Athletes are tasked with more than their athletic prowess or whether they win a championship for the multi-million dollar organization that they represent.
Sports figures are often viewed as role models, and whether they accept the responsibility or not, they are still heroes to the eight-year-old kid that buys the jersey or the sports memorabilia.
As the responsibility is laid on the shoulders of these public figures, some athletes embrace their roles, while others bring shame to themselves and their beloved fans.
On Tuesday, a once prominent star who fell from glory, Ohio State alum and former running back Maurice Clarett, arrived at Portsmouth High School to share his triumphs and failures.
In front of an anxious gymnasium filled with students, facility and interested spectators, Clarett shared his story.
Clarett began the assembly by making a statement, “show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” The former collegiate national champion spoke often about friendship, which resonated throughout the gymnasium as Clarett delivered his message.
Portsmouth football coach Jason Sparks heard the message loud and clear; and he couldn’t agree more with Clarett’s premise.
“Friends are like buttons on an elevator, they can bring you up or they can take you down,” Sparks said. “I hope the students got that message.”
Clarett was once a prominent football player in the state of Ohio. As a senior in high school, Clarett was ranked as the No. 1 running back in the entire state, which afforded him the opportunity to attend Ohio State.
During his freshman campaign with the Buckeyes in 2002, Clarett broke several freshman rushing records as Ohio State finished the year as the national champion after beating the No. 1 team in the nation — the Miami Hurricanes.
Coming off a stellar freshman season, Clarett was suspended his sophomore year for several off the field incidents.
Clarett did not shy away from sharing his story with the Trojan faithful as his hope was to demonstrate the importance of having a solid foundation, which starts with a person’s inner circle of friends.
“I’ve lived the end result of both ways,” Clarett said. “I’ve been successful. I’ve failed in my life. Once you’ve been on both ends, you realize what takes you in both places is who you surround yourself with.”
After his career at OSU was cut short, Clarett stayed away from football for two years until the Denver Broncos drafted him in the third round of the 2003 NFL draft. His NFL career was shorter than his time at Ohio State as Denver cut the troubled running back during training camp, several months after they drafted him.
Once his NFL career abruptly ended, Clarett quickly found trouble again, which eventually resulted in a three and a half year prison sentence for weapons charges and robbery.
Once a troubled young man, Clarett is now traveling around the country giving motivational speeches.
Before he made the trek to Portsmouth High School, Clarett stopped at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville to offer his services to the inmates. He views both destinations as interchangeable, noting that a troubled past starts in junior high and high school.
“It’s an extension of the consequences of making stupid choices,” Clarett said. “It starts with not paying attention at assembles. It starts with not paying attention in the lunch room. It starts with disrespecting your girl. Then all of the sudden you end up in Lucasville prison.”
As Clarett ended his speech, to a standing ovation, he once again noted the importance of having the right friends. To Clarett, his speech wasn’t a horror story, it was a positive view from a negative situation.
“At the end of the day, it’s about encouragement and awareness,” Clarett said. “Encouragement to keep on moving forward and being very aware of where you’re at.”
Chris Slone can be reached at 353-3101, ext 298, or on Twitter @crslone.