Maurice Clarett hates dressing up so much that he bypassed his high school prom rather than wear a coat and tie. But there he was on Friday morning, outfitted in gray suit with black tie, looking not the least bit uncomfortable.
Adulthood has found a willing participant in the 35-year-old former Ohio State tailback, who was guest speaker at the Ohio News Media Association annual convention in Westerville.
Fifteen years ago, Clarett would have shown up to a public speaking event wearing who knows what — he once turned his jersey backward, the stitched “Clarett” nameplate appearing under his chin, during a post-game news conference — but increased maturity born of life experience has a way of smoothing rough edges.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/groups/BuckeyeXtraFans and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
“This (suit) will be off in an hour,” Clarett said, interjecting his true feelings as the moderator complimented him on his attire.
OK, so he hasn’t changed completely.
The reality is that Clarett remains the outspoken rebel with a cause. But the angry teen who criticized Ohio State as a freshman in 2002, and was suspended indefinitely by the university in 2003 for NCAA violations, has become a peacemaker. The strong opinions remain, but they no longer rage in outburst.
These days, Clarett’s passion flames toward the plight of college athletes, who he considers both victims and co-conspirators in a disingenuous game of dumbed-down education and phony economics that plays out on campuses across the country. He is quick to say athletes must become more attuned to how the system works, but most of his call to action takes aim at administrators, coaches and the NCAA.
Clarett especially bristles at how many colleges steer athletes toward courses that lack career value. Too many schools are more concerned with keeping athletes eligible than with educating them.
“I have experience with this,” he said. “I thought I was getting over on the school by choosing classes that were less academically stringent. I thought I was gaming the system and riding this easier path all the way to the top, and eventually I would go to the NFL one day.”
Instead, he says he was encouraged to sign up for courses, including softball and golf officiating and African-American Studies, that did nothing to prepare him for life after football. And it’s still happening, he said, explaining how he has “been in the back doors” of almost 80 colleges over the past few years.
“You’ve got a bunch of smart people who structurally bring these kids on campus and purposely put them in classes that are a lot less challenging, which have little value,” he said.
Clarett applauds schools such as Ohio State, which has Real Life Wednesdays, that offer life-skills programs focusing on post-football career opportunities, but he would like to see more focus on basic reading, writing and communication skills.
Another hot-button issue Clarett is not afraid to tackle is the paying of college athletes. He thinks it should happen, and sees a simple solution: players can stop the corporate money train by boycotting games, as Missouri players did in 2016. But the protest needs to go viral.
“The way to get somebody’s attention is to stop paying them,” he said, adding that administrators and sponsors would come around in a hurry. “We have smart people who figure how much the head coach has value. He’s worth ‘X.’ But we all get dumb when it comes time to compensate the (player) talent.”
Clarett spends his days speaking at schools about the importance of education and working with his Red Zone outpatient treatment organization, which provides mental-health counseling and substance-abuse services in Columbus and Youngstown.
Quite the switch. The old Maurice Clarett talked back. The more mature version prefers giving back.