Oakland Raiders LB Rolando McClain's Personal Loyalty May Cost Him An NFL Career

Justin Smith – Jun 1, 2012

A snapshot of Decatur, Alabama provides all you need to know about the rough and gritty attitude of Oakland Raiders middle linebacker Rolando McClain. Many feel McClain is cocky and arrogant, and has a poor attitude in many aspects and phases of life. Learning how he grew up, and the insulation that attitude provided him against failure and worse, explains things a little more clearly.  

The hard-scrabble streets of Decatur show a city whose crime rate vastly exceeds the average of U.S. cities of similar populations and whose unemployment rate is comparable. McClain had to rely on friends and colleagues to get him through, as his father, Roland Ervin Jr. was rarely around and at times in jail and his relationship with his mother, Tonya Malone, has always been difficult and tenuous, possibly due to her mental illness.

It reached a boiling point in high school when Malone apparently threatened McClain's life and McClain briefly stayed with his father, but that didn't last long for geographical reasons.  McClain turned to sports at a young age to keep off the streets and away from the crime and drugs that called his name from every corner of the housing project where he grew up as a young boy.

McClain sharpened his wits and his elbows on the courts at the recreation center, on the baseball field and in Pop Warner Football. He saw friends fall into drugs, go to juvenile detention and drop out of school. Still, Rolando progressed; still he set his goals ever higher, to succeed both academically and athletically despite all the odds pulling at him and despite all the friends and peers who were trying to drag him down with them.

And in doing so he developed a hard, gritty edge; an attitude.

Bruce Jones, the director of Decatur Youth Services remembers meeting McClain when he was around 10 years old. Jones acknowledges that McClain had an attitude, and that people perceive he still does, but he makes a strong case that without that attitude, McClain would be dead or in jail, like many of the colleagues from his youth. 

"Some people would say he even had an attitude, and some will probably say he has that now, but it takes that to be on the level he's at. It's not to say he didn't associate with some knuckleheads, because he did. But he was strong-willed enough not to let it pull away from his goals."

That quote from Jones is very telling. It tells of a young man, strong-willed enough to know what he wants and to go for it despite the odds, and explains a lot of the perceived cockiness and arrogance seemingly portrayed by McClain; yet it also tells of a young man hanging around with some of the wrong people, despite their different goals in life. 

It is that blind loyalty to his friends that has ultimately landed him in this current legal quagmire that threatens to unravel a lifetime of hard work and overcoming adversity.

McClain realized at a very young age that, despite his difficult, inconsistent and downright disruptive home life, sports and school was a way out of the noise. McClain threw himself into any sport he could find, and insisted on excelling in school. 

After the incident with Malone in high school, McClain was worried it may all go away. Sent to live with his father in Limestone County—not Morgan County, where Decatur is located—McClain wouldn't be eligible to attend Decatur high the next fall.

Staying with his mother for any length after recent incidents was out of the question, so a group of supporters, including an aunt and the families of some friends, (including Rishard Tapscott, the accuser in McClain's criminal case) pooled together to give him a place to stay where he could still attend Decatur High and play football. Based on his upbringing to that point, who knows where McClain would've ended up had he not been able to continue with his academic and athletic career at a formative time in his life. 

This type of community bonding helped McClain to his senior year, one which should have been a time of celebration for the All-State football player and Dean's list student who had bucked the trend of lost youth that had fallen through the cracks.

In the fall of 2006 Malone was arrested for essentially threatening to kill anyone who had any contact with her son. She was charged and pled guilty in February 2008 to obstructing governmental operations; a mental evaluation in 2007 showed she suffers from bi-polar disorder and Crohn's disease. 

Interestingly enough, it was reported before the 2010 NFL draft that McClain had Crohn's disease and the digestive disorder was thought to have caused him to drop in the minds of some scouts. Not the Raiders, obviously, who picked him eighth overall. McClain insists he no longer suffers symptoms of Crohn's disease. 

Malone claims that the charges against her were trumped up and regrets pleading guilty in 2008. She feels that the citizens of Decatur essentially hi-jacked her son and painted her in a poor light and she didn't have the resources or will to fight back so she simply pled guilty. 

After McClain went to the University of Alabama, he was given the support and love the Crimson Tide family and had more options and places to live and stay. Things were more stable for him, and he parlayed that into a three-time All-American, two-time Dean's List, a Butkus award, a number eight overall NFL Draft pick career with a little more stability and a little less distraction. 

But, McClain is a guy who has always been loyal to his friends, and regardless of his success, his money, his fame, or his lot in life, he continually returns to Decatur to hang out with friends of his youth and show love and loyalty. 

Jones, the director of Decatur Youth Services, was prophetic with a quote back when McClain was drafted by the Oakland Raiders regarding his blind loyalty to his friends and his inability to separate his own success with the mundane lifestyles of his childhood companions. Right before McClain left for Alabama, Jones, (who credits Malone with being a better mother than most) told him straight out that he would be a millionaire one day if he would just stop acting like a bouncer-type and sticking up for his trouble making friends. 

Jones went on to say "But that's Rolando. He's true to his friends. Even now, when he's here, he's hanging with his buddies. When you say 'You might have to separate youself from these guys (to protect his future),' with Rolando, that's probably not going to happen. Maybe at some point, but probably not right now." 

Those words are prophetic as you see McClain is currently sentenced to 180 days in jail, (currently under appeal) for, among other things, discharging a firearm beside Tapscott's head and threatening him. 

In reading the statement from Tapscott and the details of the crime, it's clear that another friend from childhood, Jerrodius Willingham, a.k.a "Tweezy," was the one who had the true beef with Tapscott. McClain, as Jones pointed out, was simply acting as a "bouncer-type" for his friends. 

And this time, it's cost him dearly. 

The NFL doesn't tolerate personal conduct missteps like they used to. Despite the appeal, there is a distinct and real possibility that McClain will be suspended by the NFL for anywhere from 2-4 games. 

Throw in the fact that McClain hasn't produced nearly to the level expected of him when he was drafted eigth overall, and that this year was probably McClain's last to prove he belongs in the middle for the SIlver & Black anyway, and you're looking at a guy on major notice. 

If he doesn't have a spectacular, blow-up-the-spot season, he won't be around the Raiders any longer; and another NFL team may even be reluctant to take a chance on him. 

Growing up bigger and stronger than his friends, McClain was often the bouncer-type or protector for them. There comes a time and a place when that role needs to be relinquished; when you're drafted into the NFL should be the very last resort to dropping that type of blindly loyal persona. 

But, McClain remembers where he comes from, remembers how hard it was, and loves any that tried to make it easier for him. That love caused him to stick up for one friend while assaulting another and maybe cost him the career he fought so hard to attain against so many odds. 

The streets of Decatur made him the tough and adaptable man he is today, but it also made him into the personal protector of his friends, the guy who needs to "make things right." That need to make things right may have turned everything else in his life completely wrong. 

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