Thursday, January 05, 2006

Maurice Clarett's Tragedy + Sapience Magazine

I had an inkling, I hate to say, that things would turn out this way. Not with him in handcuffs, flanked by two White cops, but in a bad place. Poor Maurice Clarett (at left). Poor, poor Maurice Clarett. If you're not familiar with his story, it goes like this. Maurice Clarett was a freshman star running back on the Ohio State University Buckeyes football team. He led them to the national championship in 2002. His star was ascendent. But then, things started to fall apart.

In 2003, he was suspended by Ohio State football team for lying to Columbus police about the value of stuff that had been in a car he borrowed. He later pled to a lesser charge. This was a stupid mistake. But that's not all. He was also suspended for having received thousands of dollars from a family acquaintance. Even with this rapsheet, he probably could have returned in 2004 and played again for Ohio State given his spectactular freshman-year numbers, and if not the Buckeyes, then perhaps another 1-A or even top 1-AA school not in the Big 10.

But that's not how things turned out. Whether out of bad advice, willfulness and impulse, rebelliousness, the fear of a lack of options or who knows what, Clarett, despite the misdemeanor charge and the blot of the trashy cash, decided to challenge the National Football League's requirement that college players wait at least three years after high school before entering the professional draft. The NFL was not pleased. At all. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, where Associate judges Ruth Bader Ginsberg and John Paul Stevens, to whom Clarett had appealed, refused to consider a lower-court opinion that stayed his suit.

He consequently did himself no favors in a 2004 ESPN The Magazine interview when he claimed that coaches and boosters had set up passing grades, automobiles and loot for him while at Ohio State. Now he definitely wasn't going back there, and had probably destroyed his chances at every other university where "coaches and boosters...set up passing grades, automobiles and loot." The NCAA decided to investigate Ohio State's athletic programs, but Clarett, who probably received a phone call from someone telling him to shut his mouth, clammed up. As if this weren't bad enough, he also didn't help himself in 2004 when, at a draft combine, he showed up out of shape (certainly that potentially landmark lawsuit must have taken a psychological and physical toll) and gave a lackluster performance. The 2004 draft came and went without him.

Finally in 2005, after missing two years of competitive college football, Clarett was drafted by the Denver Broncos. But then he was cut this August. And now, he's been arrested, yet again, for allegedly robbing two people with a gun in an alley behind a bar in Columbus! Each of the two charges of aggravated robbery carries a sentence of 10 years. At 22, he's facing jailtime till he's nearly 30 at least. According to the Denver Post

The 22-year-old Clarett was wanted since early Sunday, when police said he flashed a gun and demanded property from a man and a woman behind the Opium Lounge in downtown Columbus.

Police said he fled with two men in a sport utility vehicle after he was identified by the bar owner, who happened to come out into the alley. No one was injured, and only a cell phone was taken from the alleged victims, police said.

Clarett VictoriousOnly a cell phone was taken from the alleged victims, but aggravated robbery is aggravated robbery. Now, I don't know if Maurice Clarett was involved in this. But if he was, I think the situation is tragic. This young man comes to Columbus ostensibly to get educated, but really he's there to power a team to a national championship. He later admits he didn't really do any schoolwork, and basically was paid like an employee--a lower-level professional one--to run a football down a gridiron. Ohio State gets millions as a result, but because he makes a very bad mistake--or copped a plea to one--things start to fall apart for him. Then he makes more bad decisions, on his own, on the advice of others, I don't know. Now, no school, no job-athletic starring opportunity. He's off that carousel. Then, for whatever reason, he makes another awful decision, and he's forced to sit out two years until he can grasp at a ring that's already vanished. Now he's facing felony charges. Felony charges. Of course it could be the case that he wasn't involved at all. Misstaken identity. Or his lawyer could figure out a way to get him off. Great ones do that. But that it all has come to this is tragic. We know that as dramatic as Clarett's case is, he isn't the only athlete perched on the precipice. The big-money college athletics system is a mess, and needs serious reform. The NCAA is not the organization to do it. As much as I enjoy professional sports, I also realize increasingly that they play far too great a role in American life. Their role is too dominant in our economic, our political, our psychic lives. Maurice Clarett is an example of how badly things can turn out for some young people up in this system. Very badly.

As an aside, let me add that I think his tragedy is deserving of hiphopera treatment, though there might be a contemporary art or jazz composer who could do it justice too. Maybe Prince Paul could take it on. Is he still making music? (Just don't peep R. Kelly!)


SapienceOn a completely different note, I recently received an email saying that the new Sapience magazine was out. Others have probably explored it, but I hadn't. It appears to be a mainstream Black LGBT online publication, with high quality graphics and imagery. I was pleased to see that there was a section for "Sisters," and that it was for "Sisters" who dealt with other women. Let's keep one of the "Ls" in sGLBT(QETSA et cetera.).

I'm not much for "style and fashion" or "health and fitness" advice--don't we have enough style and fashion and health and fitness blah blah blah out there as is? Plus this issue's "health" topic is gastric bypass surgery!--but the "political commentary" article, about Black gay men and their fathers, was well written and definitely impressed me. I'll be checking out the next issue.


  1. I agree college football needs some reform. I agree the over-emphasis on sports in our culture is too great. But I also believe in individual responsibility. Maurice Clarett made bad choices. He knew he wasn't going to class while at OSU. Why didn't he say or do something about it? Why did he choose a school that would allow him to get by without working towards a degree?

    The tragedy isn't just that a talented young man has fallen by the wayside. It's that there are thousands more without his skills who also need a helping hand up who may never get it while we all fixate on the next star athlete.

  2. Bernie, I agree with you. But I will say that I think taking into account individual responsibility also means that we consider the contexts in which young people like Clarett are living. No one operates in a vacuum. Obviously Clarett was not getting any sound advice from the adults around him. Remember that that his year of fame came when he was just a freshman. Why should he worry about going to classes when every signal he was getting pointed to the fact that he should be concentrating first and foremost on running a football down a field? When the stakes were and are so high that he was basically being pushed to spend most of his time preparing for Ohio State's run at the league and national titles? If nothing else, I'm sure he realized there were millions of dollars at stake, but at 18-19, as a college freshman, he might not have been mature enough to fathom the ramifications of his actions. Also, choosing another school might very well have meant more work in the classroom but less of a shot at the fame lottery that bigtime college 1-A football has become. We both know this. You won't get out of the university I'm teaching at if you don't do your assignments, but this university usually isn't at the top of the football poll rankings, either.

    Anyways, there are more than enough people TWICE his age who still lack the emotional maturity to function properly. So I guess I'm saying that while I agree with you, I also realize that individual responsibility is also a function of the contexts in which people are operating. I also agree that there are thousands--millions-more who may never get that helping hand, or may have to struggle dearly for it.

  3. re: Prince Paul: YES -- See exhibit A: Handsome Boy Modeling School's "White People"

  4. I agree.

    Where were this guy's mentors -- big money, sponserships, a bright future and many spoils for those who were betting on his future. How many people were willing to give him anything he wanted except sound advice?

    And don't sleep. How many of us are not personally responsible in one aspect of our lives? And how many of us could have made a better choice if those around us were not advising us from a place of self interest?

    I think that this guy is exceptional and living through exceptional circumstances with exceptional consequences for normal 18 year old bravado. It just went totally off the chain in the end. Too much souped up Ego.

    Similar to the Clintons except they ain't 18 and they can afford good council.