Let Clarett's skills decide

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

Whether or not Maurice Clarett is ready to be a NFL football player is for the league's front office suits and critical coaches to decide on draft day and in training camp.

It is not for an un-American rule that currently prohibits the Ohio State sophomore and every other player less than three years removed from high school from declaring for the NFL entry draft.

If Clarett isn't good enough then so be it. Let him find employment elsewhere. But he has the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The law of land will speak later as teams of lawyers battle in what will certainly be an avalanche of legal briefs and appeals. But the law of fair play is on one side here: Clarett's.

News that the 19-year-old from Warren, Ohio is suing the league broke on Tuesday a day both the NFL and NCAA had hoped would never arrive, but long ago knew it would.

What a convenient marriage these two have had, the league able to force young players into a farm system that has made the colleges rich with revenue.

In exchange, the NFL gets free expert training for future employees and the benefit of a mega-marketing machine that makes rookies household names even before training camp.

The players get plenty too at least if you value education and vocational training but they've never enjoyed the free will that their sporting peers in basketball, baseball, hockey, tennis, race car driving and everything else get.

Not to mention child actors, singers, pianists and entrepreneurs. Or construction workers, convenience store clerks and Marines. Or just about any American.

Football players are eligible for a military draft but not the NFL's because, well, because the NFL wants it that way.

The league claims the sport is too physical for young players, even though hockey isn't exactly ballroom dancing and downright scrawny teenagers such as Wayne Gretzky (a pro at 17) seemed to manage.

The league claims the mental stress is too great, even though the demands in the other pro sports aren't much different.

No, this is just an outdated rule of convenience and fortune for the two great football organizations of the country. The NFL doesn't want the hassle associated with teenagers, with having to draft on potential, with babysitting the brats all headaches for the NBA.

And college football wants its returning stars, its consistent powerhouse programs, and its calm offseasons for coaches who, unlike their basketball counterparts, don't have to fret about annual roster turnovers and shady agents in the dorm.

The moral reasoning of the NFL and NCAA is simple: A player is better off getting an education, gaining some maturity and entering the league when most prepared.

In a perfect world that is tough to argue. But college isn't for everyone. Knees can get ruined at 19 and with the average NFL career already breathtakingly short (2.6 years), who has time growing old before getting started?

The fear of course is what happens each spring in basketball. For every LeBron James there are five Korleone Youngs who suffer from delusions of grandeur and receive bad advice. They give up college eligibility only get passed over on draft night.

It's human carnage and it is real. The D-League is full of kids cursing their naiveté while wistfully watching the highlights from Old State U.

But you can't legislate intelligence. You can't force smart decisions. Will Clarett open a floodgate that will cause ill-prepared and untalented dreamers to chase the NFL rainbow? Most assuredly.

But so be it.

Americans make mistakes everyday. They open businesses that are doomed to fail. They sell low and buy high. They get engaged to Jennifer Lopez.

The beauty of this country is that we have the freedom to make those very mistakes. Maurice Clarett does too.

The kid believes he is ready for the NFL. Ready to make an honest living playing football. Ready to rely on his talent, determination and heart.

Ready to gamble on his future.

The NFL has the right to decide he isn't good enough. But it shouldn't have the right to prevent him from rolling the dice.

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