Athlete With a Past

Youngstown State defends decision to let student who was convicted of sexually assaulting a minor join football team, but says he won’t play in games this fall.

August 10, 2017
 

Ma’lik Richmond was one of two Ohio high school football players convicted in 2013 of sexually assaulting a minor -- a girl they met at a party who was intoxicated beyond the ability to consent to sex -- the year before. The Steubenville High School rape case, as it became known, included evidence that the football players and their friends traded jokes and photos about the incident, and assumed that their status as football players would protect them from punishment. Richmond, tried as a juvenile, served less than a year in juvenile detention.

In the last week, students at Youngstown State University learned that Richmond, who transferred to the university last year, is now a member of the football team, and that set off a debate over whether he should be.

On Wednesday night, the university posted a statement to its Facebook page that appeared to be aiming for a middle ground. The university said that Richmond would not be playing in games this fall, but would remain on the team.

"Youngstown State University takes the matter of sexual assault very seriously and continues to educate everyone within the campus community about the impact and prevention of sexual assault," the statement said. "The university is fully aware of the gravity of the situation and of petitions that are circulating on social media in protest and support of one of our students, Ma’lik Richmond."

The statement added that the university does not restrict the extracurricular activities of any student in good academic standing, as Richmond is. Further, the statement said that Richmond won a spot on the team as a walk-on and is not receiving a scholarship.

"For the fall 2017 football season, Ma’lik will not be permitted to compete in any games, but will continue to be a part of the football program as a practice player, forfeiting a year of eligibility," the statement said. "He will be given the opportunity to benefit from group participation, the lessons of hard work and discipline, as well as the camaraderie and guidance of the staff and teammates."

Reaction on the university's Facebook page was immediate, and much of it was negative.

"I'm glad that my alma mater thinks that a year of ineligibility makes up for them letting a rapist on the football team," posted one alumnus.

Wrote another, "Disgusted. Way to make football your top priority in this situation. I am a huge sports supporter and love supporting my YSU Penguins, but I highly disapprove of them allowing this kid to walk onto the team and stand on the sidelines representing my university."

The university's announcement followed much debate over two competing petitions.

One petition, signed by more than 10,000 people, urges the university to remove Richmond from the team.

"For many years, athletes have constantly been given additional chances because they are athletes. What does this say about rape culture? That athletes can do no wrong, that they can get away with anything because of how they perform on the field or in the gym?" the petition says. "Does he deserve a second chance? Yes, he does, and he is receiving that second chance by furthering his education on YSU's campus. Does he deserve the privilege of playing on a football team and representing a university? Absolutely not. Education is a right, whereas playing on a sports team is not."

The second petition, signed by more than 1,000 people, offers a different take.

"Ma'lik was convicted and has served his punishment and has since earned the right to attend Youngstown State and participate on the football team," this petition says. "Being that he has accepted his punishment and has served his time, we are in full support of Youngstown State University giving this young man a chance to have an impact on society. We would like Ma'lik Richmond to remain on the Youngstown State football team!"

The other Steubenville athlete convicted with Richmond -- Trent Mays -- set off a similar debate when he joined the football team at Hocking College in 2015.

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