During Maurice Clarett’s first and only season at Ohio State, a man stood outside Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati hawking unlicensed “Maurice the Beast” T-shirts. I know because I still have one.
Clarett isn’t sure he could be that kind of football player anymore. During the three years and 11 months he spent in prison for aggravated robbery and carrying a concealed weapon, he banished the beast.
He realized the animalistic side that made him think he was a big, tough guy wasn’t really him. While incarcerated, he studied philosophy and economics and read all the books written by Warren Buffett. With the insight gained through his painful experiences, Clarett came out determined to help people, young or old.
“I don’t even know if I’d play football if I had the mindset I have now,” Clarett said Tuesday during an ESPN conference call. “I used to have anger towards a lot of things when I was younger. I channeled all that energy onto people. It was a personal competition to beat on people or act like I was tougher. I don’t care about that anymore. I don’t have anger towards anybody. I can’t say I’d be the same football player.”
To me, that was the most compelling part of ESPN’s new “30 for 30” documentary Youngstown Boys, which debuts Saturday night at 9 after the Heisman Trophy presentation. It chronicles the journeys and the relationship of Clarett and Jim Tressel, the former Ohio State coach whom Clarett first idolized when Tressel turned around the program at Youngstown State, but the meat of the film begins when Clarett is arrested after a high-speed chase on Aug. 9, 2006. That was the height of his alcoholism and drug dealing that his mother thought would kill him.
How far he’s come and what might be next is the most amazing part of the Youngstown Boys story told by directors Jeff and Michael Zimbalist.
Clarett said in the documentary he has “rebuilt his mind, body and soul,” and has high hopes for where his new persona will take him. So does Tressel, the University of Akron’s vice president of student success, who remains close to Clarett.
“What Maurice has been through, what I was hoping all along, Maurice Clarett can be anything he’d like to be. He’s got so much to offer this world,” Tressel, 61, said during the conference call. “I’m anxious to see what he does in the next 50 years to make a difference in other people’s lives. I don’t know if I’ll be there for all of it.”
Even in 2002, when Clarett led Ohio State to the national title, he had a social consciousness rarely displayed by a college athlete. But now at age 30, as he turns to charity work and public speaking while still supporting the university that banished him, he’s found a receptive audience.
Clarett once thought he’d make his mark in the NFL, but his missteps could have more of an impact than anything he did or might have done on a football field.
“People are people. I see everywhere I go, it doesn’t matter if they’re older or younger, I connect with them on some level based on seeing so much and experiencing so much and coming through on the other side of so much,” Clarett said. “People just listen.
“Outside of fulfilling or pleasing your family, there’s nothing greater than when you look at somebody and you’re speaking and you’re connecting with them and their eyes are talking to you, like ‘I want to listen to what you have to say.’ Or I’m asking a question to you and I know that inside the question that they have been paying attention. They send you a text message later on and say, ‘I applied what you said or I applied what you taught me, and it served some benefit towards helping me where I’m at in my life.’ Talking to people and seeing they draw inspiration or hope from you, you start to feel more responsible to bring more out of yourself.”
As introspective and thoughtful as Clarett was on occasion in 2002, I never thought he’d realize people talk with their eyes.
Neither Clarett nor Tressel would divulge what they regretted about their pasts as they made and watched the film, although Tressel conceded part of their bond comes from the realization that “neither of us are perfect.”
“In college I was confused, I had no idea what to do. I had to make decisions that would affect the rest of my life and I was making them all based on emotions,” Clarett said. “If I could do one thing over, I wish I could have had better control of my emotions when I was younger. Then again, I wouldn’t be in this position, to go through it and recover from it and get back to where I am now.”
His mother, Michelle Clarett, said in the documentary she feared the car chase that August night would end in a shootout that would leave her son dead, with the police calling it “justifiable homicide.”
Listening to a mature and wiser Clarett talk now, I realize what a waste that would have been. If he can continue on this enlightened path, more troubled souls might find their way.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.