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NFL should let Clarett decision stand

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By Leland Stein III

I enjoy football at every level, pee wee, high school, college and professional.

I especially have an affinity for gridiron ball on the collegiate level; however, I’m extremely elated a federal judge finally did the "right thing" and ruled former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett eligible for the NFL draft.

The 6-foot, 225 pound running back led Ohio State to the 2002 national championship, but had to sit out the 2003 season because he broke NCAA rules by benefiting from his celebrity.

He sued the NFL challenging the league rule that says a player must be out of high school three years before he is eligible for the NFL draft.

Since that rule was enacted in 1990 to — check this out — protect the young players from the physical nature of professional football, I’ve always thought it was a self-serving piece of litigation.

Does anyone really believe that the expensive white shirts in those very tall NFL New York office buildings really, really care so deeply about a few young Black kids from rural areas and urban cities? Hey, many NFL owners do not even treat their own players with respect. Look at the multitudes released, let go, traded, disregarded over money issues – or a number of other reasons – that suits NFL front offices.

Granted some high school or first year college athletes are not physically or emotionally mature enough to withstand the rigors of the pro game. It’s true some are not ready to play against adult men who are the best in the world at what they do.

Still, the cold hard reality of the matter is the NFL and the NCAA are married inextricably together and this union was sealed in cement – until the 20-year-old Clarett took America’s most popular sports league to task.

Consider: After three to five years playing for the NCAA in college, at the end of that duration or journey, the NFL has a ready-made player with national-name recognition. There are no minor leagues (well, the NCAA is a minor league for basketball and football) like baseball, which takes thousands of kids from all over the country every year.

Why would the NFL and NCAA ever voluntarily change their system?

Sure, a few players will leave the college each year, but there will never be a throng declaring themselves worthy of NFL Glory.

The real issue is money - money for the NCAA, network television and sports cable stations? All three of these entities make mega-millions off the sweat of young men that can’t even accept a happy meal from a friend that’s deemed a supporter of their school.

Prior to Clarett’s landmark decision, football was the only sport with a draft that didn't allow teams to select players when their high school eligibility was complete.

The sports world is full of young athletes who would rather pursue a professional athletic career than go to college. Who cries aloud when all the tennis players, figure skaters, baseball players, gymnasts, skiers and hockey players seek their fortunes without playing NCAA sanctioned sports? No one!

Yet, football and basketball players are scrutinized negatively if they forgo college or leave college early. Is it a coincidence that basketball and football happen to be the biggest moneymakers in NCAA sports?

Every athlete knows his or her career could end any day. So, if a football player feels he is ready for prime time, then America and the NFL should not deny that person the opportunity to pursue his dream and make a living.

What’s the worry? If the NFL feels a player is not mature or physical enough, then don’t draft that person. Seems simple enough to this writer.

The NFL says it will appeal the Clarett decision. I hope they do not.

It seems so un-American in this capitalistic society that a person is degraded for taking advantage of his or her God-given skill?

The archaic amateur code supported by the NFL and NCAA is an unfair system that benefits both mightily. Still, the NFL is putting on its best face, and projecting to the courts that they are really "concerned" about players. Yeah, right!

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com

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