Ma'lik Richmond sues for spot on Penguin football roster - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Ma'lik Richmond sues for spot on Penguin football roster

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -

The Youngstown State University football player benched following controversy over a previous rape conviction has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against YSU seeking to place him back on the roster as soon as this weekend.

A 29-page complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Youngstown alleges that the university singled out Ma'lik Richmond, denied him due process, and violated a contract he had with the university by violating promises made to him.

Judge Benita Pearson has set a hearing for Thursday afternoon for both sides to argue Richmond's request for a temporary restraining order preventing YSU keeping him off the active roster or keeping him from playing in games for reasons other than legitimate coaching decisions.

Richmond served a year in a juvenile detention facility after he and another Steubenville High School football player were convicted in the 2012 rape of a 16-year-old-girl during a party.

Although Richmond enrolled at YSU as a student in 2016 and joined the football team in January of 2017, the controversy didn't arise until media reports made that information public in August.

Online petition drives in support and in opposition to Richmond's team membership were undertaken.

Within a week, the university announced that while Richmond would continue to be a part of the football program as a practice player, he would forfeit a year of eligibility.

Richmond's lawsuit says the university's actions are biased, improper, and damaging, causing him to suffer substantial harm due to “the loss of one precious and irreplaceable year of NCAA eligibility.”

The lawsuit says Richmond chose YSU both because it was close to home and because he believed that Head Football Coach Bo Pellini and University President Jim Tressel might look beyond what the suit characterizes as “serious mistakes he had made and paid for as a juvenile” and to help him to achieve his educational goals and his dream of playing professional football.

The suit claims that Richmond's high school coach Reno Saccoccia called Tressel, who according to the complaint, said he was fine with Richmond playing football for YSU, but wanted the decision to be made by Pellini.

Richmond and his legal guardians met with Coach Pellini in his office in August 2016, according to the lawsuit. It was at that meeting, the complaint contends, Pellini told them that he would stand by Ma’lik “no matter what,” felt that Ma’lik had served his time for his mistake in high school, and wanted Ma’lik to be on the team.

Coach Pellini allegedly offered Richmond the choice of joining the team immediately as a walk-on, (a non-recruited, non-scholarship player) or waiting until the beginning of the 2017 season to walk on.

The coach is said to have noted that it was late to be starting last year's football season and suggested that Richmond would benefit from a delay by having time to learn the playbook, work out and get acclimated to YSU.

The suit says Richmond agreed to wait and Pellini assigned assistant coach Roland Smith to work with Richmond in preparation for the 2017 season.

After trying out for the team in January, Pellini allegedly told Richmond that he would play a lot during the season and would be a big help to the team, according to the complaint.

After it became known that Richmond was on the team, student Katelyn Davis published her online petition to have him removed from the Penguin roster because of his rape conviction.

The lawsuit says that as a result of the public outcry when Richmond expressed unwillingness to return to practice in mid-August, Coach Pellini, Coach Smith and three of Richmond’s teammates, jumped in a car and drove to Steubenville to talk to Ma’lik.

Coach Pellini, according to the complaint, apologized for the situation and told him that he felt Richmond had the skill to play in the NFL if he applied himself, comparing Ma’lik’s ability to that of a YSU player who had just been drafted by the New England Patriots.

The lawsuit says Richmond's s guardians drove to Youngstown and met with YSU’s Nicole Kent-Strollo, Director of Student Outreach and Support and wife of athletic director Ron Strollo. Ms. Strollo indicated that a satisfactory resolution to the public pressure might be for Ma’lik to undergo counseling and to do community outreach by speaking about sexual assault.

The suit claims that the suggestion that Richmond undergo counseling “ignored the fact that Ma’lik had not violated any YSU conduct rule and had not been implicated in a sexual assault while at YSU.”

According to the complaint, on or around August 9, Coach Pellini called Greg Agresta, one of Richmond's guardians and told him that there was a lot of pressure being exerted by the university Board of Trustees and that President Tressel was proposing that Richmond be restricted to participating as a practice player and wait until the following year to play in games.

Guardian Jen Agresta rejected the suggestion and met with Tressel and Ron Strollo who, according to the complaint, suggested that Richmond become a “developmental redshirt” which would hold him back a year without losing eligibility.

The suit says that Richmond could not technically be redshirted and did not require “development.” The Agrestas say they spoke later that same day with Coach Pellini who told them that Richmond was practicing and performing better than ever and probably would be a starter at some point.

The suit says the university announced the decision to keep Richmond from playing without first informing Pellini.

In three paragraphs, Richmond's attorney criticizes the university's reaction to the online petition posted in opposition to him being a member of the team.

“In releasing the Statement and enacting the restrictions announced therein, YSU humiliated and penalized Ma’lik Richmond (who had committed no sanctionable offense) and capitulated to the petition of Katelyn Davis, a female student who, without ever having had contact with Ma’lik and without alleging any conduct violation by him, demanded that he be sanctioned by YSU.”

"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

"Defendant’s actions were the result of unwarranted deference to female-led advocacy that amounted to little more than opinionated debate."

The lawsuit says Richmond violated nothing in the YSU Student Code of Conduct or the terms of a Student Athlete's Rights and Responsibilities handbook.

In addition to the restraining order against the university, the suit seeks unspecified monetary damages and attorney fees.

The lawsuit mentions that Richmond has already missed two Penguin games and the next game is Saturday at home against the Central Connecticut Blue Devils.

Richmond is asking that a jury hear his case.

The complaint may be read here

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