- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2003

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue ought to reconsider his position with Maurice Clarett.

This is the wrong fight. It goes against the fundamental principle of America.

Clarett is seeking a job in the NFL, for which he appears qualified. Then let him pursue it.

If Clarett is not ready to be a running back in the NFL, he will find out soon enough.

That determination begins with the NFL general managers, if they ever receive the go-ahead from Tagliabue or a judge to evaluate Clarett’s abilities going into the draft next spring.

As it is, Clarett is probably not the next Marshall Faulk. He is only being chronicled in the national press as if he were. Early whispers project him as a second- or third-round pick.

Clarett flashed NFL potential in his freshman year at Ohio State last season, leading the Buckeyes to the national championship while making it clear that he had a larger playpen on his mind. He was not in Columbus to be a student. He was there to showcase his skills to the NFL, in the quasi-minor league environment of the NCAA.

Predictably enough, Clarett made a mess of things at Ohio State. He was a rent-a-player who was guilty of being indiscreet, among other things, of being in a hurry to acquire the material goods that go with being a star.

Clarett wants the fancy wheels, the threads, the deep pockets. He wants to be like his buddy, LeBron James, who had the good sense to be a basketball player instead of a football player.

James is the most over-hyped player ever to land in the NBA, yet already incredibly wealthy before scoring his first professional point.

The contrast between the two could not be more striking.

James was greeted with open arms by the NBA after leaving high school, while Clarett is preparing to wage a legal battle with the NFL.

Tagliabue and the NFLPA do not want to see Clarett until the spring of 2005, when he will have been out of high school three years. That is the deal. That is the NFL rule, however arbitrary it might seem.

Clarett has asked a U.S. District judge to throw it out. Tagliabue has vowed a legal fight to the finish, which is too bad.

Clarett is the exception to what appears to be a largely sensible rule. The NFL is not the NBA.

The NFL is a brutal game that spits out the physically weak. There is an implicit recognition of that.

Clarett’s case, should he win, is not going to lead to a rush on the NFL from the peach fuzz crowd.

You only have to catch a glimpse of the dancing Warren Sapp to know that. Sapp may not have a lot of rhythm, but he probably could fit three or four average-sized human beings into his britches. No precocious collegian should be in a hurry to go up against Sapp and those like him.

Clarett is hardly an inspiring pioneer. His motives are hardly altruistic. He is merely a football player who wants to be among the best and compensated accordingly. That is all. He could go to the CFL or to another college. Doug Williams, the coach at Grambling, appeared almost faint around the prospect of landing Clarett.

Yet none of that is what Clarett has been about during his short time in the national limelight.

School is for future working stiffs. The CFL holds its games in cold places up north with hard surfaces.

The NFL is where the action is, is where a young man can be the toast of a city if Tagliabue can recognize the capricious nature of the well-meaning rule.

Others, no doubt, will follow Clarett if he is successful. But it won’t be a stampede. It won’t be the NBA.

The three-year apprenticeship in college is mostly a good thing. That is about the time it takes a 240-pound player from high school to transform himself into a 300-pound instrument of the NFL. That is about the time it takes a speedy running back to add layers of muscle as protection to the pounding.

The NFL, with a few exceptions, requires its employees to have certain basic qualifications, notably ludicrous size and strength at some positions, and speed and quickness at all positions. Even the fat guys who plug running holes move at fairly impressive rates.

Clarett wants a piece of that? Great. Let him have his shot.

This is America.

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