CLEVELAND, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Frequently suspended Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon offered harsh words for NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley in an "open letter" condemning Barkley and those who cast judgement on Gordon without any knowledge of his life outside football or the specifics of his conduct violations.
Gordon is facing a year-long suspension for testing positive for alcohol, a prohibited substance for Gordon under the terms of his most recent 10-game suspension for testing positive for marijuana.
The letter begins with Gordon calling out Barkley, ESPN columnist Stephen A. Smith, and Hall of Fame wide receiver and current NFL Network analyst Cris Carter, all of whom offered staunch public criticisms of Gordon, with Barkley going as far as to say he feared for Gordon's life.
"Chuck, you have never so much as shook my hand, let alone exchanged a single word with me," Gordon writes.
"Few of you have, to be honest. Respectfully, your worry over my 'problems' with substance abuse and my twisting descent into darkness and, apparently, my impending death, is misplaced -- mostly because you have very little idea what you are talking about ... You're done with me, Stephen A.? That presumes we ever actually got started. How, exactly, can you be 'done' with someone you have never had a meaningful conversation with beyond a quick First Take spot? ... And Cris, your level of interest in my life is even more puzzling, especially considering we have never met, either."
Gordon then points out Carter's public statements of overt concern for Gordon's "well being," and juxtaposes those words with Carter's also public statement to ESPN that he believed the Browns should cut Gordon, even though he's 23 years old and is the only receiver in NFL history to record consecutive 200-yard games.
From there the letter turns away from Gordon's critics, and to himself and his own admitted shortcomings. After apologizing to the Browns organization, players and fans, Gordon candidly admits he let down himself and those close to him with the latest suspension. Gordon frames his failure to stay clean around a history of struggling to follow rules, but repeatedly emphasizes he is offering context, not an excuse.
I failed myself when started using marijuana regularly as a young teenager. I failed myself when I ruined a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be Robert Griffin III's running mate during his Heisman Trophy-winning season at Baylor. I failed myself when I didn't check with the league office to ensure that my doctor-prescribed, codeine-based medicine was allowed under NFL guidelines. I failed myself when I was arrested for driving a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit. I failed myself when I missed a team walkthrough late in the season and was suspended for the final game of the year.
"But you know what, Charles, Stephen A., Cris and everyone else?" Gordon poses, dramatically changing the tone of the letter.
"I also have succeeded."
Gordon goes on to discuss his life growing up in Houston's impoverished Fondren neighborhood, where the prevailing cultural figureheads were gang members and other criminals.
"I succeeded by escaping a youth riddled with poverty, gang violence and very little in the way of guidance or support. I succeeded by narrowly avoiding a life of crime that managed to sink its clutches into almost all of my childhood friends. I succeeded by working tremendously hard on my craft and my body to even have a chance to play professional football for a living."
Gordon also says he has never smoked marijuana as an NFL player.
"And, contrary to popular belief, I succeeded by overcoming my longstanding relationship with weed -- because I knew I was risking my future over it."
Gordon explains he failed the drug test because he unknowingly inhaled enough secondhand marijuana smoke to test positive. Again, Gordon stresses to his critics he is not offering any excuses, simply asking they consider the full picture of his life, before publicly fretting over his career, let alone mortality. He also said he takes full responsibility for the mistake of being in the presence of marijuana.
"That culture didn't make me do anything I didn't want to do, but when you judge me without actually knowing me, you deny the existence of the world I come from."
Gordon also explains the incident that lead to his positive alcohol test. According to Gordon, he and two teammates were on a private flight to Las Vegas, where, thinking he was permitted to drink alcohol in the off season, Gordon had two beers and two cocktails.
"It was the first time I had consumed so much as a drop of alcohol since July 4, 2014, the day of the DWI. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not much of a drinker. Even calling me a social drinker would be an exaggeration, but at that moment, on that flight, I made a choice. The wrong choice, as it turned out."
Gordon admits he once again failed himself, but said his failure does not give analysts who've never met him to project their assumptions about his personal life and mental health.
"I am not a drug addict; I am not an alcoholic; I am not someone who deserves to be dissected and analyzed like some tragic example of everything that can possibly go wrong for a professional athlete. And ... I am not going to die on account of the troubled state you wrongly believe my life to be in.
If I have a "problem," it is that I am only 23 years old -- with a lot left to learn. I've come a long way from those mean Fondren streets, but it's clear that I can be a better me -- one who kids coming up to me for selfies and autographs can be proud of. I want that future for myself. And I truly believe that what I am going through right now will only make me stronger. I believe that my future is bright."
Gordon says he and his agent will privately explore the possibility of appealing his latest suspension.