After being told that he could not play on the Youngstown State football team this season, Ma’lik Richmond—who was found guilty of rape in juvenile court as a high schooler in the 2013 Steubenville, Ohio, case—is suing the university.
In the lawsuit, Richmond claims that Youngstown State took “biased, improper, and damaging action” to block him from the team. He served less than 10 months of a year-long sentence in juvenile detention and, after being released in 2014, he returned to Steubenville High to play football for his senior season. He attended different small colleges in West Virginia and Pennsylvania for a few months each without playing football before enrolling at Youngstown State as a sophomore in August 2016 and walking onto the team this past winter. Though the school came under public fire for allowing him a roster spot, with thousands signing a petition against it, head coach Bo Pelini publicly defended the decision. Soon after, however, Youngstown State announced that he would not play in games this season and would forfeit a year of eligibility while staying on the practice squad.
On Wednesday, a month after the university’s announcement that he would not play, Richmond filed his lawsuit. The suit accuses Youngstown State’s decision to rob him of “one precious and irreplaceable year of NCAA eligibility” as having been made “arbitrarily and capriciously, without the existence of any wronged individual, without any evidence of wrongdoing or charges of misconduct, without the undertaking of any investigatory or disciplinary process, without an opportunity being provided to Ma’lik to even attempt to obtain due process, and ultimately, without any cause for discipline whatsoever.”
According to the lawsuit, the suggestion to move Richmond to the practice squad came from university president Jim Tressel, in response to pressure from the board of trustees once the petition began circulating online. Pelini called Richmond’s guardians with the suggestion, which they immediately rejected. A few hours later, however, Youngstown State sent an email to the entire school saying that Richmond would not be allowed to play on the team and would forfeit a year of eligibility while on the practice squad—claiming that the university takes sexual assault seriously and would give Richmond a year to “benefit from group participation, the lessons of hard work and discipline, as well as the camaraderie and guidance of the staff and teammates,” according to the emailed statement.
The suit claims that neither Pelini nor Richmond nor his guardians were made aware of the university’s decision before the statement was released publicly.
Richmond is seeking a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order against Youngstown State that would immediately block them from removing him from the team. He accuses the school of violating due process and claims that they did not have the right to take his roster spot. It points to a section of the school’s student-athlete handbook that labels sports an “integral part of our campus educational program” to assert that denying Richmond a spot on the football team is denying him the right to an education.
The suit goes on to criticize Youngstown State for being “infected by an anti-male bias that has swept across America’s universities and colleges” after recognizing the petition to remove him from the team, which was started by a female student:
In acting against Ma’lik, YSU elevated an informal rebuke by a female student to a disciplinary level complaint. Defendant acted with bias against Ma’lik, a male student in good standing, because a female student publically criticized the university, President Tressel, and Coach Pellini for supporting a “rape culture” in which “athletes have constantly been given additional chances because they are athletes,” who “can do no wrong,” and “can get away with anything.” The unstated but clear implication was that she was referring solely to male athletes.
The Ohio attorney general filed a response to the suit today, saying that the complaint should be dismissed as it has “no likelihood of success.” The response largely focuses on the lawsuit’s claim of gender discrimination, asserting that Richmond has nothing with which to back up such an idea.
Plaintiffs Complaint is entirely devoid of any factual allegations tying this case to his gender. Plaintiff has not pointed to any statements by members of university administration showing gender bias. Instead, he makes conclusory and entirely speculative allegations in an attempt to support his claim of gender bias, claiming that YSU has been pressured by the student body, the media and the U.S. Department of Education to adopt a gender-biased stance.
The response goes on to note that there is a student-athlete grievance procedure in place, in which Richmond did not participate or try to participate before suing. It ultimately determines that the motion for a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order should be denied.
YSU has a responsibility — not just to Plaintiff — but to the whole student population and the community at large. In this case, the student population voiced its concern that YSU’s welcoming and sympathetic treatment of Plaintiff would send a message to the University community that if one is an athlete, one does not really have to pay much of a price for being found responsible for sexual assault, whether on campus or off. In balancing those interests, as any good university administration must, a decision was made to continue to encourage Plaintiff’s participation but also to send a message that sexual assault is taken seriously at YSU. As such, Plaintiff stayed on the active roster of the football team but will not be playing this year. Simply put, this was a decision in the sound discretion of the YSU Athletic Department, made after consultation with University administration and the coaching staff.
Richmond’s lawsuit can be found in full below:
And here is the Ohio Attorney General’s response:
Update (9:00 p.m. ET): A judge has now ruled in favor of the temporary restraining order. Richmond is therefore eligible to play in this weekend’s game against Central Connecticut State.
“During the pendency of this case, Defendant is prohibited from either (i) removing Plaintiff from the active player roster of its football team or (ii) forbidding Plaintiff to play in games, unless such actions result from legitimate coaching decisions based solely upon criteria the coach would apply in evaluating other members of the team.”