Maurice Clarett (Getty Images)
The other day I was seated inside the Conibear Shellhouse alongside Husky quarterback Isaiah Stanback. Before us was a big-screen TV, which flashed news of former Ohio State star Maurice Clarett’s most recent run-in with the law.
Clarett was arrested in Columbus after he made an illegal U-turn and led the police on a chase in a sports utility vehicle. After driving over a police-mounted spike strip, the chase ended in a nearby restaurant parking lot. The officers used Mace to restrain Clarett after attempts to subdue him with a Taser failed because he was wearing kevlar body armor.
Police stated that they were forced to secure a cloth around Clarett's mouth after he allegedly spit at them during the arrest. Inside Clarett’s vehicle, officers found a hatchet, a loaded AK-47 variant rifle and three other loaded pistols along with an open bottle of Grey Goose vodka.
“Stupid!” exclaimed Isaiah Stanback, giving the TV screen a hard stare with a look of disdain upon his face.
“You’ve gotta love Clarett’s attorneys,” I said. “Their client is driving near the house of a woman about to testify against him, and he’s got an AK-47 and all those other guns-- but (In a mock official voice) `SURE, OUR CLENT HAD FOUR LOADED GUNS AND A HATCHET IN HIS CAR. BUT OUR CLIENT HAD ABSOLUTELY NO INTENTION OF CAUSING ANY HARM.’”
“I actually feel sorry for the guy,” I said.
“I don’t,” snapped Isaiah, with a frown and a shake of the head.
“That guy is lost in a dark, desolate place,” I said. “To think that he could have had an incredible life. Instead, he ends up leading off the newscast wearing a jump suit and hand cuffs.”
“These are decisions that he gotta make,” said Isaiah. “He had his chances. He had lots of chances. I felt bad for him when they said he could enter the draft and he went and got an agent and then the told him he couldn’t. That was messed up. But when he came to the combine, he arrived out of shape. Well, he blew his opportunity. I don’t feel sorry for him at all.”
“He’s getting what he deserves,” I said. “I hope they lock him up for a long time. But when most people make mistakes, there are lessons that can be learned and sometimes people can come back stronger. But Clarett has gone down a bad road, a one-way road. Forget the football aspect, but just in general-- he’s too far gone now. He’s past the point of no return.”
Isaiah shrugged and then nodded.
It’s amazing to think that Maurice Clarett has not played a football game since leading the Buckeyes to the Fiesta Bowl title and 2002 national championship as a freshman. The images from that night in Tempe remain in the mind’s eye: Clarett tumbling into the end zone for the dramatic touchdown; then hoisting the number-one signal with his index finger in the smiling face of his Coach Jim Tressell; and then being illuminated by klieg lights while interviewed by Lynn Swann in front of millions of TV viewers. Not bad for a 19-year old. It seemed to be just the beginning of a rewarding career.
But the troubles started soon after. The media had generated such a galaxy of hype over Clarett that he grew to feel invincible. That false sense of self led to him being suspended by Ohio State for the 2003 season. Authorities charged Clarett for filing a false police report with which he claimed that more than $10,000 in clothing, CDs, cash and stereo equipment were stolen from a car he borrowed from a local dealership.
Clarett dropped out of Ohio State and made for Los Angeles, where he began hanging out with rap stars, including notorious producer Marion “Suge” Knight. Clarett was provided with a beachfront Malibu property and several luxury cars. He sued the NFL for the right to enter the 2004 NFL Draft, but lost in court. Clarett then worked out with trainers in preparation for the 2005 NFL Combine, hoping to impress for the 2005 draft. But he ran a sluggish 4.7-40, before refusing to participate further and leaving.
The Denver Broncos still took a chance and drafted Clarett in the third round. But he showed up to camp twenty pounds overweight and was combative with teammates and coaches. Toward the end of camp, he was even caught in the locker room drinking alcohol. The Broncos offered and Clarett signed a four-year deal in which he gave up $413,000 of guaranteed money for a shot at first-round money. His former agents Steve Feldman and Josh Luchs pleaded with him to take the guaranteed money. But at Clarett's insistence, this revised deal would pay him first-round money if he rushed for 1,000 yards in multiple seasons.
When the Broncos cut him soon after, Clarett was out in the cold. A source close to him confided: "It's ridiculous how badly this thing is screwed up. In the minds of the people around Maurice, he was going to walk in and be a superstar. They kept filling his head with that idea, and he thought he was already the man before he did anything."
This past New Year’s Day found Clarett in trouble again. Police were searching for him in regards to two incidents of armed robbery that took place outside the Opium Lounge dance club in Columbus, Ohio. Clarett allegedly robbed two people with a .45 caliber handgun and escaped in a white SUV with two unidentified persons. His only reported gain was a $150 cell phone from one of the victims. He turned himself into police on the night of January 2nd, while his former Ohio State team was beating Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.
The irony was that at the time of the January arrest Clarett was involved in serious discussions about playing for NFL Europe. Those plans tanked immediately. Soon after, the talk degenerated into the idea of Clarett playing for the American Indoor Football League, or the Eastern Indoor Football League. Talk about a fall from grace.
Suddenly it’s August 2006. A newscast reports that Police were forced to subdue former Maurice Clarett with mace before discovering loaded weapons and an open container of alcohol in his car. He was subsequently arraigned in court, scoffing at the judge, and smiling and rolling his head back for show. And I’m watching this with Isaiah Stanback, and thinking: “There can be no lesson learned without humility. And sometimes it’s best not to succeed too early in life. That’s really true when you’re a weak-minded fool like Maurice Clarett. It’s especially true when the national media glorifies you into an idol at the age of nineteen.”
Then I thought about that old quote from Oscar Wilde: “Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first call promising.”
Derek Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org