Maurice Clarett is perhaps the most cautionary of cautionary tales. After leading Ohio State to a national championship in 2002, Clarett endured a very precipitous and very public fall from grace, never making it to the NFL and ultimately spending time in prison.
Tiki Barber wondered if some of Clarett’s poor decisions could be attributed to growing up without a father.
“Yes, very much so,” the former Ohio State running back said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I think just not having that male presence around – for a lot of young kids, not only myself – it just affects their development individually, be it personally, be it emotionally, be it socially. When it’s time to accept authority or just sort of have that discipline in your life (you don’t have it). You have a lot of kids who come from single-parent homes, and a lot of times, your mother’s off working or doing what she’s doing to provide, and a lot of times the kid is left to sort of take to football, basketball or the streets or so forth, and that’s a lot of cases with these kids who end up on college campuses. If you look into their background, a lot of these kids come from similar paths. When I go, I ask that question, and I always tell them that even when you’ve come through that, please understand when you emerge in college athletics, there’s a lot that you have missing internally that isn’t made aware to you because football becomes the dominant thing; it covers up so much. But the short answer is yes, I definitely believe those things ultimately help you develop and become who you are socially and emotionally and from a discipline standpoint. At times, we get into the spotlight and we don’t have the mechanics or the skills to think outside of the situation.”
Barber, who also grew up without a father, can relate to what Clarett went through. In fact, both had similar experiences growing up, as football became their outlet.
“It’s the only place that you have – or in my case, (where) I had – a positive black male figure in my life who was giving me instructions, who was giving me discipline,” Clarett said. “I think you hit the nail on the head when you said it gives you a chance to express yourself. Sports is nothing more than just expressing how you feel. Right before a play, you feel a certain way (and then) you perform and express yourself. I think sports does that for everybody. Doesn’t matter where you’re from or who you are, but it gives you that escape from everything you seem to be dealing with. Not in a negative way, but no matter what’s going on, you can get on that field – and whether it’s a good day, bad day or whatever – the act of physically going out there competing, running, laughing, joking, being tired, picking yourself up, there’s something special and spiritual about that.”
These days, Clarett serves as a public speaker and mentors troubled youth.
“Who you are and what you do are two different things,” Clarett said. “We focus a lot of time on the athletic piece and we focus a lot of time on academics. And for football players, in large part, the academics don’t serve as a space where they want to be a skilled professional, but more as a vehicle to help them play actual games. And by doing all of that, we don’t know who we are. We do so much in trying to chase this allure of the game or we’re trying to be part of that two percent who makes it on (to the NFL).”
Clarett, who had a “juvenile way of thinking” in his youth, tells aspiring athletes to not bank on an NFL career. It’s virtually impossible to get there, and it’s virtually impossible to stay there – and even if you do, you’re going to be done with the game in your early 30s.
“Who are you?” Clarett asked. “You have a lot of life to live. And you have to understand within that space who you are. At 23, I had no clue as to what integrity was. I had no clue what accountability was, and I had no framework of just what it was to be a productive man. As a result, I started to understand why I failed so much in the past.”