James Brennan: The story of Frank Clark

By James Brennan, Columnist
Published December 7, 2014

Frank Clark spent the first half of his life in the crime, drug and violence-ridden Los Angeles neighborhood of Crenshaw. His mother was addicted to drugs, and his father lived halfway across the country. A profile in MLive from early this fall described Clark’s childhood living situation as “nomadic,” staying with friends or at shelters. A more accurate term for Clark and his mother at this time would be “homeless.”

“I’d walk for hours with my mother wondering where we were going next, what we were going to do next,” Clark told MLive reporter Brendan Quinn.

Frank Clark was no older than 10.

He moved to Cleveland about a decade ago, leaving his mother behind. At the time of the MLive article’s publication, Frank Clark had not seen her since.

Cleveland was better than Crenshaw, but Clark continued to live amongst high crime, high violence and intense segregation.

Clark attended Ginn Academy, an alternative, all-boys public high school. Because Ginn Academy does not have athletics, Clark played football at Glenville High School. Glenville is a national powerhouse in football, having produced NFL players like Ted Ginn, Jr. and Troy Smith, a Heisman Trophy winner. Ted Ginn’s father, Ted, Sr., is Glenville’s head football coach and the mind behind Ginn Academy.

According to Location, a location-based data provider, the average per capita income in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland is less than $13,368 a year, and Glenville is one of the most dangerous places in the city. In 2011, the year Clark graduated, the student body at Ginn Academy was 98 percent Black. Glenville High School’s enrollment was 99 percent Black.

Clark played football from a young age, and his abilities as a defensive end got him a scholarship to the University. In other words, he was given free tuition, plus room and board, for his ability to hit people. Do it well enough, he was told, and he could find himself making millions of dollars entertaining people with sanctioned violence.

Three years later, Nov. 15, Frank Clark allegedly got into an argument with his girlfriend. According to reports, he punched her in the face, and she knocked over a lamp as she fell to the ground. Clark picked her up by her neck and slammed her down. She laid there unconscious, her younger siblings thinking Clark had killed her. He easily could have.

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.”

James Brennan can be reached at jmbthree@umich.edu.