Four years ago, when Ma’lik Richmond was 16 years old, he was one of two Steubenville High School football players found guilty of rape in juvenile court in a case that received national attention, both for the way social media served as evidence and because of the small Ohio town’s devotion — or, one might say, obsession — with high-school football above all else.
Richmond ended up serving less than 10 months of a year-long sentence in juvenile detention, and after going back to play football his senior year at Steubenville High School, he bounced between a few colleges before ending up at Youngstown State University last fall, 71 miles north of Steubenville.
The convicted rapist joined the football team as a walk-on in January, and will be playing for the Penguins this fall. As you might imagine, many in the Youngstown community are not happy.
One YSU student, Katelyn Davis, started a Change.org petition over the weekend asking President Jim Tressel and head football coach Bo Pelini to remove Richmond from the team. The petition has already garnered over 10,000 signatures.
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?
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.
Davis and other signatories might have a hard time convincing Pelini to rethink Richmond’s position with the team, though. According to The Vindicator, Richmond did not transfer to Youngstown with the intention of playing football again. Instead, it was Pelini who reached out to the convicted rapist when someone from Steubenville told him that Richmond was on campus, even though Richmond’s high school coach told Pelini that Richmond had no intention of playing football at the time.
Still, Pelini — who was fired as head coach at the University of Nebraska in 2014 due to “his habitual use of inappropriate language, and his personal and professional attacks on administrators” — decided to read up on the Steubenville rape case, and reach out to people he knew in Steubenville. Shortly after the Penguins lost to James Madison University in the Football Championship Subdivision national championship game in January, he met with Richmond.
“The kid is humble and he wants to put [his past] behind him,” Pelini said, noting that he had often not given students second chances in the past.
“I gave him some stipulations and some things he had to be able to do and if he lived up to them he’d be able to come out and see if he could be a member of our football team. He did those things and continues to do those things right now and he’s done a nice job for us,” said Pelini.
He did not provide any details whatsoever as to what those stipulations were, and said Richmond won’t be made available to the press unless he actually plays in a game.
As Brenda Tracy — a rape survivor, activist, and member of the NCAA Committee to Combat Sexual Violence — noted on social media, consideration should be given to Richmond’s victim, who will have to watch him again be celebrated as an athletic hero in their home state.
My heart breaks 4 survivors who are forced 2 watch their rapists not only chase their athletic dreams but watch 1,000s of fans cheer them on
— Brenda Tracy (@brendatracy24) August 7, 2017
I wonder how guys kicked off sports teams for bad grades & smoking weed feel watching rapists & batterers play instead of them 🤔
— Brenda Tracy (@brendatracy24) August 8, 2017
As a reminder, Richmond was found guilty of digitally penetrating a high-school girl at a party in 2012, during a night when Richmond and his friends carried the intoxicated victim around from party to party, stripped her naked, and documented their assault with photographs and video, some of which ended up being shared publicly on social media.
“President Tressel and Coach Pelini, are you more concerned with your football team’s status than the disgusting rape of a young girl?” Davis asked on Change.org.
Pelini and Tressel have not responded to the petition yet, but Pelini previously told the Vindicator that Richmond had “proved he can be part of the student community” at Youngstown.
Trent Mays, the other Steubenville high school football player convicted of rape alongside Richards, is also expected to play football this fall at Central State University in Ohio.