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Imagine working on one thing your whole life, from the age of five. Imagine that being the only thing anyone has ever said you were good at, the only time you felt you had the full attention of those around you. Imagine that being the only thing with which you have ever fully identified. For most athletes, particularly those in the “revenue sports”— basketball and football—who make it to play at a collegiate level, this is reality. Former NFL and University of Texas running back Ricky Williams said he was 27 years old before anyone ever told him he was smart. Williams was heralded for his ability to run the football and win games. But no one ever acknowledged he had anything else to offer society. “As men, we all want to make our stamp in the world,” he said. “What’s the easiest way for us to make an impression? For me, that was sports.” Williams added he did “pretty well in school,” but no one ever paid attention to his academic successes. “But when I went out on the football field, … I had people’s attention.” Former Ohio State University running back—and, he said, Ricky Williams’ number one fan—Maurice Clarett agreed. “There’s so much time put into being great at football … developing into the most elite player at your skill,” that the attention to developing one’s self outside of football is not there for many top athletes, Clarett said. “If someone can figure out how to build an iPhone and someone can build [an institution like Texas or Ohio State], you’d better be able to figure out how to help this individual.” Like Williams, who saw sports as a way to attract people’s attention, Clarett said he became “addicted to the adulation” that surrounded him as a top football player, THE guy who led the Buckeyes to a national championship over the Miami Hurricanes in 2002. Williams and Clarett had completely different collegiate experiences, however. While Williams said his experience at the University of Texas was great and he could not have asked for better, Clarett was treated as an outsider at his own institution. And while Clarett acknowledges his part in the less-than-ideal situation, he believes he became a scapegoat for bigger problems within the program. “They’ll take the thug mentality or the guy from the neighborhood as long as he’s running up and down the football field, but when it come to speaking up” and challenging leadership or articulating his opinion, they’re not here for allowing the players to do anything other than shut up and play, Clarett said. At some point, just shutting up and playing the game is insufficient. For Williams, despite a great collegiate experience, the NFL was not what Williams had hoped it would be. He felt isolated and lacked a support system he’d relied on at UT and believed came along with playing the game.

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Out of Bounds Magazine Issue 2  
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