Clarett’s Face Reads Like Story At An End

By David Steele
Updated: August 10, 2006

BALTIMORE — Amid all the bizarre details coming out of Maurice Clarett’s arrest in Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday morning, one stood out above the others.

It’s no easy task, mind you, to stand out in a tale in which “assault rifle,” “mace,” “taser,” “bulletproof vest” and “Grey Goose” appear in the same paragraph.

But this did stand out: Clarett’s face. In photos and video clips of his being brought into custody, he looked a lot older than 22. His face, expression and demeanor looked worn down to the core.

He looked far less frightening than the circumstances of this latest arrest indicate – leading police on a high-speed, zigzagging highway chase; forcing officers to go from a stun gun to mace because of his bulletproof vest; being subdued and handcuffed by “several” policemen (according to the Columbus police spokesman) and “still kicking at the doors” of the police wagon; and having an assault rifle and three handguns (plus a vodka bottle two-thirds empty) in his runaway SUV.

Yes, that’s all scary. But Clarett himself didn’t seem scary. He looked whipped, as if he’d lived too much of life in too short a time. He looked old beyond his years – not the way that, say, fellow Ohio prep phenom LeBron James looks older than he is. James, whose focus never drifted and who now is “this close” to ruling his sport and the marketing world, looks grown up.

Clarett, who is a year older but apparently never had that focus to begin with, looks like someone who’d love to borrow the past four years back and do them over again.

He has detonated the promise of 2002 in almost too many ways to list. When he went on his wild ride, he already was out on bond for a New Year’s morning arrest for pulling a stickup in, again, Columbus, where the promise had been born as an Ohio State freshman running back.

He had bombed out of the NFL last summer after receiving the gift of a third-round selection by the otherwise talent-savvy Mike Shanahan in Denver. The New Year’s arrest had torched his chance to play in NFL Europe. What was left of his career hinged on a sub-minor indoor league set to begin play in January.

He had burned his bridges at Ohio State, where the accusations that flew back and forth between them cut his tenure short after that one national championship season and left both tainted.

And he had, at long last, alienated the last of his supporters in his failed attempt to overturn the NFL’s draft eligibility rules. I know this because (I feel confident in saying) I was among the last of his supporters.

In fact, the gut reaction that surfaced upon hearing the latest news was anger, as if my personal faith in his quest had been betrayed. (Floyd Landis’ fans have felt much the same way the past couple of weeks.) How dare the pompous, hypocritical NFL continue in this day and age to arbitrarily deny a grown man the pursuit of a living in his chosen profession, I argued as recently as last April.

Actually, it’s still a valid position. It’s just that Clarett was not exactly suited to be the Rosa Parks of this cause. He was no student and was nothing close to a professional.

Now, left at loose ends, he’s not only not doing himself any good, but he’s also got people wondering what harm he might do to others. Guns, booze, a bulletproof vest … a CD of children’s songs recorded by state prison inmates?

One of his attorneys told television stations that he has received death threats recently. Another lawyer told the Associated Press that he was going to visit Clarett in custody to “make sure he’s OK emotionally and mentally.”

Gosh, counselor, what will be your first clue?

On ESPN Wednesday, writer Tom Friend said Clarett had told him earlier that fateful morning that he was turning his life around, was concerned about taking care of a newborn daughter, broke down in tears at times and sounded paranoid.

Friend’s description resembled a man who was desperate and at rock bottom, a long fall in a short time. Again, he’s 22. The oldest-looking 22 you’ve seen in a while.

One can’t tell if he’s no longer listening to anyone, or if no one is telling him anything worthwhile (that certainly was the case through much of his brief college stint and his aborted pro career), or if no one bothers anymore because the ATM in cleats is out of order.

Whatever it is, the results are disturbing, yet not surprising.

The worst-case scenario of a result – worse than prison – won’t be a surprise, either. The scariest thing about young men who look as if they’ve lived a lifetime when they’re barely out of their teens is that they sometimes don’t live much longer.

Who can say Clarett’s once-charmed life won’t come to a tragic, possibly violent end, and soon? Had police not caught him yesterday morning, he might have been on that very road.