Monday, July 10, 2006

Mo' on Mo Clarett

According to a couple of sources, Maurice Clarett has signed with the Mahoning Valley HitMen of the semi-fictitious EIFL, the new indoor football league mentioned previously on this site. Clarett is the second of two players to sign with the team who, at this stage, has only two opponents in its league. The last time I mentioned the HitMen, they were struggling to put a deal together with the Ice Zone in Boardman. Things have apparently fallen through since then, and the team has instead inked a deal with the Thunderdome in Vienna (on State Route 193). I've never been to the 'Dome in question, but I've driven by it- I'm not sure it's ready for a Little League home run derby, let alone indoor football.

But the larger story is, of course, how fall Clarett has truly fallen. From the star running back and Heisman candidate for the national champion Buckeyes to a role player on a team that may or may not ever take the field at a local community rec plex in semi-rural Trumbull County, he's certainly gone down hard. There's a well-known saying about being kind to those you meet on the way up, as you will likely meet them again on the way down. Had Clarett followed that advice, he would probably be in a much better position right now- everyone makes a mistake or two, and some even make big mistakes. That's one of the great things about America, or so they say- almost anyone can get a second chance, if they play their cards right and learn from their mistakes. But with his reputation and his attitude, hardly anyone is willing to give Clarett another shot.

Although there has been a lot written about Clarett since the fall of 2002, not much has been made of the link between him and that other local sports legend, LeBron James. At one point, the two were at least acquaintances, and possibly friends (and maybe they still are, who knows). But where LeBron did almost everything right, Clarett did almost everything wrong. It's almost a fable or a fairy tale- two young men from similar backgrounds, blessed with similar talents and abilities, both choosing different paths. Much is made in the media about how our society is too soft on athletes and celebrities, how we forgive them too easily, and foster an environment where they are able to repeatedly make the kind of mistakes that would cause a normal person to be ostracized, lose their job, or even end up in jail for a long period of time. We slap them on the wrist, make excuses for them, and let them take the field once more. But in Clarett's case, no one is willing to do that any more. He's run out of chances. he's the cautionary tale. He needs only to look at LeBron to see what could have been- the fame, the money, and the respect. No one wears the OSU #13 jerseys anymore, but there are enough Cleveland #23 jerseys out there to dress a small nation.

Maybe it's not too late for him to turn things around, at least at the personal level. I sincerely doubt he'll ever see a professional football field again, but at least he has the chance to put his life back together and live like an ordinary person (which itself must be painful for such an extraordinary athlete). But until then, he's just another iconic symbol of Youngstown.