Students at Youngstown State University are protesting the inclusion of Steubenville rapist Ma’lik Richmond in the school's football team, the Huffington Post reported Monday. Richmond was one of two high schoolers convicted in 2013 of raping a 16-year-old girl and posting footage of the assault online. He joined the Youngstown football team in January, but students at the school have since launched a petition demanding that he be removed from the team.
"For many years, athletes have constantly been given additional chances because they are athletes," reads the Change.org petition, which has over 7,300 signatures as of this writing. "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 will be delivered to Jim Tressel, the school's president, along with the head football coach Bo Pelini.
When he was a student at Steubenville High School in 2012, Richmond and another member of the school's football team, Trent Mays, filmed themselves sexually assaulting an intoxicated 16-year-old. In the subsequent rape trial, both received delinquent verdicts (the equivalent of a guilty verdict for minors). Richmond served a little under a year in a youth facility, and he was allowed to continue playing for Steubenville's football team after his release in 2014.
The authors of the petition preemptively addressed one of the likely responses: the idea that Richmond deserves "a second chance." They note that, though that may be the case, that "second chance" doesn't entitle him to a spot on the school's football team.
"Does [Richmond] deserve a second chance?," the petition reads. "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.”
Coach Pelini defended his decision to allow Richmond on the team. "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," Pelini told WFMJ. "He did those things and continues to do those things right now, and he's done a nice job for us."
The petitioners at Change.org aren't the only ones condemning Pelini's decision, however. The Youngstown Student Government Association weighed in as well team, saying in a statement that letting Richmond play "completely disregards the year's long work that has been undertaken by the administration of the university to increase the awareness and prevention of sexual assault across campus."
"[The Youngstown SGA] urges YSU Athletics to reconsider the decision to allow Ma'lik Richmond to play and take into consideration the kind of message it sends to the university community, specifically victims of sexual assault," the student group said.