July 31, 2003

Weary of Clarett

I can't handle this for three more years.

He was the leading rusher for the Buckeyes, and a dominant performer at times in their drive to the National Championship last season. He is made the odds on favorite by many pre-season publications to win the Heisman Trophy this season. He's an immense talent, and I am a huge fan of the Bucks. So why am I sick of hearing about Maurice Clarett?

Mainly because he can't seem to subordinate his own selfishness to the best interests of the team. As an incoming freshman last year, he seemed to say all the right things at first. He worked hard in practice, earning the respect of his teammates and the coaching staff, and also earned the starting running back job as a true freshman for the opener, a rare and commendable achievement.

After some early season success, he raised a few eyebrows with his combativeness with the press and some general cockiness that was written off by most of us as immaturity, understandable for an 18-year old performing well on a national "stage". He caused a bit of a stir nationally, and surely a distraction for his team, when in midseason, he posed for an ESPN The Magazine cover story, throwing off his OSU jersey presumably for the NFL variety, the theme of the article being his unstated, but implied intention to consider leaving college after one year and challenging the traditional rules against early entry to the NFL for undergraduates.

It was hard for me to give Maurice the benefit of the doubt when he said, in the aftermath of the magazine story, that he had been unaware of the angle that the story would take, and that he had not exactly said he was planning to leave OSU early. What did he suppose was the meaning of the cover photo shoot of him taking off and discarding the Buckeye jersey? Did he even consider the reactions, expressed or otherwise, of his teammates, upon learning that their precocious star back might just as soon bolt for a pro paycheck?

At various other times during the course of the year, Clarett gave indications that his self-promotion meant more to him than being a part of a team did. After each of what I assume was a series of closed-door sessions with Coach Tressel or other coaches, we'd hear something from Clarett in the media, sounding scripted and rehearsed, to take the edge off of whatever "me-oriented" statement or action had precipitated it.

To me however, the Clarett spotlight-hogging selfishness reached its pinnacle in the week leading up to the Fiesta Bowl. It is during this pressure-packed week, as the teams are on the road preparing for the biggest game of their lives, that coaches try to focus their teams on game preparation, keep tight security, and carefully manage the press access to the players. Team unity and singleness of purpose is paramount as the National Championship game looms, with all of the proverbial college football marbles on the table.

It was in this setting that Clarett decided to give a story-starved press corps just what they wanted. A hot item. He held court with the media to denounce the OSU administration for not granting his request to be flown back to Ohio in midweek for the funeral of a childhood acquaintance that had been killed several days previous in an incident in Youngstown. OSU had lied to him, he insisted, and the ensuing flap engulfed the next few days of press coverage as the administration scrambled to state their side of the story and justify their decisions in the matter.

No matter that his TEAM was about to play for the National Championship in a couple of days. One got the feeling that Maurice Clarett was right where he wanted to be. In front of the TV cameras talking about Maurice Clarett and how he had been personally "dissed" in some fashion. No mention of the Miami Hurricanes and the upcoming contest. His adversary was the Ohio State University administration, and to hell with his teammates, OSU fans, coaches or anyone whose concern might happen to be a fairly important upcoming football game.

Consider also his reaction when an ex-graduate assistant, (by now somewhat discredited), alerted the New York Times a few weeks ago to a "story" about Clarett receiving some special assistance in the form of an oral exam for a course with which he was presumably having difficulty. Reportedly, Clarett reacted to this reporter's revelation by giving her information on several of his teammates who were guilty of "cheating" in some way in their academic pursuits. What a stand-up guy! Don't look at me. Look at my teammates cheating. There's a "team player" for you.

This is by no means to excuse or minimize the cheating in any way, if there was any. And it is beside the point that this particular "scandal" seems to have been as much the result of disgruntlement by a fired teaching assistant with a revenge motive, as it was about any misbehavior by Clarett. My point is to observe how he immediately pointed the finger at his own teammates as a reaction to accusations of some possible "scandal" involving him.

To be entirely fair, if we acknowledge that the accusing ex-teaching assistant lacks credibility on the original charge, we must also admit the same lack of credibility in the portion of her account dealing with Clarett "fingering" teammates. Actually, it was the questionable motive of the accuser that discredits her account, not necessarily that the content of her charges strains credulity. That an oral exam was given is not even in question. It turns out it was not an unusual practice, nor one limited to athletes. In fact, absent Clarett's alleged disclosures of the cheating by others, it's practically a non-story.

And with that non-story barely over with, Clarett once again is embroiled in controversy. He has again caused embarassment to the university by admitting that he lied about the contents of a vehicle that was broken into, exaggerating the values of many of the items in the vehicle, and as a result has been effectively suspended from the team pending NCAA investigation of the incident.

Memo to Maurice: The excuses being made for you by others won't fly anymore. You're not the only 19 year old on this team, or the only one who has had to deal with a less than ideal childhood, or a disadvantaged upbringing. It has gotten old, at least for this Buckeye fan, and you haven't even started your sophomore year. You helped the team last year, but you weren't the team last year. We won games with you, and we won games without you. Granted, there were a couple that I don't think we could have, or would have won without you.

You are a talented athlete, and it is my hope that you can wait a year or two more to become a millionaire. I wish for that because I am a Buckeye fan, and I root for you because you wear the Scarlet and Gray. In another school's uniform you'd be just another Ohio kid with talent, who for some reason went to another school to play ball. I'd wish you well as I do for all Ohio kids, but that would be it. No passion. My passion is OSU, and, off the field, you have missed few opportunities to make OSU look bad. That bothers me, and I'm not alone.

I'm weary of it.

If you need the money, the cars, the jewelry, and all the other trappings of wealth and superstardom, and can't wait for college to be over to get them, then I suggest you take it on down the road, away from OSU, wherever that road leads for you. I don't want that to happen. It would be your choice. For now.

If you stay, just be a member of the team. Get out of yourself. Be a college kid. Have fun. Play ball. Kick ass for the Buckeyes.

We'll all love ya.

Posted by dan at July 31, 2003 5:57 PM