All Young Athletes Should Learn From Clarett Case

By Bryan Burwell
Updated: August 13, 2006

ST. LOUIS — You begin with the face. It is an old face; cold and sad and angry, but most of all distressed and confused.

It’s the face of a hard-bitten old man who has just stared into the teeth of some sort of dark hell. It’s a face absent of any hint of promise.

This is the police mug shot of Maurice Clarett, former child football prodigy, and it looks nothing like the bubbly face of that kid we saw flash across America’s football consciousness on Jan. 3, 2003.

That kid was an 18-year-old first-year freshman who led Ohio State to a national championship. The snapshot on that cool night in the Arizona desert was full of the arrogance, promise and hope of a kid who had his athletic life all ahead of him.

But that kid is long gone.

So you keep staring at this mug shot of a 22-year-old criminal in a tan prison jumpsuit; you strain to see if there are any faint traces of the soft edges of the kid we know is lost deep inside those soulless, dark, puffy, sorrowful, angry eyes.

What strange journey could take a kid from that brilliant moment to this depressing one? We wonder what sort of dismal bad patch has led Maurice Clarett here, where we feel compelled to examine how that 18-year-old kid full of arrogance, talent and promise could get lost so deeply inside that sorrowful and sullen mug shot.

The truth is easy to find.

Maurice Clarett blew it. He can blame the college coach who never had the spine to discipline him. He can blame the enabling Ohio State athletic director who probably turned his back far too many times.

He can blame the back-slapping alums who never hesitated to provide him with cars and money and clothes and an overwhelming sense of entitlement.

He can blame all those toadies and sycophants who clung to him like swamp moss when they thought he was going to be an instant millionaire NFL first-round draft pick, but fell off like dead autumn leaves the second they saw he was a lowly third-rounder.

Most likely, they all had a hand in his demise. But somewhere along the descent into the nightmare that ended last week with Clarett’s football career over, and police subduing him with Mace after they found him wearing a bulletproof vest, and with four loaded automatic weapons and a half-empty bottle of vodka inside his SUV, Clarett needs to blame himself.

He’s the one who is most responsible for his life being wrecked, because he’s the one who left Ohio State without a degree or any reasonable life skills.

He’s the one who settled for the short-term pleasure of the quick cash, cars and fleeting fame, instead of insisting on the long-term value of a college degree as a fallback in case the NFL career didn’t pan out.

He put everything into football, and when football failed him (or more accurately, he finally failed at football), there was nothing left to fall back on.

I remember one quote he told reporters during that ’03 Fiesta Bowl that still sticks with me today: “There’s more to me than football.”

That, of course, was a lie.

So now as high school football players by the millions report to training camps all over the country, I hope that their coaches will take that Maurice Clarett mug shot, blow it up as large as they can get it, then frame it and display it in a prominent place in the locker room.

I want everyone to see Clarett for what he is today, which is a symbol for every young stud on the rise who thinks life is promised to him.

All the toadies, sycophants and men and women of unspecified purpose have vanished. The hangers-on who stood shoulder to shoulder with him and encouraged him to leave college and sue the NFL and thought they were about to ride on the coattails of his fame abandoned him shortly after it became clear he wasn’t going to be a first-round draft pick.

The agents who negotiated the lousy contract for him without a substantial (and almost standard) signing bonus left him after his first arrest on Jan. 1 on armed robbery charges.

The $1,000-handshake alums are ghosts, too.

He was alone in that SUV last week with the only visible means of support the liquid courage he was guzzling out of that half-empty bottle of Grey Goose.

And he’s all alone now as he sits in a prison cell and prosecutors and doctors try to determine if he’s lost his mind or just lost his way.