WHO'S RIGHT: MAURICE CLARETT OR THE NFL?
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.
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.
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.