It's sad when a local icon falls so hard and so suddenly in the public view.
Many Ohio State fans have had to experience this with the recent fall from grace of once-beloved football coach Jim Tressel.
Tressel was an icon to a whole state of diehard football fans. But imagine someone who equaled, or surpassed, the celebrity of Tressel in a much smaller locale, and then watch that person spiral out of control.
Such is the case with former middlweight boxing champion of the world, Youngstown's Kelly Pavlik. Once considered pound-for-pound one of the best fighters in the world, Pavlik's career took a downturn due in part to alcoholism, with the latest chapter being an OVI arrest outside his home Wednesday night after reportedly crashing an ATV into a lamp post.
Pavlik was a hero to a city that needed one in the worst way. In one of the most economically depressed areas of the country, Pavlik became the local-boy-made-good. The characteristics of him as a fighter mirrored that of his hometown. Tough. Hard-working. A true underdog story. He rose from obscurity to reach the top of his sport. He knocked out Jermain Taylor to become the undisputed middleweight champion of the world.
Living in the Youngstown area at the time, I had the pleasure of covering Pavlik, interviewing him on numerous occasions and spending time with him at events. Fame and fortune never changed him. He was a humble champion, showed a tremendous amount of class and was true to his roots. In between fights, he was active in dart leagues at local bars and stuck with his childhood friends. He was a champion the town was proud to call its own.
Even the national media picked up on his story, a blue-collar kid who defied the odds to become a champion. Pavlik was on top of the world.
Then, just as suddenly, it all crashed down.
While Pavlik was rising up the rankings, and even moreso during his time as champion, he became a symbol for the entire northeast region of the state. He was a hero to many, and as a result, many turned a blind eye to his flaws. The biggest of which was his drinking.
In a way, the whole town became his enablers. Whenever he was out at a public event, everyone would offer to buy him a drink; everyone wanted the chance to drink with the champ.
Once he lost his title in April 2010 to Sergio Martinez, a lot of the blind eyes began to open. The alcoholism began to effect on career. Fights were canceled and his future was cloudy at best.
Nearly anyone would be a hypocrite to criticize Pavlik solely for his drinking, but it became obvious his habit was interfering with his career and was getting the best of his life.
Credit to Pavlik, about a year ago, he checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic. He came out and was ready to resume his career. Everything was in line for Pavlik's redemption story. He left the clinic in control of his alcoholism and was ready to get his life and career back on track.
Only, he wasn't.
He had one fight in April, but then canceled another one scheduled for August that would've put him in line for a super middleweight title shot, over financial issues.
Since then, Pavlik has made far more headlines for legal reasons than for performance reasons. Hopefully, this latest incident will be the very thing Pavlik needs the most - a wake-up call.
Pavlik is on a path where things are going to end badly. Now, one can only hope this latest incident can be the catalyst to turn things around.
In a way it's not all that unlike another Youngstown sports figure, Maurice Clarett. Clarett's troubles have been well documented. He had the world in his hands with a bright future ahead of him, until he put himself on a path that led him to prison.
Clarett wasn't all that dissimilar to Pavlik. At first, he had the backing of the entire city, then slowly more and more of his one-time supporters turned away as Clarett began his downslide.
His time in prison, though, seemed to serve as the wake-up call Clarett needed. He served his time, came back into society and seemingly has turned his life around, getting it pointed in the right direction. He likely will never be the world-class athlete he once had the potential to be, but Clarett's life is in a much better spot than it was before his time locked up. Clarett has achieved a level of redemption, and hopefully Pavlik can get that as well.
The last chapter of the Kelly Pavlik story isn't written yet. But the choice is his as to how it's written. Whether it includes a return to the ring almost is irrelevant at this point. My hope is he can get his life moving forward, get past the demons that contributed to him crashing into a light post, and create a positive life for himself and his family. That would be the best redemption.
Pavlik has pleaded not-guilty in court, but if the reports are accurate, the ATV incident was a severe lapse in judgment and could've turned out much worse. Next time he might not be as fortunate. But hopefully it gives him the wake-up call he needs to get his life moving back forward.