CNNSI.com 2002 College Bowls


 

Clarett lashes out

RB says OSU wouldn't let him attend friend's funeral

Posted: Monday December 30, 2002 3:12 PM
Updated: Monday December 30, 2002 9:26 PM
  Maurice Clarett Maurice Clarett has rushed for 1,190 yards in 2002. AP

PHOENIX (AP) -- Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett said Monday that he missed the funeral of a lifelong friend because school officials never answered his request to fly home from practices for the national championship game.

Clarett said Ohio State "gave him the runaround" when he asked to attend Monday's service.

"I guess football's more important than a person's life to them," he said. "That's why I'm ready to get this game over and go back home."

Ohio State officials said they told Clarett he could buy a ticket and submit a request for reimbursement through the NCAA's special assistance fund, which pays for such emergencies as long as an athlete demonstrates need.

"We told Maurice that he could fly home ... if he could buy a ticket home and back we could reimburse him once the paperwork is filed," said Andy Geiger, Ohio State's athletic director. "He elected not to do that, or couldn't afford that, or there wasn't anybody in his family who could do it. We were stuck in a place where the rule is we couldn't go forward and buy a ticket."

Jim Tressel, Ohio State's coach, said Clarett was never denied the opportunity to return to Youngstown.

"The best thing for all involved is to say it didn't work out," Tressel said.

Clarett set Ohio State freshman records this season with 1,190 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns. The No. 2-ranked Buckeyes will play Miami in the Fiesta Bowl on Friday.

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Clarett declined to give the name of his friend, who he said was shot last week.

Clarett's mother, Michelle, confirmed that the friend was Juaquin A. "Juan" Bell, 23, of Youngstown.

"It's a friendship they had growing up," she said. "Young people need to say goodbye. It's unfortunate, but you have to go by the rules."

Youngstown police said Bell was shot multiple times Dec. 21. They said drugs, money, bullet casings were found at the scene. No one had been arrested.

Clarett said he was affected not only by the death but by Ohio State's response.

"I'm kind of messed up now because they jerked me kind of," Clarett said. "I really wanted to go back. I'm not really supposed to be here. But it's cool. Things happen in life, there's bumps in the road like every thing else. But I'll be all right."

Tressel called Clarett's comment about football being more important to Ohio State officials than life disappointing, given the theme of the season.

"That's one of the things we talk quite a bit about is that football is a part of life. Football is one of the things we do. It certainly isn't everything we do," Tressel said.

Geiger added: "The human experience is not put on hold because we're playing in the Fiesta Bowl."

Earlier in the season, Clarett had talked about other friends who had not been able to escape the streets in the Rust Belt city. He said he had lost several friends and relatives and that he thought of them every day when he considered how fortunate he was to have a scholarship and the opportunity to better himself.

Clarett said it was difficult to keep a football game in perspective in light of what is going on back home.

"Life's a whole lot more important than football, you know what I mean? We hold the national championship but they won't talk about the homeless and the poor," he said. "We're sitting here in this old grand hotel, things like that, but we can't feed the homeless or poor. ... It's a game."

Clarett was a toddler when his father left home. His mother is the chief deputy clerk for the municipal court in Youngstown.

As he was growing up, he saw people killed in the streets. Once he was playing football in the street when a boy sitting nearby was killed in a drive-by shooting. Another time, Clarett was sitting on the front porch of the house he shared with his mother, grandmother, two brothers and 11 cousins. They saw a neighbor's friend be shot in the chest, crawl into Clarett's front yard and bleed to death.

Clarett said his goal was to funnel money back to people who need it the most.

"You go through downtown Columbus, you've got people sleeping on sidewalks. You know what I mean? And they're giving us scholarships and they're selling 100,000 tickets every game," he said.

"It's the richest part of Columbus, downtown, but you're walking past bums and homeless people. This is wintertime, it's like 19 degrees down there. They're sleeping in boxes and little covers. It don't make any sense to me."

 
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