Blackmon’s substance abuse equates to an injury


I think it was Wednesday when my old church brother Justin Blackmon came to mind.

I really don’t know why right then, but I think I know. Maybe I had heard on the radio or read online about someone who was going to miss some games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Or was it the performance-enhancing drugs policy? Yeah, there’s a difference.

It’s easy to conclude that the idea of missing paychecks obviously doesn’t do enough to shorten the list of suspended players. For one, many who violate the PEDs policy don’t take the time to do the little things. They get whatever over-the-counter medicine treats their symptom(s) right then and there without having to go through the fine print of what banned substances are included in the medicine or consulting with team doctors about the medicine in question.

Actually, it doesn’t have to be over-the-counter. It can be prescribed.

Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson now knows that all too well. We won’t be seeing him weeks 1 through 4 of the regular season.

But whatever stigma gets placed on him likely won’t be any harsher than the ones who violate the other policy.

Substance abuse is the thing I’ve been taught to avoid ever since I was in the first grade. (I can still hear one of the teachers as we left the school assembly: “Be cool! Don’t be a fool!”)

Sad to say, Blackmon has a hard time avoiding such a foolish thing.

Oklahoma City television station KWTV reported the Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver was arrested for possession of marijuana Wednesday evening after a traffic stop. He reportedly didn’t have a driver’s license and eventually admitted to having pot in his car. That and smoking a “blunt” while driving.

The station even posted video of his arrest. We’re talking my old church brother, now.

This is the guy the whole town of Ardmore, Oklahoma, was bragging about when I moved there in 2008. Blackmon had just enrolled at Oklahoma State and was going to redshirt as a freshman while serving as an understudy to a future NFL star named Dez Bryant.

His name was included in almost every sentence uttered by every Ardmoreite mentioning another native son, current Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham (who went to a different high school from Blackmon’s.) That season, Gresham helped Oklahoma reach the national championship game.

By the following spring, I got to meet Justin for the first time at church, as humble a kid as could be. He’d come home a little more often, and I’d chat with him a little more, especially to the point he trusted me with his phone number — which I still have.

The next thing to do was catch him in an Oklahoma State game. I did at the end of the following season.

Ole Miss, which had a pretty talented receiver of its own in Dollarway graduate Jesse Grandy, had just finished wearing out Blackmon and the Cowboys in the first Cotton Bowl played in the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium. Somehow, the OSU media relations personnel didn’t get my request for Blackmon in the interview room, but one guy helped me track him down to his bus.

The following June, I moved to Stillwater, sure to cover his breakout season. My stint there quickly soured for issues out of my control, but Blackmon’s NFL stock was on the rise.

It immediately took a hit as well following his arrest for DUI in the Irving area, but I was sure Justin was going to put that behind him.

Then came another DUI arrest just before his rookie NFL season in 2012. A few months later, he had 236 yards on seven receptions against the Texans, second-most in Jacksonville franchise history.

Then came a four-game suspension for violating the substance abuse policy to start the next season. (It’s not publicly known if the latter arrest resulted in that.)

Then came an indefinite suspension last November that ended his season.

He’s eligible to apply for reinstatement for the start of this season, when it would seem that has been jeopardized. But Jaguars owner Shad Khan, according to a wire report, said Thursday that Blackmon will remain on the roster.

When he’ll play again? No one can predict.

Blackmon’s actions reveal a pattern, and it’s that of someone who needs help.

That’s what went through my mind Wednesday. Still don’t know why it did.

But an addiction, if Blackmon recognizes this, is every bit an injury as an ACL tear. It’s a health issue, just one of the mental and spiritual sort. But like an ACL tear, it takes time — a lot of time — to fully rehabilitate from and overcome.

Give Khan credit: He’s not bailing out on Blackmon. He’s supporting a hurt star as anyone would. But it’s time Justin knows he has to fully overcome his injury.

That way, I have my old church brother back.

I.C. Murrell is the sports editor of The Commercial. Email him at imurrell@pbcommercial.com.