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Friday, December 12, 2003
 



WHO'S RIGHT: MAURICE CLARETT OR THE NFL?


All Maurice Clarett wants is a little justice. Will he get it? In papers filed Friday in the U.S. District Court in New York, Clarett claims the NFL's own bylaws would allow him early entry into the NFL Draft.

As the Clarett situation heads toward a possible court date, Shaun Assael of the Writers' Bloc peers into the future to find out what happens ...

Shaun Assael: Clarett vs. the NFL

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Honorable Senator from Ohio, Maurice Clarett.

(Applause.)

Thank you. Thank you all very much. I'm grateful to be invited to Harvard Law School on the 25th anniversary of the federal case that I'm told you're all studying -- Clarett vs. The NFL. You know, I'm often asked if I could have predicted how this would turn out. The high schools named after me. The statue at Ohio State. The coin from the Franklin Mint.

(Laughter.)

Let me start by saying that I was a hard-headed kid, I admit it. I allowed some people to give me bad advice. Got into some trouble. But it didn't take the law degree and the MBA that I have now to see that I was being used. I remember that the Athletic Director at Ohio State, a man named Andy Geiger, used to say, "Mo, why are you so angry?" The reason is that I'd walk through downtown Columbus and see the homeless sleeping on boxes. And I'd say to myself, "All the money Ohio State's making from football sure ain't going to those folks. And it damn well isn't going to me. So who exactly am I playing for?"

That was a hard question for me to answer. I thought on that one for a long time. Then, on one of those walks, I came up with my answer: I wanted to make a difference in those people's lives. And that's when I realized: The place I had to start was by taking control of my own life.

I knew I was doing the right thing when I saw Ohio State try to ruin me. You mess with powerful people, they're going to come after you. They suspended me. Got me in trouble with the police. Trashed me in the press. But that was nothing compared to the time I saw my next-door neighbor bleed to death on his lawn in Youngstown. As a great man named Jim Brown used to tell me, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

So, as you all know, I sued the NFL. My argument was straight-forward: it's illegal to make guys wait until they're three years out of high school before saying they're eligible to play. The rule was there for one reason, and everyone knew it: to force athletes like me into being farm hands for the NCAA. Once I split from Ohio State, the NFL ensured I had nowhere else to go but back under the thumb of the NCAA. It's the classic definition of anti-competitive.

Now, the case got a lot of attention because a friend of mine had just jumped from high school to the pros and was making millions. The NFL tried arguing that its game was different from basketball, that a boy playing among men could get hurt badly and that its rule was designed with safety concerns, not business ones.

Well, the judge beat them up pretty good on that one.

Let me see if I can still remember her words: "While it is true that a business must protect its workers, it cannot discriminate by forecasting an injury that has no special, or probable, likelihood of occurring."

And that was that. Three months later I was in the draft. Do I think that GMs were frightened about forking over a $5 million signing bonus to a kid? Absolutely. Do I think the idea of drafting a player based on his promise, and not on a four-year collegiate record, gave them fits? Uh-huh. Do I think that anyone was happy that they had to start spending money on high school scouting? Nope.

Now, I'm guessing you all have seen the tape that shows what 335-pound Sam Adams did to my leg in my third NFL game against the Bills. I couldn't finish the season, and was cut after that, never to play again. But I took my signing bonus, went to law school, and now I'm working for my home state of Ohio, doing things for those people who I couldn't help when I was a student.

As for the legacy of Clarett vs. The NFL, I'll let your next guest reflect on that.

Please join me in welcoming the NFL's 2004 rookie of the year and a 10-time Pro Bowler, Larry Fitzgerald.


Eric Neel
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Maurice vs. the NFL

My vision is clouded on this. I can see Mo's rights-of-the-individual point and I'm with him. I can see Emperor Tags running naked in the street, and as disturbing as that image is, I'm with it. I can see fat-cat boosters and alums wringing their hands over tailgate plates of quiche and chicken satays and I'm with it, and I can see self-righteous administrators pouring over the books wondering where the moola's going to come from now that football attendance is flagging, and I'm with that, too. The thing is, without even trying, I can also see 17-year-old kids in wheelchairs, their frames rearranged by guys like Adams and Arrington. And that I have a hard time getting with. So you see, I can't quite see my way ahead on this one.


Jim Caple
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Operation Preserving NFL Monopoly

[Another abusively hot day in Irag made worse by the blowing sand. A unit with the 101st airborne is pinned down by heavy fire from insurgencies near Tikrit. Suddenly, a soldier cries out in pain.]

SOLDIER 1: I'm hit!

SOLDIER 2: Medic! We have a leg wound!

[A medic rushes to the scene and inspects the wound. He shakes his head.]

MEDIC: You're going to be all right, soldier. But that leg is going to need months of rehab. What's your name?

SOLDIER 1: Clarett, sir. Maurice Clarett.

MEDIC: Clarett? Weren't you the running back on last year's national champion Ohio State team?

CLARETT: Yes, sir.

SOLDIER 2: Then what the hell are you doing here?

CLARETT: The NFL wouldn't let me play. They said it was too dangerous for someone as young as me.