When Ma’lik Richmond — one of two former Steubenville High School football players convicted of raping a 16-year-old classmate in 2012 — transferred to Youngstown State before the school year began, many people had the same question: Would the rising junior, who spent nearly 10 months in prison following a rape conviction, attempt to resurrect a playing career?
Unsurprisingly, the answer was yes. Football head coach Bo Pelini was reportedly made aware of Richmond’s transfer into YSU and met with him in person after their season ended. The defensive tackle made the team as a walk-on, and was slated to appear for the Penguins this season until a student began circulating a petition demanding that YSU prohibit Richmond from playing for the team.
More than 10,000 people signed the petition, and YSU officials responded shortly thereafter by announcing that although Richmond would be allowed to stay on the team for practices and other team activities, he would not play for the Penguins during this season.
Richmond—who had previously insisted that his transfer to FCS football powerhouse Youngstown State had nothing to do with football—then sued the school for denying him the opportunity to potentially advance his professional football career. On Monday, YSU and Richmond’s lawyers announced they had reached a settlement that will, among other things, reinstate Richmond onto the team.
“What is most important is that Ma’lik moves on,” said Susan Stone, an attorney for Richmond. “This is a case about Ma’lik being given all the opportunities afforded a student of good standing.”
Despite what Stone and her client might believe, university students are not entitled to a football career. Most coaches, particularly at the Division I level, hold their students to higher levels of accountability than a typical student. Breaking even the most mundane team rules can often result in disciplinary action by a coaching staff, including dismissal from the team. And while college athletics departments have a spotty track record for handling instances of sexual assault, players are certainly cut from rosters all the time for getting into legal trouble.
During court hearings, Richmond’s legal team argued that the school had “hurt Richmond’s football career prospects by curtailing his exposure to professional scouts at the peak of his abilities,” and that the university was “contractually obligated” to let Richmond play, a laughable claim made even more absurd by the fact that Richmond wasn’t even on a scholarship. No college athlete — neither the number one high school recruit, nor the reigning Heisman Trophy winner — is guaranteed a spot on a team’s roster.
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
Which makes YSU’s settlement all the more disheartening. Here is a school that ultimately tried to do the right thing—albeit only after facing public pressure and an outraged student body—only to acquiesce to the demands of a convicted rapist’s legal team arguing he is entitled to the kind of second chance that his victim will never receive.