Imprisoned former NFL running back Maurice Clarett is back in the news this time for his writing on his up-and-coming blog
As I was surfing the web like I often do looking for new ideas, I stumbled onto an intriguing blog/website called The Mind of Maurice Clarett. When I first saw the site’s name I thought it was either a farce or a fan-dedicated Ohio State lovefest via the web. However I soon learned that the site is a deep personal look into the psyche of a player, who once almost changed the history of the National Football League. But ended up as a footnote in sports annals while experiencing a trepidous journey that made sports fans question big time college athletics and wonder how a promising freshman phemon ended up falling to the depths of prison.
Think back to 2003, I know it is hard but remember the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. In a double-overtime thriller the Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the vaunted Miami Hurricanes by a score of 31-24. The win brought the Buckeyes the 2002 BCS National Championship and even though there was a multitude of future NFL stars on the field that night including RB Willis McGahee, WR Andre Johnson, TE Kellen Winslow Jr, Safety Sean Taylor, DB Chris Gamble, and others. No star shined brighter on national television that night than Ohio State stocky freshman running back Maurice Clarett. Though he only ran 23 times for 47 yards in the Fiesta Bowl victory, Clarett defied the odds of a freshman making an impact in a National Championship Game by scoring two touchdowns including the game-winning score on a five-yard diving run in the second overtime. The Youngstown, Ohio native also made possibly the game’s biggest defensive play too when he stole the ball from Hurricanes All-American safety Sean Taylor after he had just intercepted a Craig Krenzel pass in the end zone. The former 2001 Mr. Ohio in football ended his one magical season for Ohio State with 1,237 rushing yards (a school record for a freshman) and scoring 18 touchdowns while leading the undefeated Buckeyes (14-0) to the National Championship.
If only time could have been frozen for Clarett at that very moment as he held the National Championship crystal football, because over the next few years the once promising star would sink to new depths. After several missteps academically and off the field incidents, Clarett was suspended in 2003 by Ohio State. Looking to get back in the spotlight and without any takers in major college football, Clarett set his sights on challenging the NFL’s underclassman rule of a player having to be at least three years removed from high school to participate in the NFL Draft. Though at first Clarett won a decision by Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin allowing him to participate in the 2004 NFL Draft – I still agree with her decision as a player should be allowed to apply to the NFL Draft even if they are just out of high school, but Clarett was the wrong player to challenge the NFL’s rule. A later appelate court ruling by higher ranking Judge and current Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor overturned the decision in favor of the NFL due to the league’s and player union’s collective bargaining agreement. With the U.S Supreme Court basically upholding the decision by refusing to hear an appeal, Clarett along with future NFL flameout former USC receiver Mike Williams were forced to the sidelines for the 2004 NFL Draft.
After being out of football for over a year, Clarett – despite looking like SlowMo at the 2005 NFL Combine running in the 4.7 range — received a surprsing second lifeline from the NFL when the Denver Broncs selected him in the 3rd round with last pick (101) of that round. Vindication seemed to be the former Buckeye star’s, but once again his immaturity shined through as he showed up to training camp at close to 250 pounds, was surly to everyone from team staff to teammates, and was alledgely caught often sipping Grey Goose vodka out of a squirt bottle between practices. Former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan realizing his error in bringing in the not ready for primetime malcontent, did not play Clarett at all in the preseason and cut ties with the troubled player in late August of 2005. With legal costs from his ill-fated court case against the NFL mounting, Clarett returned to Ohio and “real” trouble – not the kind a university can get you out of – soon followed.
Clarett’s life was forever changed around New Year’s Day 2006 when he reportedly robbed two people at gunpoint with only a cell phone to show for his actions. After the police issued a manhunt advisory on him, Clarett turned himself into police on January 2, 2006 just as his former Ohio State teammates were about to take the field in the Fiesta Bowl again. Any doubts regarding Clarett’s strange criminal behavior were confirmed when the troubled former college football star was arrrest for a second time in August of 2006. This time while free on bail and awaiting trial from his earlier run-in, Clarett led police on a high-speed alcohol induced chase where police found an arsenal of weapons and a bottle of Grey Goose vodka in the car he was driving. The bizarre cases ended with Clarett accepting a plea deal in September 2006, which included a sentence of 7 ½ years in prison with eligibilty after three years for parole.
After going through Clarett’s lenghty history since his rise to fame in 2002, today he is sort of back in the news as his blog from the Toledo Correctional Institution has put him back on the sports page. The surprisingly well-written daily blog of ramblings, almost rap lyrics, and personal thoughts is a fascinating portrait of someone trying to get their life together. Though Clarett does not have computer access, he is able to send his messages via phone to family members who post them on the site. For a player once known for saying incoherent things like, “It’s a humbling thing being humble” at the 2005 NFL Combine. Clarett, who is also taking classes at Ohio University, waxes poetically on a variety of topics from an encouragement open-letter to one-time friend LeBron James to religion to speaking on a Mother’s Love to a potential return to the football field to provoking sociological debate/discussions on topics like “Why African Americans don’t trust one another?’
One of my favorite blog entries from Clarett’s site is from May 25, 2009 called “How Am I Feeling”. Clarett wrote:
“I can’t hold these feelings in anymore. I want to play football again. I have a deep desire to play. I love the game. I have so much penitentiary aggression pinned up inside of me. I want to hit someone. I want to run the ball. I want to tackle someone. I want to play. I am going to play somewhere. I cannot accept how things ended. I won’t accept how they ended. I am 220, rock solid. I am moving swift, running fast, and jumping high. My mind is right and my life is in order. I am 25 but I feel like I am 18. I am still young. Those who do support me deserve and want to see me out there playing again. I play with some pretty good athletes back here. In the penitentiary you could say basketball is football. Back here everything is aggressive. Everything is intense. I know I am an asset to someone’s locker room on so many levels. I’ve survived some of life’s worst struggles. I am not a statistic. I am still here and I am still living. I didn’t and won’t give up. I am a winner. I am optimistic. I am inspirational. I am alive. I want to play for the love and the respect. I want to play for the underdogs. I want to play because I know how to really well. Hopefully, they’ll open these gates soon and I’ll be able to get out on the field again. I am healthy mentally and physically. I am rock solid. I train hard. I go hard. I’m HERE”.
There is no question after many years away from picking up a football that a return to the NFL let alone organized football is a longshot for Clarett. But much like maligned NFL suspended quarterback Michael Vick, Clarett deserves a chance at redemption too. The former Buckeyes freshman sensation still seems to have the desire to play the game of football and at age 26 (upon his expected parole) with a new sense on life, maybe the NFL will see yet another comeback story. Even if football doesn’t work out, Clarett could have a future as a writer or public relations wordsmith or even as the next Chuck D putting his words into hip-hop lyrics.
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)