I had dinner with Maurice Clarett once.
Actually, to be more accurate, I tagged along with about five other people to go to City BBQ once and Maurice Clarett was there too. It was fun, at least in part because hey, City BBQ, but also because I got to meet a dude who embodied so much of the narrative that I've come to hear about Ohio State from various media outlets around the country. Up until that point, Clarett was less of a human being and more of a figurehead for 90% of the crap that I had read on message boards and assorted internet forums for years.
But the secret is that he is a human being. Albeit a human being that can consume one and a half entire roasted chickens in the space of 20 minutes, but Clarett is a father, a writer, an entrepreneur, a mental health advocate, a speaker, and now the subject of a very intense documentary shown on ESPN.
He's also a convicted felon who spent time in prison, and that, among his other ups and mostly downs was what ESPN had been occupied with for years. They reveled in the scandal of a man falling apart, but have conveniently ignored that fact of life about some of their own employees.
Let's rewind a bit: I really like Ignition (Remix). When my girlfriend and I took a trip this summer, we bounce bounce bounce bounced our way all the way to the beach, because it was the freakin' weekend and we wanted to have us some fun. And when you enjoy something, sometimes it's easy to forget that R. Kelly is a goddamn creep who got rung up on charges of child porn, and previously had attempted to marry a 15 year old (who he had been in a lengthy relationship with) by claiming she was 18.
That knowledge makes it a lot harder to enjoy R. Kelly's music simply on the basis that the dude continues to be incredibly successful and wealthy without any real consequences to what he's done.
So again, maybe you're sitting in front of a guy at City BBQ who is interestingly odd, curious about literally everything, and represents a significant part of your young adulthood. And maybe you forget that the dude robbed people at gunpoint.
It's significant, however, that Maurice Clarett is the first person who will tell you that he's done bad things in life. I know that because he spent a huge part of Youngstown Boys saying that he's done bad things in life. He made no excuses for what he did, and takes full responsibility for improving his own life through positive action. I respect that, because he knows that he's no moral arbiter of how people should live. That's important.
It's even more important because the system that demonized him for years has no real standing to do so.
Ray Lewis joined ESPN in March, and since then he's been their go-to guy for various rants about how football is being destroyed by a nanny state blah blah blah whatever. Lewis is one of the greatest linebackers of all time, is eloquent and passionate to the extreme, and is pretty much the prototypical "intense guy" that people idolize in football to a silly degree.
He also avoided prosecution for a murder by testifying against his friends who were with him on the night of the murder. And the victim's blood was found in his car. And his white suit from the night in question has never been found.
I guess the point is that it strikes me as amazing that one guy who might've done something like literal murder is now being welcomed with open arms on the same network that treated Clarett like a man running completely off the rails for so many years. How much does success in something we enjoy allow us to completely ignore the horrible things that people do?
As an example, Mark May gets a ton of hate from Ohio State fans, but for all the completely wrong reasons. Instead of him being the jerk who dogs OSU all the time, he really should be remembered as the jerk who twice got DUIs as a player for Washington in the NFL, and tried to incite a riot when he played for Pitt. Jalen Rose is a tool, but not because he's a Michigan apologist who says a lot of really stupid things, but because he got arrested and thrown in jail in 2011 for driving after chugging six martinis.
All of these guys were incredible athletes. Ray Lewis is one of the best linebackers ever, Jalen Rose was a very good college and NBA player, Mark May was an All-Pro lineman, and Clarett's 2002 season speaks for itself.
One of these guys has accepted what he did and who he is in a very public and contrite way. The others have done everything they can to prevent people from thinking about what they've done in their pasts, and get to work lucrative jobs in a company that makes value judgments about the actions of young men and women on a daily basis. So the ultimate question is this: who has the real moral authority here?
All I know is that I value the words of a person who very publicly admits to and owns up to his mistakes more than someone who doesn't. Maurice Clarett can move on with his life with the knowledge that he's being as honest as possible about who he was and who he is now. I'm not sure that many of the people who judge him and others in the media can say the same.