Saturday night, I found myself exhausted. I had an extremely busy and productive week which consisted of meetings, work, fundraising and the cherry on top: my little cousin graduating from college with honors. As I lay in the recliner Saturday night flipping channels, I stopped on one of my favorite channels: ESPN. A new 30 for 30 was about to start entitled Youngstown Boys. It was the story of Youngstown’s most famous sons, Maurice Clarett and Jim Tressel. As tired as I was, the thought crossed my mind to DVR it and watch it later. However, I was intrigued from the opening scene and I decided to watch it. To say that I am glad I did would be an understatement.
The media. The media. The media. Boy has the media torn apart Clarett. The media would have you to believe that Clarett is a young man who squandered away the opportunity of a lifetime all because he was self-centered, self-righteous and self-appointed to be the next big star at Ohio State University. They labeled him a troublemaker. A traitor. A modern day Benedict Arnold in the state of Ohio.
Now, I have closely followed Clarett’s story since he burst onto the scene at Ohio State. During his freshman year, I was a Senior at North Carolina State and we had a freshman that was making a lot of noise on the football field as well: T.A. McLendon. Both were hard nosed runners who could dart through a hole almost before it opened. There was a lot of hype surrounding both players especially before the season began in 2003, the year my beloved Wolfpack would make the trip to the infamous Horseshoe for a show down with the Buckeyes. Unfortunately, the showdown between two of the best in the backfield did not happen. Clarett was in the middle of serving what would eventually become a year long suspension from football. That suspension marked the beginning of a downhill spiral for Clarett. For those of you who are not familiar with his story, watch Youngstown Boys.
Before I watched the documentary, I assumed the focus would be on Clarett’s and Tressel’s “fall from Ohio State grace.” That was how it was promoted. I was presently surprised to see that the focus was mainly on Clarett with Tressel’s story weaved into the mix. Not that I would not have enjoyed hearing about Tressel’s rise from the relatively unknown city in Ohio, it is just that I wanted to hear Clarett’s story. In his own words.
As much as I love writing and the whole idea of reporting, it is stories like Clarett’s that make me want to scream when it comes to the way the media tends to portray athletes. Especially black athletes. Now, as a writer, I understand that the media is driven by what society wants to hear. Society thrives off negativity. However, there is a large portion of society that thrives off positivity and restoration. Those of us who thirst for the good in the world could be found with big smiles on our faces and tears streaming from some of our eyes at 11 o’clock Saturday night.
I can personally say I never had a really negative opinion about Clarett. Sure, I thought he made some horrible decisions. I thought he got tangled up with some people who were only concerned about what he could for them. I thought he had just given up on life and did not care that his life was spinning out of control. And when he was sentenced to jail time, I actually thought that may be the end for Clarett. His fall from grace had been a long one. And he hit the ground hard. And when he was released, it was to very little fanfare. And maybe that was for the best. From the time he was young, he was surrounded with fanfare. That can be overwhelming, for anyone.
Our society sets up kid’s like Clarett for failure, daily. We focus on their accomplishments on the field, court and diamond while forgetting to nurture their minds through learning.
I am glad Clarett was able to share his story. There were many things that happened that were NOT reported in the media. His story is admirable, impactful, honest, real and intriguing. It is stories like his that convince me on a daily basis that GOD is real. There is no one else that could have gone through what Clarett went through and still come out a winner. He was created specifically for this journey. His determination to turn his life around is more inspiring than anything he ever did on the gridiron. The endurance it took for him to reach the point he is at now will sustain him for years to come. Clarett has definitely gained a new fan and I look forward to the next chapter of his life.
P.S. His mom deserves her own 30 for 30. Talk about strength! There is nothing like a mother who NEVER gives up on her children. Phenomenal woman, she is.