Cultural Issues Impacting Josh Gordon and the Cleveland Browns


Josh Gordon is in the news again and again it is not good news for him or the Cleveland Browns. I have covered Gordon’s story in the past, related to his substance abuse issues, and you can click all of these words for that article to pull up in a new window. This article, like that article, are based on my full time profession as a counselor. I have worked in the field for 13 years, have a Master’s Degree and am licensed with the State of Ohio and with multiple insurance companies to provide counseling services. Yesterday Gordon was stopped for speeding and one of the passengers in his car was found in possession of marijuana. The reports say the police officer smelled marijuana, which most likely means it was being smoked either in the vehicle or just prior to entering the car.

This brings up even more concerns for Gordon and the Browns as not only is he fighting a substance related issue, as discussed in the other article, but he is also fighting some historical issues from the culture he was brought up in. Before I get into that from a professional counselor’s background, it is important to note that nothing that is said in this article is meant to excuse any of Gordon’s, or anyone else’s behaviors, instead it is to help educate the reader to understand more fully.

Gordon’s Background

Gordon was born in Houston, Texas besides that a long exhaustive Google search yielded very little information about his childhood, family and up bringing. What we do now about Houston is that it is not the richest, most affluent cities in the State of Texas. Crime rate has been high for years, the economy has been bad and the Astros have been worse. With no other information, and for the point of this article, we will assume that Gordon, parents Elaine & Herald, was raised in the typical low-middle class, pay check to pay check family. He attended Baylor University where he was suspended twice before transferring to Utah. He never played for Utah and declared for the NFL’s Supplemental Draft in 2012 where the Browns used a 2nd round pick on him.

Culture of Poverty

Culture of Poverty is a sociological, psychological, social worker study. It looks at those who were raised in and financially struggling family or neighborhood. The Culture of Poverty, CoP for short here on in, has been studied and shown to create some very specific issues for those involved in it, all through Social Learning. Children from CoP often get amplified issues, even if their parents show none of them. The issues aren’t always diagnosis-able mental or physical health issues but are often more subtle in their nature, though greatly impacting. (Important note: Substance abuse is not found to be greater or lesser based on finances, age, gender, etc so that is not the issue addressed here, that was in the last article). Lets take a look at a few of the issues that seem to be impacting Gordon:

Long Term Planning

Most people in CoP never learn the skills of long term planning because they have to learn how to survive day to day. Those day to day skills beget decision making that limits the ability to make longer term plans. Cyclically planning ahead, even 24 to 48 hours ahead, is not beneficial for today and becomes an unused or unlearned skill. This plays out in how they spend their money (spending their bank account down to zero is normal), how they socialize (doing whatever comes up at any moment) and the type of employment/money making opportunities they take (make as much money now as possible).

Long term planning skills are often learned by those not in CoP through Social Learning as well. They see their parents planning a budget, or for a trip and start to naturally do this. Kids outside of CoP are also talked through planning with their guardians including what sports they want to play, what they need to do to get to college and how to make smart decisions with their friends. Many of these skills just come natural to many. Some of you may not even remember learning to plan long term, “I just do it. Its common sense,” even though we know that a majority of those skills have been taught to you.


In the CoP community is vital. Many of these communities learn how to lean on each other for help. When one family in the community is struggling others come around to help that family. It might not be with money but a couch to sleep on, a car to borrow, a little food here and there. In non-CoP communities they have the finances to deal with their own issues and problems. Often in CoP that dependence spawns loyalty on both sides. Gangs will often given young athletes a pass, and actually provide protection, instead of recruiting them. Those that actually make it out of the CoP then feel a sense of loyalty to take care of those who are still in, in the same way they saw them taking care of their family growing up. That loyalty creates situations where, especially those who hit it big like Gordon, make it a point to stay loyal, Blind Loyalty, to his people from when he grew up.

The ESPN Documentary “Broke,” a part of the 30 for 30 Series did a great job showing how loyalty played a huge role in many athletes coming out of the CoP. Jalen Rose, from Grantland did a little piece on that, which is shown below in this YouTube Clip:

Gordon having his boys in the car, where at least 1 had marijuana on him and most likely at least one was smoking in the car or just before getting in the car, seems like a dumb move to those outside of the CoP. Yet for Gordon and many others you don’t turn your back on people. You support them, even when they depend on you. You don’t act like you are better then them, you bring them up to your experiences that you now get to have.

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Pride and image go together greatly in the CoP. Financial status, especially for men, tends to be an identifier. In the CoP, even if you don’t have the money, presenting well and putting off a good image, like you have money, is important. It isn’t surprising to see cars with really expensive systems but the bumper falling off. Children wearing the newest desire labels but crying because they are hungry. Buying expensive electronics or jewelry when the tax refund check comes in, instead of getting a new roof put on the house. All of these things are to present an image, to feel proud.

When someone “makes it” that issues becomes stronger. Gordon bought a flashy car, had it specially painted and can drive it fast. He has a number of tickets already for driving over the speed limit, sometime to extremes. Buying a practical car, or even not painting it in a way to draw attention to himself, wouldn’t of even been a thought to Gordon or anyone coming out of the CoP. Instead “If you got it, Ball Out” is a traditional way of saying “Spend what you got.” In a similar way, if you have a car that can go 150 MPH, drive it fast because that is what it was made for.

Finishing Up

Josh Gordon’s NFL future is in jeopardy and many who weren’t raised in the CoP can find it easy to pass judgement. My hope in presenting this simplistic version of CoP to you is to open your thinking, to challenge you that others may not of been raised the way you were. Some had to learn how to make Grilled Cheese without a stove, oven or George Foreman Grill (Paper bag and an Iron). Some had to learn to switch apartments with a family member so you could both get electric turned back on in a different name. And some learned loyalty, pride, image and day to day living.

Remember there is not a goal of making excuses for Gordon here. Many people, generally about 25%, make it out of the CoP and are successful in their lives. Gordon has the opportunity to do so himself but needs the support, education and patience to make that happen. The Dr. Phil answer, someone who isn’t licensed and is not respected in the MH community, is to just stop making poor decisions. As a fan of the Browns and Gordon, I want it to be that easy. Sadly it is not.

I hope something here was beneficial to you today. I hope it sparks discussion not derision. I hope Gordon gets his act together, and is not suspended at all, before his career spirals away. I hope no matter what Gordon is successful.