Nearly a year after retiring from the NFL very abruptly Rolando McClain is hoping he can make a return to the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens. Immaturity and legal troubles forced McClain to retire from the game at the very young age of 23. Today he met with Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome in Alabama about the possibility of rejoining the team he left before even stepping on the field for them.
McClain grew up in Decatur, Alabama, and had a similarly rough upbringing to former Ravens and current Titans player Michael Oher, whose life was the subject of the movie and book The Blind Side. At age 15 his own mother got a restraining order against him after beating him and threatening him with a knife. At age 16 his high school had to be locked down when she called in a threat. After these incidents, McClain was forced to live with families of teammates until he went to play at the University of Alabama. While a rough childhood like his is not an excuse for immature behavior as an adult, it does give clues as to why he is the way he is now.
During his time at Alabama, McClain enjoyed much success and stayed out of trouble for the most part, or at least any incidents were hidden well by the Alabama staff. He was a three-year starter and in his junior year he was a consensus First Team All-American, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and the Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker. This was also the season that Alabama won the national championship over Texas, which was Nick Saban’s first season at Alabama. Shortly after the national title win, McClain decided to skip his last year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft.
McClain came into the NFL in 2010 as the eighth overall pick by the Oakland Raiders. His play on the field was decent, but his time in Oakland was marred with controversy. In 2011, he was arrested for assault and reckless endangerment after a shooting incident in his hometown of Decatur. He was sentenced to jail time but ended up serving none of the time after the victim decided to not press charges and instead take a cash settlement from McClain. It was not just legal trouble that led to him being released by the Raiders in 2013, but also a long history of bad decision-making on the field, and being a constant distraction with his undisciplined play and disagreements with coaches and front office staff.
After being released by the Raiders, he was signed as a free agent by the Ravens. Only a few weeks after signing with the Ravens he was again in legal trouble, being arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. While neither the Ravens nor McClain himself never pointed to this specific incident as the reason for retirement, it surely played some part in his decision. Since retiring in May of 2013, McClain has been working out and attending classes at Alabama in order to earn his degree.
The NFL and the Ravens have had some serious off the field issues recently, with the recent indictment of running back Ray Rice, relating to a video released of him dragging his fiancé out of an elevator in an Atlantic City casino. Adding any other distractions to their team will be something they will not be able to afford from a PR standpoint. That is why a return to the NFL looks unlikely for McClain, but stranger things have happened. For instance Pacman Jones is still employed by the NFL, after numerous run-ins with authorities and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The Ravens are a very well run organization, and their coach John Harbaugh will not stand for anything less than total commitment from McClain, if he is allowed to rejoin the team.
Any hope that Rolando McClain has for a return to the NFL will rest solely on his shoulders, and his ability to prove to the Ravens that he is a changed man, who is ready to devote his life to football. He was never lacking any physical ability. All the problems he has had have been related to immaturity and bad decision-making, so if he can change that, he can still have a very productive career in the NFL.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius