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Perspectives on the selection of Frank Clark

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A complicated issue presented in four views.

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This is Frank Clark, the football player:

The time is 2013. Notre Dame at Michigan. Biggest game of the year. Third and three. A short distance conversion, so the Fighting Irish go on with 12 personnel, stacking the tight ends to the left side. Everybody's expecting a run, but the Wolverines go with four down linemen. So the quarterback takes the snap and swivels it out left to the running back, who takes two steps- no, three steps before his legs are grabbed and tripped by #57. Literally two seconds off the ball and BAM! he's dropped. How often does a running play get stopped short on a third and three?! Against Notre Dame, no less? The crowd goes nuts. Surely there was some miscommunication or misread of the defense for that big of a blunder. But it did happen, and it was Frank Clark who made it happen. It was Frank Clark, at 6'2, 270 pounds, who manages to bull rushes the right tackle's block and makes the stop with his knees from a four point stance. It was Frank Clark, who came to Michigan as a tight end and linebacker, that learned to take advantage of his natural burst and athleticism and gained sixty pounds without losing any speed.

"He's terrific. He's got plenty of speed off the edge and has really good lateral quickness as well" a source says. "He has a high motor, has good quicks and is an athlete who is still learning his position. Clark can be a valuable player in this league." And not just all talk too. The numbers - fifth in the 2015 EDGE class in SPARQ, 3rd among 4-3 end types, 4.64 speed with an outrageous 4.05 short shuttle and 38.5" vertical are all nice, but then combine that with a 83-7/8" wingspan and 34-3/8" arm length? A rare player and possibly even a once-in-a-generation pick.

Here's another example of that. This is Clark, a year later, making a sack in a key third down scenario. But you know that already. You know that he's a great defensive end and a pass rusher, so the fact that he made a sack is not surprising, or even relevant. But look closer; rewind the tape, and there's the "it" factor again. It's him against the right tackle, and the first thing you see in the slow-motion replay is Clark and his opponent sparring off against each other as the quarterback is still waiting for the snap. Two steps in, and now Clark is fully on the edge and fighting off the right tackle's outstretched arms - a desperation and admittance to getting beat. A swat with the right arm, and he's free.

But the story doesn't end, because the quarterback, fully aware of the play, is running forward, trying to escape. The prey in question is Andrew Hendrix, who coincidentally transferred out of Notre Dame and has made big plays with his scrambling ability. But again, he is caught by Clark, who has to dive, yes, but he catches him and finishes the play. And the more film you watch the more you realize that this is consistent recurrence for the Ohio native, and the more you think that maybe, just maybe, that Frank Clark can consistently make those plays and someday create a name for himself in the NFL.


Photo credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This is Frank Clark, the headlines:

February 2nd, 2011: Out of Glenville, Ohio, high school standout Frank Clark signs with the Wolverines. Some highlights from his interview:

"I get a great education at one of the superior universities at Michigan. I have family that was from North Carolina and I have family that's from Michigan and I couldn't please everybody, but at the end of the day it's my job as a student-athlete to go where the student is first. I believe Michigan is that place being in the top five of public universities for academics. The superiority of the whole university, I wouldn't pass up the opportunity to go to Michigan over any college. It's Michigan, the Big House, 113,000 fans screaming. It's crazy"

"Basically I need to expect immediate competition. Being from Ohio, a lot of people will see me as a threat. But you know me, from camps and everything, that I just go in and do my work and my job, but if things get a little out of control, you know I can be a trash talker."

"I'm filled with happiness. It was a great process being recruited and it's something new to me. You guys told me it was going to come. It was a great process, and I just enjoyed myself at every school I went to on visits and every school I got to speak with, I thank them for giving me the opportunity to even talk with them and coming to offices and things of that nature. Just giving me an offer to play football there, I thank them for that. It's not a bad thing, it's a good thing in my mind where I get to go to a university where I can play ball at."

"I'm going to help get more Glenville kids to become Wolverines, because I'm going to open up their eyes to what Michigan is all about. Not just about the Michigan and Ohio State rivalry, but the academic standards at Michigan and how they are a team and we're coming back up and building a powerhouse."

July 23rd, 2012; Frank Clark faces home invasion charge. Coach Brady Hoke suspends him for the first week of fall practice and the season opener; he won't do so again for the next four years.

September 11th, 2012; Frank Clark pleads guilty to one felony count of second-degree home invasion and stealing a MacBook Air laptop. Just three days before, he was reinstated in time for the Air Force game, where he makes four tackles in a close win.

November 13th, 2012: Frank Clark is sentenced to one year of probation. Only 19 years old at the time, Clark is also sentenced under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, a Michigan legislature that promotes second chances to at-risk youth, meaning that he has an opportunity to get his record cleared provided that he complies with the terms of sentencing. Four days later, Clark starts against the Iowa Hawkeyes. He records a sack - his second of the year - in the 4th quarter.

April 16th, 2013: Michigan Live Headline - "Arrest becomes turning point for Michigan DE Frank Clark." In the article, Clark talks about his previous incident:

"It would be an understatement if I tried to tell you how much I learned from it," Clark said after Saturday's spring game at Michigan Stadium. "It woke me up as a player and as a teammate. I basically dedicated the last (months) to everybody on that team, especially the guys on defense, because I know how much it could have cost them if I would have been out the whole season."

"But due to the coaches putting their trust in me and giving me that second chance, there's nothing more I could ask for. The players just all had my back. The coaches all had my back. ... When you got everyone rallying for you, and rallying with you, there's nothing more you can ask for from a team. You develop a love for those people who are there for you."

March 2014: Sometime in the month, Clark is pulled over for driving on the wrong side of the center line without proof of insurance or proper plates. He had a bench warrant issued after he missed his court date.

August 19th, 2014: In a senior interview, parts of Clark's personal life and history are revealed:

According to data compiled by the LA Times, Baldwin Village has more than 30,000 residents, with a median household income of less than $40,000. Roughly 32 percent of families in the area are headed by a single parent. It ranks high among Los Angeles neighborhoods for violent crimes and property crimes. Crack and meth are currency. In 2011, one drug raid was so large, the L.A. Sports Arena parking lot was used as a staging ground for the 900 police officers used.

These are the streets Clark wandered with his mother, Teneka Clark, from the early 1990s until 2003, when he was handed a plane ticket.

Frank Clark can't provide a last known address in Los Angeles. He and Teneka, along with his two older siblings, were nomadic. They rambled around town, sleeping in a shelter one night, in a random friend’s house another night. Teneka had drug problems, Frank explains, and this was the fallout.

"I’d walk for hours with my mother, wondering where we were going next, what we were going to do next," Clark said.

He avoided the underbrush of The Jungle, despite being tempted by the voices of the streets. Clark says one of his childhood friends, Henry Smith, was killed in front of a local church during a drive-by shooting. Smith was running with the gangs and paid the price.

"(Frank) has seen a lot and experienced a lot."

This is Regina Bryant, the sister of Frank’s father, Frank Clark III. Regina remembers when Teneka Clark’s mother called from Los Angeles in 2003, saying her grandson needed to get out of that place. She called her counterpart in Cleveland, speaking grandma to grandma, and decided that young Frank would board a plane and head east.

Since then, Clark has harnessed an uncomplicated motive of ambition. He realized soon after what was nearly lost [to the probation charge in 2012] -- the opportunity to change his reality -- and that his circumstances are as fickle as they are fleeting.

"My mother struggles with a lot of things, know what I mean?" he said. "Just being away from her, knowing I can’t help her at a time where I look at it like she needs me, especially as an adult -- that’s what hurts the most. My mother was a big figure in my life and still is a big figure in my life, though, I don’t talk to her every day. The one thing that I want to do is to help her as much as I can when I get to that place where I can help her."

Frank Clark hasn’t seen his mother since they went to the airport in 2003. It eats at him. During his junior year of high school, he returned to California for a football camp and hoped to see his family. An aunt and some cousins showed up. His mom and siblings didn’t.

Clark hasn’t been back since, but wears the birthmark of Baldwin Village to this day. It doesn't wash off.

"I chose not to go back to my boys and my neighborhood, especially while I’m in college, because they wouldn’t really understand me, if you know what I mean," Clark said. … "Before I left, the road I was going down was the road that my best friend was going down. … I was going down the road where there was the gangs, the drugs and the violence -- the road every typical guy growing up in my neighborhood and in inner-city Los Angeles went down."

November 15th, 2014: Clark is jailed in Ohio following allegations of domestic abuse and two misdemeanor assault charges against his girlfriend. The following details are lifted from the police report:

* The confrontation took place at the Maui Sands Resort in Sandusky.

* Clark's girlfriend told Perkins police Officer Martin Curran that Clark punched her in the face.

* The brother of Clark's girlfriend told police that he saw Clark grab his girlfriend by the neck and slam her to the ground.

* The girlfriend said Clark pinned her to the bed, and she bit his nose in an attempt to escape.

* A person in adjoining room called the hotel front desk and reported that it "sounded like a head was being bounced off the wall" in Clark's room.

- Clark had left the room when police arrived about 10:30 p.m. Clark reportedly told Curran, "I didn't touch that woman. She is a woman," according to the Register's story on the police report.

* The girlfriend had a large welt and blood on her face, but refused to go to a hospital for treatment and did not want to pursue charges against Clark.

November 17th, 2014: Clark is officially kicked off of Michigan's football team. Comments from the coaches:

"I don't feel burned by anything," said Hoke, who said Monday he had not spoken to Clark but planned to at some point in the future to help him rebuild his life. "I feel that's just something that can't be tolerated. You've got 18- to 22-year-olds, and maybe we've all made better decisions than they do. I don't know. But I know that ... there's a standard that they believe in and I believe in how you represent yourself and, more importantly, how you represent this program. That's one of the things we talked about. I'm going to make the decisions that are best for this program — not for this person, not for a coach, what's best for this program.

"I don't feel burned, no. That's part of mentoring. You feel like you failed a little bit."

"Do I condone it? No. Am I disappointed? I've never been more disappointed," defensive coordinator Gregan Mattison said. "But am I always there for him? Yeah, we always are and that's the way we'll always be."

He pleads not guilty to the charges. Later in the afternoon, his $300 dollar bail was paid in full by an unidentified man and woman, releasing him from jail after two days.


Photo credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

December 7th, 2014: The Story of Frank Clark is published by James Brennan, and in light of recent events, the article in August is revisited:

In the years leading up to this, while Clark was busy practicing, training and trying to balance the other commitments of student life, did he ever see a therapist?

Did he ever go into Counseling and Psychological Services, looking to talk about his childhood and his mother?

Did anyone on the football team ever take him aside and say, "Hey man, you had a really rough upbringing — have you ever thought about going to see someone?"

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. Maybe Clark did see someone. Maybe he even had long-term treatment from a psychiatrist. Maybe the Athletic Department cared about his mental health as much as they cared about his performance on the field.

This is not to advocate for sympathy or pity for a man who hit a woman, but let us remember that the man who attacked his girlfriend last month was once a boy. A boy who was homeless. A boy who was told that certain forms of violence are not only OK but in fact his only way to a better life. A boy who spent half his life with no father, and the other half with no mother.

Clark told MLive that he dreamed of his mother coming to senior day at Michigan Stadium, saying that her presence would be "the best thing ever." Clark was dismissed from the football team less than three days after being charged with domestic violence, meaning he was absent for the final home game of his senior season.

Clark has not posted on his Twitter since being dismissed. His bio section reads:

"Simply, All I want to do is make my momma proud."

January 3rd, 2015: Clark is officially invited to the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine.

February 23rd, 2015: Most of Clark's numbers in the drills lands within the top five of his position group. When asked by NFL scouts regarding his off-field issues, Clark has this to say:

"I don't want to get into too much detail, The detail I did get into I did with NFL teams. When we were in the room, the person involved let something get out of hand and took something further than what it was planned."

"You look at a phone and nowadays these phones get a lot of people in trouble. I'm not saying I'm a womanizer or anything of that nature. I'm just saying it was a confrontation between me and one of my friends and the woman involved took it to another level that it shouldn't have been taken to."

"That's fine. I'm not throwing her under the bus. I'm not saying she did anything wrong. I'm just saying that a lot of things that happened in that room that night could have been avoided."

"Counseling has taught me how to be a man, It's not like I'm a man when I'm 21. It's taught me to be a man and how to accept responsibility for all my actions."

"When you go through things in life – whether good or bad – you've always got to learn from it. Counseling has taught me how to grow up and how to learn from everything I go through. No matter if I say it's my fault or not, how to accept responsibility."

"Basically, I put myself in the position I shouldn't have been in, It could have all been avoided if I'd said, 'No, I don't want to go to Sandusky. No, I don't want to go the waterpark.' I accept full responsibility for everything that happened. I'm going to continue to learn from it and grow from it. In the future, hopefully, one of these teams will give me a shot."

"I'm a very religious person, I thank God for giving me this chance, because without Him it wouldn't be helpful. These NFL teams saw something in me. After the season, I was so hurt that I let my teammates down and the fans down and everybody who follows me. When I got that letter (inviting me to the combine), it was just a shock. I broke down and cried. I was full of joy. I'm so passionate about this game and when it was taken away from me it hurt me like I lost my best friend. This game is all I've known for my whole life."

"You've got some guys who ask me about it, But you have a lot of other guys who want to talk football. Domestic violence is a big issue. I'm not sugar coating it. It's a huge issue nowadays in our society. Just talking with the teams I did talk to, they let me know that it's going to handle itself."

"But they love me as a football player. They love me as a person. They look at it like I made a mistake. I look at it like a mistake that I can't ever make again. Not just domestic violence. I can't close the door too hard. That's how I look at it."

April 10th, 2015: Clark accepts a plea bargain, downgrading his first-degree misdemeanor charges for domestic violence and assault to one of disorderly conduct. He does not serve any additional jail time.

May 1st, 2015: With the 63rd pick, in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Seattle Seahawks select Frank Clark, DE, Michigan. Minutes later, Clark engaged in a phone conference with various reporters:

"They questioned me on the incident just like everyone else did, that was just for the simple fact that when you take a player as high as they took me, you want to know every single detail to the person they are now. I respect that; if I were in their position, as a GM or owner, I would want to take the guy who best suits me and who I believe—if something has happened to them—will be honest and upfront."

"I simply kept it real with them. One thing I don’t do—I don’t pride myself in lying. I tell the truth. Once you lie one time, that lie is followed by another lie, so I told the coaching staff, the owner, the GM, and everyone who questioned me in that department in Seattle—I gave them honest and upfront answers from the beginning."

"Give me a couple of years and believe in me, I promise you — I’m saying it right now and I promise you — you won’t be upset."


Photo credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

This is Frank Clark, a National Football League player.

That's unlikely to change. Barring some drastic events or revelations, Frank Clark is a member of the organization and the community that we root for. And whether or not you think that Frank Clark is a despicable adult deplored of humanity or one of the best defensive ends to come out of this draft or perhaps even a tragic figure poised for redemption, his mere emergence in the league last Friday is a reminder of the morality that comes with professional sports; that, despite all the goodwill and charity and rhetoric, we must accept that there's always more to the NFL than football alone.

But when do we draw the line? At what point must we stop compartmentalizing stop and feigning ignorance? Just last season the off-field incidents of Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson and many others finally caused the NFL to take action and ramp up stricter policies for their players. According to ESPN, before the changes happened "the 48 players considered guilty of domestic violence under the league policy between 2000 through 2014, the league suspended players for one game or not at all in 88 percent of the cases. Twenty-seven players -- or 56 percent -- received no suspension, and 15 others were forced to sit out one game."

Last August, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote to all thirty-two teams and promised to make things right. "Domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong. They are illegal. They are never acceptable and have no place in the NFL under any circumstances.’’ But the harsher punishments did not come without controversy."We were informed today of the NFL’s decision to increase penalties on domestic violence offenders under the Personal Conduct Policy for all NFL employees" replied the NFLPA in a response email. "As we do in all disciplinary matters, if we believe that players’ due process rights are infringed upon during the course of discipline, we will assert and defend our members’ rights,"

By April 16th, less than a year since their suspension began, both Rice and Peterson would be fully reinstated. A few weeks later, two more players with DV accusations would be drafted into the league.

There is no excuse for domestic violence and abuse. But the response to that must be two-fold. And the farther you go back in the chain, the more you understand that Frank Clark isn't as much a anomaly as he is a product of the game we watch.


Photo credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

This is Frank Clark, a Seattle Seahawk.

His head coach is Pete Carroll, who once lead the University of Southern California to multiple championships during the early 2000's - the exact location of violence and despair that Clark grew up in before moving to Cleveland. Carroll has experience with the streets. From an account a few years back:

"[He'd] make late-night journeys through the dicey precincts of Los Angeles. Alone, unarmed, they cruise the desolate, impoverished, crime-ridden streets, meeting as many people (mostly young men) as possible. The mission: Let them know that someone busy, someone famous, someone well known for winning, is thinking about them, rooting for them. The young men have hard stories, grim stories, about their everyday lives, and at the very least Carroll’s visit gives them a different story to tell tomorrow."

"Carroll says: 'Somebody they would never think would come to them and care about them and worry about them—did. I think it gives them hope.'"

"Once, a young man stops Carroll, takes the coach aside and becomes emotional while explaining how much this visit has meant to him. He gives Carroll a bracelet, something he made, a symbol of brotherhood and solidarity. Carroll accepts the bracelet as if it were a Rolex. He’ll wear it for days, often pushing back his sleeve to admire and play with it. He gives several young men his cell phone number and tells them to call if they ever need to talk. One, an ex-con, will call early the next morning and confide in Carroll about his struggles feeding his family. Carroll will vow to help find him a job."

The promise of second chances and redemption lives through Carroll's passion, so much so that not even a relocation to Seattle would not stop him from accomplishing his goals. Off the field, his We Day and A Better Seattle celebrations dedicate themselves to "reduce gang and youth violence and provide better opportunities for the impoverished to succeed." On the field, Carroll has brought plenty of controversial figures to the team in hopes their lives can be turned around; most of them are released back into the pool within a few practices; a few of them, like Bruce Irvin, eventually becomes fan favorites and star players; Most importantly, however, those who make it out like Irvin are finally forgiven. Does Carroll see the same in Clark, as a man who truly has done something wrong that should be given another opportunity?

"We wouldn't have done this otherwise. We never would have made the choice if we didn't have the background of the information and also the understanding of the environment we are bringing him into. We are going to help him, and he really wants to do a great job. He wants to demonstrate that he is on the right track and he is going to do the right thing, and he is very respectful for the issues in the situation and I think we will see him exercise that throughout."