As a graduate of the University of Miami in the early 2000s, I am not a fan of Ohio State or its former star running back, Maurice Clarett. I followed his career closely, and at the time, I found him to be a punk, and to a certain extent, he probably was. But, I always felt that he was mistreated by Ohio State. ESPN’s 30-FOR-30 documentary Youngstown Boys solidified that view and showed me that perhaps Clarett wasn’t as obnoxious as I thought. He’s actually really smart. Ohio State tolerated his bad behavior as the wins rolled in (the documentary skipped the academic fraud allegations), but the second there was some adversity, they washed their hands of him.
It is amazing how the media can manipulate our perception of someone. Once Clarett pissed off the OSU athletic director at the Fiesta Bowl, he was portrayed as a “bad boy” in the media. In fact, Clarett just wanted to go to his friend’s funeral and felt like he had been given the run-around by the university. The picture of him throwing his OSU jersey paired with the “one-and-done” quotes were taken out of context but provided us an image of an ungrateful troublemaker. Even the Ohio State faithful turned on their former star. But how could he not be intrigued, especially when his buddy LBJ was going to sign a multimillion-dollar contract with an NBA team? All Clarett said was that he would consider “one-and-done” as a means to provide for his family. He never said he would do it and only did it when Ohio State cut him loose and he was out of options. Trust me, we have tolerated far more obnoxious football from Johnny Football over the past two seasons.
As a former athletics administrator, I have an even harder time with this next point. When Clarett accused the (now former) Ohio State AD of lying about the paperwork issue that prevent him from attending his friend’s funeral, he started a war. The athletic director, in vengeance, did everything in his power to crush that kid. This could have been handled in so many different ways than a fifty-year-old man orchestrating the demise of an eighteen-year-old…all over some choice words. Who’s the adult here? The athletic department set parameters that would have been impossible for him to meet.
Jim Tressel’s reaction was just as disappointing. I can imagine that a “national championship winning” coach’s job would be in jeopardy if he had shown the kid some support. Instead, he sat back and let it happen. Tressel claimed to care about Clarett but didn’t reach out to him until his subsequent fall from grace. Until recently, it was as if Maurice Clarett had never happened. Regardless, people make mistakes, and it is nice to see that “The Senator” and his player have reconciled for the greater good.
As previously hinted, not all facts are presented in a film like this. While Clarett was cocky and probably engaged in some inappropriate behavior while at Ohio State, I certainly don’t believe he deserved the treatment he got back in 2003. He was a kid who needed to be taught some life lessons, and it looks like he got them the hard way. He didn’t rape, murder, or assault anyone. He didn’t do drugs until after his Ohio State days.
After Maurice Clarett was out of football, he went down a destructive path and did some really bad things. On a happier note, this film showed that not everybody blows his second chance. As a young man, Clarett must have felt the world turned on him unfairly. He was pushed until one day he said “enough.” He served his time, educated himself, and is now working to help young men in his native Youngstown, OH. I hope he does well.