As he went through the process of the NFL Draft earlier this year, Carolina Panthers running back Jordan Scarlett’s surname was a rather appropriate one. Because as he looked to realize his ambitions of playing professional football, he bore a scarlet letter.
At the University of Florida, Scarlett’s college career was marred by a year-long suspension for his involvement in a credit card fraud scheme, which followed a misdemeanor marijuana charge in his freshman year. Like Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s magnum opus, Scarlett was labeled as a player with “character concerns” leading up to the Draft – Concerns that caused him to fall all the way to the fifth round.
But having gotten an opportunity from the Panthers, Scarlett is looking to turn the negative of his defining sin into the positive of contrition and redemption. And speaking to Marcel Louis-Jacques of the Charlotte Observer, Scarlett opened up about the second chance he was given by the Gators – one that he didn’t have to take – and also about how his experience in having to redeem himself changed him.
One of nine players suspended for their involvement in the scheme, Scarlett was given an opportunity by then-Gators head coach Jim McElwain to work his way back onto the team. It was an opportunity that not every player involved accepted – Some transferred, while wide receiver Antonio Callaway entered the 2018 NFL Draft and went to the Cleveland Browns. But out of a feeling of responsibility, Scarlett committed himself to the chance presented to him.
“I stuck around because I felt like I had something to prove,” Scarlett told the Observer. “I had to clean up my name, for one, and two, I had to prove to Gator fans that I really cared about the program. It was more of a thing for me to show everybody and show myself.”
Having never had to spend significant time unable to play football prior to his suspension, Scarlett admitted that the 2017 season was one of the most difficult points of his life. But in retrospect, he believes that it made him the man that he is now as he enters his first year in the NFL.
“It made me reflect on how much football meant to me,” said Scarlett. “And how I really needed to start taking it more seriously.”
Though Scarlett proved himself worthy of a second chance by rushing for nearly 800 yards in 2018, many at the NFL level saw Scarlett’s past transgressions first and his redemption last. But speaking after the NFL Draft, Panthers general manager Marty Hurney expressed just how much of an impression the work Scarlett put in to make his mistakes right made on them.
“He admitted he made a mistake when he was a freshman and he was the one guy that stayed and worked his way back to make up for it. And I think that’s what really impressed us the most,” said Hurney. “You talked to anyone down there, they love this kid and he’s one of the most well-liked players on that team.
“Listen, he was young. He made a mistake, but he worked hard to work his way back to make up for that and to go back and play there and stayed there last year and I thought that was very impressive.”
Now preparing for his first season in Carolina, Scarlett is expected to be a team player for the Panthers as he serves in a supporting role behind All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey. And as his football career now continues, so too does his walk towards honesty and righteousness – One that will lead to his scarlet letter no longer defining who he is.