Johnny Manziel, his abbreviated NFL career off the rails, has been spending several nights clubbing on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. But in his words to TMZ, his unofficial biographer, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with partying, bro. There’s a difference between partying and getting out of control.”
As if an alcoholic would know the difference.
Josh Gordon, while on NFL suspension for failing a drug test and awaiting reinstatement, reportedly failed another test and saw his request to get back in the league shot down Tuesday. But he seems dismissive of his inability to stay away from marijuana, typing on Twitter, “Call me if u need a real story worth writing,” and posting a video clip of his workout on Instagram:
(This might be worse than when Tiger Woods dismissed suggestions he was struggling in his physical rehabilitation by posting a clip of himself hitting a golf ball in a simulator, with the words, “Progressing nicely,” as if that suggested he was ready for 72 holes at Augusta National.)
The often oversimplified view from sports fans on Manziel and Gordon is that they are lazy, immature screw-ups. But those opinions come from people who are either uneducated about addiction or in as much denial about substance abuse as the players themselves.
Manziel has had well-chronicled drinking issues since at least Texas A&M days. But it didn’t matter because he was scoring touchdowns, winning games and loving life, so the school and his family looked the other way, effectively enabling (even if not causing) the behavior. The problems figured to grow when he had more money and free time in the NFL, and they have.
Gordon has had multiple issues with marijuana since at least his days at Baylor. One well-known incident in his sophomore year saw him arrested with another Baylor wide receiver after the two were found in a car with marijuana and having fallen asleep in the drive-through line at a Taco Bell near campus. But he was he was a great receiver and ran track, so he was celebrated on campus.
I don’t want to turn this blog into a referendum on the legalization of marijuana. But anybody who denies the addictive nature of the drug has been brainwashed by the national, “It’s cool, bro,” narrative and simply doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Ask any drug counselor. Ask anybody who lives in long-term recovery.
I’ve learned a lot about addiction over the past five years, having written about it last summer. I once spoke to a drug counselor about the national debate over marijuana and he told me, “I’d rather deal with a crack addict than a marijuana addict.” When I asked why, he said, “Because you don’t have to convince the crack addict he has a problem.”
Manziel and Gordon both have problems. But “chemical addiction” is really just a brain disease – not curable but certainly treatable. If this was all about “chemical addiction,” we could lock every alcoholic in a closet for 72 hours, let them dry out and they’d be cured.
It doesn’t work that way. The disease of addiction never goes away. It’s either controlled or it’s not — and, despite Manziel’s contention, an alcoholic can’t “control” his partying. Until they accept recovery, an alcoholic is loyal only to alcohol and an addict is loyal only to their drug of choice. That’s their family, their friend, their job, their world.
Addiction is about understanding that while your friend can stop at two beers, you can’t; while you’re friend can get high one night and then not feel the need to do it again the next day, you can’t. Without that acceptance, there is no recovery.
Step 1 of any recovery program is, “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.” But ego, denial and a general lack of humility often get in the way of that acceptance for an addict. So they continue to party.
People laugh and call Manziel a “dumba**” every time they see a clip of him on TMZ. Others deny the addictive potential of marijuana and dismiss Gordon as just “lazy” or a “waste of talent.”
The truth is, these are sad stories. They are sad stories of two human beings who lack any acceptance of their mental illness and, because they have money in their pocket and fans on Twitter and Instagram, they feel somewhat protected, even empowered. Manziel and Gordon feel no need to surrender – and clearly they don’t believe they have a disease to surrender to.
And yet, some watch the news and read the comments and laugh and mock.
Question: If Manziel or Gordon had been diagnosed with a treatable form of cancer or diabetes, would you laugh at their comments as they denied treatment and threw away their careers, and potentially their lives? Think about that the next time you watch TMZ.
• Link: Personal Journey revisited
• Link: Follow-up to “Lost and Found”
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