It’s nearly January, and, once again, the New England Patriots are poised to make a deep run in the NFL Playoffs. The Pats control their division, and they’re only one game behind the Texans in earning a first-round bye. If those two teams finish with the same record, the Pats have a head-to-head tie-breaker. That said, things are not going in the right direction for the team. First, they’re coming off back-to-back losses, one to Pittsburgh, which is only a half-game behind the Patriots in the hunt for that elusive bye.
But that’s not the only bad news coming out of New England these days. The team just announced that receiver Josh Gordon has been suspended “indefinitely” for “violating an agreement” made with the NFL that allowed Gordon to be allowed to play this season.
Gordon had been previously suspended due to violations of the league’s drug abuse policy, but had been allowed to play this season on a probationary basis. While the announcement was greeted with surprise by some, Gordon himself was able to get out ahead of the narrative via Twitter.
Hours before the NFL and the Patriots announced Gordon’s suspension, the receiver tweeted that he planned to “step away” from football in order to “focus on mental health.” Gordon was gracious in his statement, thanking the Patriots for supporting him and promising both the team and his fans that he will work his way back into playing shape.
“I take my mental health very seriously at this point to ensure I remain able to perform at the highest level… I have recently felt like I could have a better grasp on things mentally. With that said, I will be stepping away from the football field for a bit to focus on my mental health. I would like to thank Coach Belichick, Mr. Kraft, as well as countless others within the Patriots organization for their continued support…”
From a PR perspective, this was a strong move. Not only did Gordon get the jump on the narrative, but he did so in a way that projected grace and gratitude. There was no complaining or finger-pointing. Just healthy introspection and a promise to get things managed and back on track.
In response, the Patriots were positive and encouraging: “We support Josh Gordon in his continued efforts to focus on his health. His attempt to do so is a private and personal matter, which we intend to respect…”
Translation, don’t ask us about this, because we’re not saying anything else about it. That’s classic New England communication. Succinct and dripping with politely implied subtext.
The positive narratives from both parties are an effective preliminary counterpoint to the negative headlines and content that will be coming. Every story or discussion about this topic is going to include commentary about Gordon’s past, including his long standing battles with substance abuse. Gordon missed both the 2015 and 2016 seasons, and, despite his obvious talent, has been hit or miss. For now, though, he made the right call getting out in front of it.