Thursday, September 25, 2003

ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL. I'm not one of those phony populists who go on about trial (I mean trahhhl) lawyers and tort reform and such like. (I didn't say I wasn't a phony populist, mind -- just that I'm not one of those phony populists.) But this is bullshit: the lawyer for Maurice Clarett, the Ohio State sophomore whose super-early entry to the pros is prevented by NFL rules, seems to claim some sort of bias against his client:
"I see Maurice's case as a league trying to make certain players, young players, who are often poor, wait on earning a living, while the N.F.L. and colleges, either directly or indirectly, make millions off of them," Milstein said. "To me, his situation is about another huge entity trying to take advantage of a smaller group of people who don't necessarily have powerful voices themselves.''

Clarett is entitled to the best defense, of course, and that sometimes means working such specious angles as this. I am not outraged at shady legal tactics per se (not like Sam Waterston seems to be in every single episode of Law & Order). It's all in the game.

Two things do bug me. One is the idea that Clarett has a God-given right to play in the NFL. The NFL is, basically, a club. For those who enter this club as players, a certain amount of rough-housing may be expected. If the proprietors decide that applicants must reach a certain age or level of experience before smashing into their other members, why is that our business at all? Shall we next haul into court those carnival ride operators who display YOU MUST BE THIS TALL TO RIDE signs, on the grounds that their inflexible standards deprive precociously thrill-seeking seven-years-olds of their God-given right to a place on the Tilt-a-Whirl?

The other thing is more under the surface. Clarett is going to Ohio State University. Now, maybe he isn't the best student; maybe he is in fact of that species of jock who disdains all book-learning as "weak." Maybe OSU is wasted on him.

Or maybe he does value the opportunity, but because a man is dangling million-dollar bills to draw him out of it, thinks he should do the "right" thing and earn major scrill instead.

All other things being equal (and they are not, if the NFL still objects), Clarett should have the opportunity to chuck his OSU diploma for a few more years of bigtime money. Isn't it sad, though, that such a choice is increasingly, and for so many people, a settled question -- fuck school, take the cash?

If I get Milstein right, he believes (on behalf of his client) that education is some kind of condition of servitude to be thrown off as soon as a money-earning opportunity turns up. I suppose a libertarian case can be made for this, just as it could be made for child labor, which is one of seven hundred reasons why I'm not a libertarian.

But this really goes beyond policy issues, because laws cannot touch what is rotten about this. Do we really think so little of our minds that we can't even consider their upkeep a nobler thing than a quick buck?

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