A judge has allowed a man convicted of rape as a teen to continue playing football for his Youngstown State squad after the school tried to ban him from the program.
Attorney Susan Stone successfully argued before U.S. District Judge Benita Pearson that Ohio native Ma’lik Richmond, of Steubenville, was being discriminated against by the school with an “anti-male” bias stemming from his rape conviction.
Youngstown State had allowed Richmond to walk onto the football field, then suddenly told him he could not play this season. Richmond, in turn, filed suit against the school, seeking reinstatement to the team’s active roster along with attorney’s fees and an unspecified amount of damages.
Pearson upheld Richmond’s gripe on the grounds Youngstown State was contractually obligated to allow Richmond to play so long as he followed university rules. Furthermore, Stone said the school had negatively influenced Richmond’s career by stifling his exposure to pro scouts.
“This is his time to shine,” Stone said. “Every opportunity to play is crucial.”
University representation Chris Corl countered that the university didn’t violate any contractual obligations to Richmond because he didn’t take advantage of a school grievance procedure before filing the suit.
A university spokesman declined to comment on Thursday. Corl spoke in court but declined comment after the hearing.
Richmond served 10 months in a juvenile prison in 2013 for raping a 16-year-old girl along with a Steubenville High School teammate at a drunken party. The case became huge and led to allegations of a cover-up to protect the Steubenville’s storied football team.
Richmond was released from his sentence in 2014. He played football at colleges in Pennsylvania and West Virginia before transferring to Youngstown State in 2016. The lawsuit stated that Richmond and his legal guardians had spoken with YSU President Jim Tressel and football coach Bo Pelini about him playing football and both were positive and supportive.
During the team’s spring game, the lawsuit describes, Richmond excelled, leading to Pelini’s saying he would play this season. Pelini announced he had decided to allow Richmond to join the team after conducting his own investigation.
But after a petition calling for Richmond to be disallowed from playing was circulated by one female student, the football team reversed its decision under pressure from the university’s Board of Trustees. Pelini then called Greg Agresta, one of Richmond’s guardians, telling him Tressel proposed that Richmond become a practice player and wait until next season to play.
After learning of a university-wide email stating that the school takes sexual assault very seriously, Richmond quit the team.
Pearson’s ruling implements a temporary restraining order against the university, allowing Richmond to play football again for the next 14 days. She has scheduled a preliminary hearing for an injunction on Sep. 28.
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