Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Sad Case of Maurice Clarett

For those who didn't know, Mauric Clarett, a former Ohio State Buckeye running back, was arrested yesterday, caught with many weapons (including an assault rifle and a hatchet) and wearing a bullet-proof vest. While I am fond of the fact that that Buckeye team won the national championship (as a Northeas Ohio sports fan, that's the closest I've ever had to that joy as a sports fan, and as I'm an Indians/Browns/Cavs fan, I'll probably be waiting for awihle). However, I long stopped having nostalgia about Clarett - he was part of a team, and nothing more.

However, his current situation reminds us that not all great stories in sports turn out well. When he came onto the scene, much was made both in the Ohio press and the national press about his background. Clarett grew up in Youngstown, which is as dreary a place as you'll find in Ohio, never having enjoyed the urban renewal of places like Cleveland and Akron and also "benefitting" from the largest mob-presence in the non-coastal US. He saw friends of his shot dead in drive-by shootings throughout his middle-school and high school years, and with his breakout with the Bucks in 2002, he seemed to be on the verge of stardom. He had come up out of his poor and violent background, and was another example of how sports can change a person's life, the modern embodiment of the "American dream."

Then reality happened. Clarett made bad choices. He took money from people he shouldn't have. He became involved in the wrong circles. He bought into the legend-building that the media had already launched (to paraphrase Flavor Flav, he believed the hype). He kept getting himself in worse situations, and throwing away opportunities (such as his demanding coaches be fired in Denver before he'd even signed a contract). He began to build a rap sheet that just never stopped growing. He became paranoid, borrowing money from the wrong figures and then being afraid they were coming after him, a paranoia that gained legitimacy when his apartment was mysteriously torched.

And now, this. He's pulled over, delusional with paranoia and armed as if he were in a war (or even moreso). He has a baby daughter, a five million dollar bail, and a likelihood of double-digit years in prison. This from the kid who, not even five years ago, was a national champion, stood a legitimate chance of breaking the NFL's age limit, and had limitless potential.

There are many lessons we could take from the Clarett story, ranging from the way that the media can overhype people before they're proven, how young people don't always know how to deal with the fame, how colleges perhaps exploit their players (a debate for another time) - all of these are lessons that apply here. But the most important one to me is that not all athletes' stories are Hollywood, and that not every "American Dream" story ends happily.

So I say the following, not as a Buckeye fan, but as a human who feels sadness for a kid who had all the potential in the world and threw it away: may you finally learn from your mistakes, Maurice, and may you turn your life around yet.