Arguably the most important player on the 2002 Buckeye national championship team, Clarett was given a reprieve from his prison sentence yesterday. He'll move to a "halfway house" in Columbus where he will spend four to six months before being released back into the general public, provided he comes through with good behavior.
Many Ohio State fans have pledged their dislike for Clarett over the years, some bitter about his acrimonious departure from the school through which he certainly didn't do his best to keep the program's name out of the mud.
Others are assuredly mad that he couldn't keep his mouth shut for long enough to provide the Buckeyes another crack at the national title – remember, the 2003 team was a win against Michigan away from the championship game.
But I can't help but think of the two bizarre transgressions that put Clarett where he ended up – in a Toledo prison for the past 3½ years.
First was the New Year's Eve robbery in which he flashed a gun outside of a bar in order to rob patrons of a cell phone. Then there was the August 2006 police chase in which Clarett sped away from cops after being spied for a traffic violation. Upon being apprehended, Clarett was found with a gun and, famously, Grey Goose vodka among other things.
To me, those are not the actions of a hardened criminal. Instead, they showed confusion and panic appropriate for someone who went from toast of the town to outcast, whose life was spiraling out of control and didn't seem to know what to do. People are driven to do crazy things in such situations.
Sure, one could argue that Clarett brought most of his problems upon himself. His questionable police report certainly drew attention to smoky issues around the Ohio State program. His occasional attitude toward those in charge at Ohio State caused problems. His challenge to the NFL faced significant barriers to success, and his eventual public allegations of improprieties in the program burned bridges and led to unnecessary stress.
But all of those can be chalked up to one simple word – immaturity. Clarett never struck me as a bad person, nor a particularly dumb one, but he was utterly clueless when it came to operating inside of the system in which he was placed. That that would be an issue given his background, his talent and the plethora of bad advisors each of those attracted isn't surprising at all.
The cumulative nature of each ill-informed – and thus, ultimately, bad – decision led to increasingly desperate situations. Add in his ill-fated Denver Broncos experience and it doesn't seem all that shocking, in hindsight, that Clarett would end up where he did.
The second above incident left him with 3½-7½ years in prison, which is where we are now. Franklin County prosecutor Ron O'Brien told The Associated Press that his office would not fight Clarett's move to a community-based correctional facility, Maryhaven, because of Clarett's good behavior while incarcerated.
That comes on the heels of the blog that Clarett was updating through last summer. Within those words, Clarett spoke of what he learned in jail and professed to want another chance outside of prison walls.
Now he'll get it, but as someone wise once said, "Watch what they say and not what they do." It will become put up or shut up time, as Clarett has to know another mistake will lead to major trouble.
What are his chances? It's hard to say, as I don't know the man. But he spoke of being humbled when placed in front of a judge on Wednesday, and that would be the first place to start when it comes to becoming a functioning member of society and staying out of trouble.
Clarett is only 26 and by some reports in excellent physical shape, and he has blogged about his hope of playing football again. I see little chance the NFL would take an immediate flyer on him based on the Denver incident, so he'll have to work the hard way – perhaps by going through something like the UFL – to have much of a chance.
When it comes to Ohio State, I have little doubt he'd be welcomed into the Buckeye fold by head coach Jim Tressel if he can stay on the right path. Not only was he an integral part of a championship team but Tressel seemingly has had a soft spot in his heart since recruiting the Warren, Ohio, native.
Many have talked about Tressel's positive virtues, among them his ability to judge character. At the same time, I don't see Tressel as the type to particularly enjoy grudges (although Pat Fitzgerald might disagree) at this point in his life, which brings us full circle.
As I started with, I try not to hold things against people these days. The truth is I never had a ton of bad feelings for Clarett. He provided the highest of highs – which hadn't been felt for three decades – to Ohio State fans, and while his actions at the end of his OSU career were damaging to the university they were hardly crippling.
So I know how I'll feel if Clarett becomes part of the fold again, and I know how Tressel will too. It will be interesting to me to see how the rest of the Buckeye Nation reacts.