I despise the Ohio State University football team. Always have, always will.
Mostly because of their improbable victory over the Miami Hurricanes to win the 2002 season BCS National Championship, on what I still believe to be a bogus pass interference call in the endzone during the second overtime period.
I always thought that Maurice Clarett was a joke, someone who had a bit of the Icarus syndrome. He was too good, too soon, and he bit off more than he could chew. And he got bit in the end for it.
But I never knew the whole story.
In another brilliant documentary, ESPN’s 30 for 30 chronicles the rise and fall of Maurice Clarett and his coach, Jim Tressel, in Youngstown Boys.
To watch the kid make it out of the slums of Youngstown, to become an incredible running back at a major university during his true freshman year, is impressive. To see him obliterate opposing defenses, it makes us wonder how good he could have been had his body held up, different choices been made, and different circumstances which would have got him to the NFL.
But things did not fall into place for Clarett. Facing NCAA violations, and speaking out against his team for not letting him leave for a day or two to attend the funeral of a friend, Clarett was eventually suspended by the team, leaving him with nowhere to play ball. Eventually, he took his plight to court, where he tried to enter the NFL draft early, having only been one year removed from high school. When that didn’t work, he did what most people would do when they are famous at a young age: he partied. Eventually, he would enter the draft, and was picked up with a compensatory pick by the Denver Broncos, despite a poor showing at the NFL combine. By this point, Clarett was an alcoholic, to the point where he would be sneaking drinks all throughout the day, including before practice. He never played a snap in the NFL, and never got another chance.
For this part of the downfall, there are many things that could be blamed. The NCAA, for having overly-stringent rules on innocent things (like borrowing a car when his broke down). Jim Tressel for not standing up for his player as much as he could have, OSU, for throwing their player under the bus and treating him like a pariah, when he had done so much for the program. And Clarett himself, for making poor choices along the way, making his situation worse.
But his downfall did not end there. Out of football, Clarett turned back to his roots, which were the streets of Youngstown. His drinking got out of control, he began popping pills, and he began committing crimes because he needed to support his girlfriend and child that was on the way. He made terrible choices, and it landed him in jail.
And this is where Clarett was able to change his life.
This documentary is so powerful, because it allows us to see past the news stories of what we had heard about Clarett. He had become a punchline, due to his frequent visits to the news, all for negative of criminal activities. What we never got to see was the kid with the big smile, the love for football, the amazing natural talent, the incredible work ethic, and the dire circumstances around him.
And we never got to hear of his vindication.
As always, 30 for 30 provides the in-depth look of what happens beyond the headlines.
Even though Clarett played for my nemesis Buckeyes, I gained a new respect for him watching this show. Much of that respect came from an understanding of what had actually happened to him, and the series of events that led to his downfall.
Youngstown Boys is another definite winner in the ESPN series. For fans of college football, regardless of who your team is, seeing the story of Maurice Clarett is interesting, dramatic, and often times heartbreaking. A must-see.