By Derek Brightwell–
Former Ohio State standout running back Maurice Clarett was on campus Thursday, Feb. 5 and Friday Feb. 6 to meet with student athletes at the University of Louisville.
Clarett’s journey has been long and, at times, troubled. He went from being the freshman star on the Buckeye’s National Championship team in 2002, to out of school, to drug addiction, to getting drafted in the NFL and then promptly cut and, eventually, to prison. After getting out, Clarett has started a business and travels around the country speaking to college athletes and others about his experiences so that they do not make the same mistakes he did.
Getting Clarett to U of L was a collaborative effort between the Cultural Center, the athletic department, African American Male Initiative, the Department of Health and Sports Sciences and the College of Education and Human Development Diversity Committee.
“We went to an event at Ohio State University and that evening they were having a fundraiser event where Maurice Clarett was there,” Leondra Gully, who helped organize the event, said of getting Clarett to campus. “So our director, Tierney Bates, he has a lot of history because he’s from the Cleveland area, at that point decided it’d probably be a good idea and a good experience for him to talk to students here. So we connected with his manager, which was super easy and he’s here.”
During the conversation between Bates and Clarett that was open to the public in Bigelow Hall in the Miller Building, Clarett answered questions about his past in Youngstown, Ohio, his time at the Ohio State University and the mistakes that he made that landed him in prison.
Clarett talked about the numerous times coaches tried to help him with his off-the-field decision-making while at Ohio State and how he ignored them because he had had success on the field and thought he was “bigger than the city.” He said he had the same resistance when he got to the NFL and his coaches suggested he get help for his mental health.
In 2005, anybody who had paid attention to the saga of Maurice Clarett couldn’t have predicted a happy ending to it. After getting suspended from Ohio State, he moved to Los Angeles where he became addicted to drugs. He sued the NFL to overturn the rule that a player must be three years removed from high school to enter the draft. After losing the case, Clarett was drafted in the third round the following year, but was out of shape, lacked focus, was uncoachable and was cut by the Denver Broncos before the season started. After that, he moved back to Ohio.
“When I came back (to Ohio), the first two or three weeks I was good. I was going back to training. I had reconnected with Coach Tressel and things kind of got back on the right track,” Clarett said. “But that second or third week, some of the old friends that I’d been hanging around with in the streets started to hit me up. As a result, I got back into hustling, back into the streets and things kind of spiraled.”
On New Year’s Eve of 2005, he was hit with a robbery charge and a few weeks after that he found out his girlfriend was pregnant. This led to a series of more bad choices for Clarett and from January until August was a blur for him. In August 2006, he got arrested again after fleeing police. He was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. That’s where the story changes for Clarett.
While in prison, he taught himself about economics and business practices. He also served as mentor for other inmates. In 2010, he was released from prison early. Since he’s been out, he has continued to teach himself, and earned a degree from Ohio State. He also wrote his autobiography entitled “My Life. My Story. My Redemption.” He travels the country speaking to not only colleges and universities, but also churches, prisons and nonprofits. He doesn’t call his speeches “motivational,” but rather “educational” so that people can learn from his mistakes.
Clarett’s journey isn’t one of a traditional college football superstar, but it’s one of redemption and is truly good news for anyone who was a fan of his during his college days. After so much struggle and pain in his life, Clarett can sum up his state of mind pretty simply these days: “I’m just happy. I’m happy and peaceful and just cool.”