one time or another. Since the NFL refuses to recognize this fact and sanctions players for smoking grass, let’s hope the young man can find a way of relaxing without it so he can have a great NFL career – he has a good chance to be something special.

    • Probably. It was just poorly handled by Shurmur. Maybe it will work in the end.

    • There are also so many other layers to the Pot thing….the Drug War is often a thinly veiled excuse for companies to profit from imprisoning people. But that’s something far removed from the NFL and antiquated drug policies. I can care less about Pot either way, but it’s hypocritical to not have advanced testing for HGH but strike down something that’s so easy to find. I guess it’s all padding the stats.

  2. Everwind

    I don’t think I don’t think anyone is labeling him a “Diva”. I have not heard he made unreasonable demands requiring a posse of yes men to follow him and sing his praises before he enters a room, nor is he a TO type narcissist that screams “everybody look at me.”
    Anyway, I think the pink elephant in the room is that modern offenses are incredibly complex and require not only a ton of memorization, but also adaptation to playing against superior talent. Many these players are there on the football field because of their physical talents and not their brains. There is a reason many don’t graduate other than the quick jump to the big money in the NFL. They are not the brightest tools in the shed, and it is going to take time for them to memorize plays and all their permutations. The modern NFL is in some ways for the skill positions a more mental game. Between all the memorization, timing, and adapting to superior play against them without some serious study you are going to get a sever rookie growing pains. Wrong routes, wrong techniques for the situation, inability to recognize the appropriate counter-measure for a particular blitz or safety is very difficult for the bandwidth challenged. Likely he has never had to do that before or actually spend a lot of time studying the subject of football. When a coach says “we need to simplify the offense”, that should be the first clue that there is a problem.
    Lastly, I think there is good reason for hope and trepidation with Cooper. He clearly has not made very many smart decisions in his recent past knowing full well he could jeopardize his football/college future. Now give him some serious money, without the skills and experience to handle it and he could be yet another player with tremendous physical talent that can’t handle the money and the pressure and crashes and burns. In order to be successful he will likely need some form of guidance/babysitting to make sure he treats football like a job that requires studying and discipline, and walking the straight and narrow.

  3. brownallover

    Your view seems reasonably balanced. Shurmur though seems a bit out of character. Makes me wonder if he doesn’t see something that others arent aware of. Perhaps, and I think this is unlikely, he has observed that the kid is responsive to this type of treatment. But then note how the overall tone of Shurmur’s pc’s have changed this past few weeks. Though your piece may be on the money it might also be a little premature.

  4. Ramdu

    2012: 4 (100) Travis Benjamin, WR, Miami
    2011: 2 (59) Greg Little
    2010: 6 (177) Carlton Mitchell
    2009: 2 (36) Brian Robiskie
    2 (50) Mohamed Massaquoi

    Any of these 5 names should be held under the microscope before Josh Gordon. Realistically Gordon won’t break out till next year (at the soonest). Let’s talk about the more experienced receivers instead of using Josh Gordon as a scapegoat for any offensive mistakes to come this year.

  5. Vegasdogg

    I’m confused. You’re saying Shurmur is incompetent for testing his new WR? Did it occur to you that the homework they’ve done (interviews w/former coaches) indicated he needs to stay motivated and pushed? How does Shurmur calling him out on his effort and finishing of plays even warrant discussion? The kid isn’t made of glass for crying out loud. Plus he scored like a QB on the Wonderlic so I’m certain he gets it. What did I take from this blog entry? You don’t like Shurmur and will nitpick any petty thing you can. This is really wierd and borders on obsession/stalking. Just don’t get it man.

    • You’re throwing in different arguments. I’m saying that Shurmur is making communication errors – the kind that a second-year head coach and/or a confident head coach shouldn’t make.

  6. Vegasdogg

    I’m not throwing in different arguments. You’re saying Shurmur is making communications errors and I wrote that he is pushing Gordon to quit taking plays off, and also pushing him to finish plays. That isn’t an error on Shumur’s part, that is teaching a young man urgency. I expect nothing less from a head coach. Gordon isn’t made of glass. Something tells me they did their homework and they know what works. To say Shurmur is making a communication error by putting this out in the media is incorrect. If I’m not mistaken Gordon got the message loud and clear and has stepped up his play. Score one for the coach.

  7. John

    Sorry, but I think you are overreacting. The first I heard of him being called a diva was…here. As for Shurmur, I have no issue with the way he has handled Gordon. I understand why he did what he did, and I think the team benefited from it. I think Gordon will be a terrific receiver in the future, and I lok forward to watching him. I was ticked off when he dropped the ball, but no more and no less than I would have been at any other receiver (hello Braylon, hello Greg!). As for the pot issue, I think it’s a non-issue, unless it resurrects itself now. Then it is a major issue.

    Finally, I completely disagree with you about him acting like a diva (think Terell Owens) should he become successful. There is no excuse for it. When you are paid millions, there will always be people sniping at you. Deal with it. It’s not an excuse to act like a brat/punk.

    • You’re arguing in three directions about “divas.” The link in the article shows that I have defended Gordon from such labels dating back to the preseason.

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