Maurice Clarett's story is exceptionally brutal because it had all the elements of a classic underdog-from-the-ghetto makes good, like Rocky or Emmanuelle in Paris. This is how it starts: every morning at 6:30, his working-poor single mom drove him from their Youngstown, Ohio ghetto 40 minutes through farm country to attend Harding High School. Every night she picked him up after work. Clarett was unstoppable at Harding -- he rushed for 2,194 yards and 38 TDs as a senior and was named the All-USA National High School Player of the Year by USA Today. He graduated early (?) and joined OSU in Columbus.
In 2002 he was the best freshman footballer in the USA and led the Ohio State Buckeyes to The National Championship. He put up Heisman-worthy numbers (1,237 rush yds, 18 TDs); the Buckeyes enjoyed a 14-0 record and a trip to the 2002 national championship game wherein Our Hero scored the winning touchdown. Clarett was the first freshman to be the leading rusher on a national championship team since Ahman Green of the University of Nebraska in 1995.
If the screenwriter had only stopped there, with Lebron James on the speed dial and all the shaved buckeyes in Ohio quivering open for him...
Act Two: OSU suspended Clarett for the 2003 year following a series of poorly-laid bunts by the talented, troubled, toot-loving tailback. Clarett had borrowed a car from a local dealership (strike 1), reported that over $10,000 of his clothing, CDs, cash and stereo equipment (strike 2) was stolen – a lie, for which he was charged by the local police department (strike 3).
Clarett dropped out of OSU and lived the gangsta life in LA, theoretically getting in shape for the 2004 NFL Draft Combine. It was so obvious to everyone that Clarett was going to be an enormous superstar that he easily traded on his potential earning power. All he had to do was hire enough lawyers to get him into the NFL, where he would surely be the number one pick in the draft.
Scouts were eager to overlook his schoolboy excesses. They gushed: "Explosive in his start, showing a sudden burst through the holes … Changes gears instantly and has above-average hip swerve and body control … Flashes a good short burst to the hole, stays low in his pads and drives hard with his legs to move the pile … Gets in and out of the holes quickly and shows good lateral agility to cut back … Has a fluid running motion and shows the leg drive and power to rock defenders back when he breaks into the second level" (NFL.com)
The screenwriter pours another cup of coffee, stares at the dried genetic material on his ceiling. What next?
Clarett's suit against the NFL (always a move to engender love from NFL ownership) to become eligible for the 2004 draft died on the white marble steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, who refused to grant a writ of certiorari and hear his case (for those barely legal scholars in my audience).
After another year in LA living as The Man, Clarett arrived at the 2005 Combine full of wisdom: “It's a humbling thing being humble." Unfortunately, he was also full of lasagna. He ran a center-worthy 4.72 40 and was dubbed “Slow-Mo” by the national media, always ready to pile on someone in the midst of a humiliating personal and professional collapse. Go, Vigilant Watchdog of Democracy, go!
Nevertheless, the Denver Broncos, the most RB-friendly franchise in the NFL, gave Clarett a second (?) chance by drafting him in the third round. Clarett seized this opportunity by arriving at training camp out of shape, twenty pounds overweight and full of piss and vinegar. It used to be just vinegar. He was also caught drinking in the weight room. Nevertheless, the Broncos gave him a four-year incentive-laden contract. A month later they released him. He did not play a single game.
One million dollars in debt for his legal attack on the NFL and his Arena Football career on hold, Clarett used his OSU education (General Studies major) to rob two people with a .45 caliber handgun. Clarett reportedly made off with only a cell phone. While out on bail, Clarett was driving in the neighborhood of one of the witnesses in the early morning hours of August 9, 2006. Clarett was chased by police after he made an illegal U-turn. He led the police on a high speed chase until encountering a police-mounted spike strip.
Police said they were forced to gag Clarett's mouth after he spit at the officers and called them "nigger haters" during the arrest. Inside the SUV, officers discovered a hatchet, a loaded AK-47, a Hi-Point Pistol and two other loaded handguns in his vehicle along with an open bottle of Grey Goose vodka.
The officers had to use Mace to subdue Clarett after attempts to subdue him with a Taser proved ineffective because he was wearing kevlar body armor. On September 18, he filed a guilty plea to the charges. He will be sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.
And when he gets out? He owes quite a bit of money to the Israeli mafia. Remember all that fun-in-the-sun, waiting to cash in? Hai Waknine, convicted felon and member of Israeli mob, provided Clarett with cash, cars, bodyguards, blow, women and beachfront lodging in Malibu with the understanding that he would be reimbursed and receive 60 percent of Clarett's rookie contract.
Sure, those were good times. Clarett even took part in Waknine's elaborate Sabbath dinners. On one Friday in 2004, Clarett met with officials from the East-West Shrine game. He told them he would only play in the all-star game if he could see who else was playing. When an official said he couldn't discuss the roster, Clarett stood up and said, "I've got to go, it's Shabbos."
David Kenner, Clarett's former agent, is the former lawyer for Death Row Records and its founder, Marion "Suge" Knight, represented Waknine in Federal Court. Kenner makes lawyers look ethical in comparison. But that's another column.
Since scoring the overtime game-winning touchdown in the National Championship game, Maurice Clarett hasn’t played a single down of football. When he gets out of jail, he'll probably be killed by debt collectors.
That has to be somewhat disappointing.
He should have listened to more old school rap: Don't believe the hype. Especially when it's about you.