TV Review: ESPN’s ‘Youngstown Boys’

Youngstown Boys 30 for 30 documentary

Post-Heisman Trophy '30 for 30' Doc Takes Deep Dive Into Ohio State Scandals

Afforded a plum slot coming out of ESPN’s Heisman Trophy presentation, “Youngstown Boys” is an interesting but slightly disjointed documentary from the network’s “30 for 30” franchise. Chronicling inequity in college football through two of Ohio’s native sons — former the Ohio State U coach Jim Tressel and running back Maurice Clarett — filmmakers Jeff and Michael Zimbalist devote too much time to certain aspects of the story and seemingly not enough to others. Kudos to ESPN for airing a tough piece on one of college football’s big nights, but given gilded the expectations associated with the “30 for “30” name, it’s no prize-winner.

Running close to 100 minutes sans commercials, the movie meticulously introduces Clarett as a kid estranged from his father, but with a gift for football, and Tressel as a coach who looked like a product of central casting. Together, they helped OSU win its first national championship in three decades in 2002, before Clarett was suspended for violating NCAA rules.

At that point, Clarett’s story turns first into a courtroom drama — he sued college football and the NFL, seeking the right to turn pro early — and then a tragedy. First winning his case, then losing on appeal, he had fallen apart and begun abusing alcohol by the time he finally got his chance to turn pro. Cut from the league, a robbery arrest and jail stint followed.

As for Tressel, he continued coaching for another eight years before choosing to overlook rules violations by several other players, which eventually led to his resignation. Yet despite the twin swirls of scandal, Clarett’s story — and his eventual redemption, as he labored to educate himself while incarcerated — significantly overshadows Tressel, whose own fall from grace is dispatched with in relatively slapdash fashion.

In its totality, “Youngstown Boys” (both coach and player hail from that working-class city) does contain some profound observations about the hypocrisy of collegiate athletics, and particularly the NCAA’s arcane system.

A parallel theme involves a media — particularly in football-mad states, where rivalries like OSU and Michigan approach life-or-death fervor — ready to pounce on any whiff of controversy, transforming a young star or head coach from adulation to condemnation at dizzying speed.

Still, with so many threads to follow, the Zimbalists (who previously did “The Two Escobars”) can’t quite close the circle, including what might be made of the fact that OSU propelled itself back into national-championship contention two years after Tressel’s exit.

Because ESPN is so in bed with these sports institutions, any willingness to focus on their warts — especially in this sort of longform journalism — is laudable. But while “Youngstown Boys” spins a yarn using Clarett as a microcosm, this look at the Buckeyes can’t quite dot all the “I’s.”

TV Review: ESPN's 'Youngstown Boys'

(Documentary; ESPN, Sat. Dec. 14, 9 p.m. ET)


Produced by All Rise Films.


Producers, Michael Zimbalist, Jeff Zimbalist, Colby Gottert; directors, Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist; writer, Michael Zimbalist; camera, Jeff Zimbalist, Gottert; editors, Jeff Zimbalist, Luis Dechtiar. 120 MIN.

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  1. Mary Ann Jackson says:

    In reading Chad’s response to my understanding of this documentary and the situation as it was/is with Mr. Clarett, I am very disappointed at Chad’s seeming attack on this writer. I saw what I saw. What I saw came from a documentary. I have also done some reading/research on the Maurice Clarett story and I’m not talking about the gossip columns! The racism I speak if is rampant and only one trying to cover it up at would deny such an atrocity! If not for the racism, Mr. Clarett would likely have gone on with his career at OSU and without the desperation he felt while being targeted by “the man.”
    Let’s face it, this documentary was sanctioned by Maurice Clarett, he was involved in the making, as was his mother. There must have been some truth to the story and I had heard about the racism before seeing this story. This is what I saw, this is what I knew before the documentary and I’m very surprised that it was taken out for the most part. The fact that “the man” lied about the paper work Mr. Clarett filed, then punished this young man when he told the truth (as if he were his slave owner) left very little to the imagination. Plain and simple, some people just cannot get over the fact that unpleasant things still happen to African American people in this country today The only way we’re going to stop it is to acknowledge it and deal with it head on. Chad’s covering up of this type of occurrence is sad in that this is exactly what will perpetuate these instances in the future and most Americans truly want to move forward.

    • Chad says:

      Wow, you’re starting to get pathetic in trying to make your point. Born and raised hun and proud of it. I would have actually liked to hear more about what the culture of Youngstown was like at the time when we were growing up. Murder capital (per capita) of the country, heavy mob activity and basically every single Mahoning County judge being on the mob’s payroll in fixing cases and accepting bribes.

      I was also living in Columbus when all of this was going on, so I was consumed by the news and every detail of the situation. The main thing I have to research is my memory lady. I’m glad you enjoyed the documentary. Like I said, it’s nice to see the kid turn around his life after everything that happened. The filmmakers took some liberties with a lot of the content, as they said themselves, with having to do some re-edits a couple of days before the documentary aired because of some inaccuracies.

      If you’re interested in checking out another great documentary dealing with an athlete from Youngstown check out “The Good Son,” which chronicles the life of Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.

    • Chad says:

      Yeah, sorry, but I couldn’t disagree with you more. I grew up in a part of Youngstown that was very diverse with many different races, religions and ethnicities. I was raised to be color blind to people and am very proud to have such a diverse group of friends, family and acquaintances. I wasn’t trying to attack you, but just look at the facts of what actually happened. It never even crept into my mind that anything racist was actually happening in that situation. I agree that Geiger did some terrible things, but it was more about what’s wrong with collegiate athletics, the OSU decision making process at the time and NCAA rules and regulations.

      And shame on your for being so affected, like many of us, about a young man and his story at redemption and focusing on what you think could be racism in this situation. Blaming racism, his coach and his immaturity is just wrong. He knowingly did some things that violated NCCA regulations and it sucks that he was put in this position. I’m sure if you asked Maurice if he thought this all happened because he was black he would not agree with you. This happened because of the ridiculous amount of money that’s involved in collegiate athletics, the NCAA and what happens to these poor kids, black or white, when they’re basically being pimped out by these institutions for profit without getting sufficient rewards in the process. And the last time I checked, a $50-100K education at one of the premier institutions in the country is a pretty good reward for being good at a sport.

      • Mary Ann Jackson says:

        It doesn’t sound as if you hail from Youngstown at all and I’m not going to carry on with an imposter. Enjoy the last word and good luck in finding someone else to pull your stunt on.
        My comments remain as stated, excellent film and knowledge filled. I’d researched the Maurice Clarett story and after seeing the project, many things made sense. It’s too bad they let him down.

  2. Mary Ann Jackson says:

    After watching the Heisman awards I thought why not give this movie a try. It was a very well done documentary. It had heart, it had soul and it showed how racism is still just evident if you only open your eyes. Sure the kid was cocky, his role models were all over paid athletes, but he was a kid with a heart and his heart was broken. As the mom of one son I happen to be very close with, it broke my heart to see Maurice abused and lied about by the “man” in charge and even more so, because Tressel didn’t stand up for him. He had to have known. It was a very good movie and I’ll definitely watch it again.

  3. this review is not good. Looks like it was the work of a lazy writer. it’s kinda like leading a sentence off without using capital letters.

  4. Jim Tressel hails from the Cleveland suburbs. He first came to Youngstown to coach the YSU Penguins in the mid-80s.

    • Joey sanders says:

      I read some excerpts from MC’s book and when he was at OSU he was already being a criminal, accepting money, had 3 cars but the documentary portrayed him as the victim of minor NCAA violations. Horrible omission if that’s true.

      • Chad says:

        As someone from Youngstown and someone who has (very) loose connections with some of Clarett’s relatives I am very proud of Maurice to turn his life around the way he did and I know his family and friends are also very proud of him. With that being said, this documentary does not tell the whole story and leaves out a lot of important facts. This documentary was not as black and white as how “Mary Ann Jackson” portrayed it to be.

        Mary Ann, I appreciate your deep thoughts and your enjoyment for this documentary, but you couldn’t be more wrong about your accusations of racism. Please do your own research about what this whole situation was about and the actual facts. One of these being that he was on his way to his brother’s house to drop off all of his weapons so he wouldn’t get into more trouble. I’m not sure why that was allowed in this documentary, because even Maurice admitted that he was on his way to the accuser’s house. This was specifically pointed out in Monte Burke’s book 4th and Goal (the reference to the Clarett exert can be found on Deadspin).

        His crime was that he robbed this man and a women of $150 and a cell phone, but he did not want to go to jail for it. After trying to bribe the man into not pressing charges and the man refusing he had a lapse of judgement and did what he did. He had drank a half of a bottle of Grey Goose while riding in his car with a Kevlar body suite, a loaded assault rife and three other guns then got pulled over for taking an illegal u-turn. Who knows what he would have actually done that night, but whatever it was it probably wasn’t going to be good.

        Also, the reason that Tressel didn’t stand up for him, besides trying to save his own job, was that Maurice already had violated NCAA rules by taking money and cars. The film makes it sound like that Tressel had him go to the car dealer to borrow the Monte Carlo and it was done on the up and up, but I’m not entirely sure that was 100% true. Also, he lied to authorities, Ohio State and the NCAA when he filed a false police report when the car was broken into. Besides that incident he had admitted, at one point or another, to acquiring at least two different cars and thousands from boosters. Those were the main reasons he was suspended by Ohio State, which were self imposed penalties. Maurice’s actions following the suspension, which included having Jim Brown there to represent him when talking to Geiger is what subsequently led to Ohio State cutting ties with Maurice altogether. His brother even said it was over when Jim Brown became involved.

        With that being said, Maurice was a kid from my neck of the woods who achieved stardom at a very young age, and even though he did have some good people around him the bad seeds seeped into his everyday life. He did some really dumb things and paid the price for them, but he also did some amazing things while in prison, created structure for himself and really turned his life around. I applaud Maurice with all of the charitable things that he’s doing now and telling his story in an inspirational way. I have no doubt he will continue to do great things, but as he may tell you, he doesn’t need anyone to defend him for “racism” and “the man getting him down” for what he did in his past.

      • Mary Ann Jackson says:

        The only “omission” I saw was on the topic of racism, not MC being a criminal. If he were a criminal he would have been looking to and thinking about scoring after he was released from prison. He was looking NEVER to go back to prison. One thing to remember, when African Americans are tried and incarcerated, many never did commit the many crimes they add onto the original charge to trump things up. If you watched the movie you would see, he was headed to his brothers house NOT the victims house when the police stopped him. His brother just happened to live on the same street his accusers moved to. They accused him of seeking retribution or retaliation. Neither one was true, he was simply going to his brothers home, but he was going to his brothers home “while black!” Now that’s a crime!

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