This story has me kind of stymied, so let’s start at the beginning ...
Back on August 12, 2012, several people, including two high school football players, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, raped a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio.
Shortly after midnight, the girl, heavily intoxicated, left a party with four football players and went to a second party where the victim vomited and appeared "out of it." The same group left that party and headed to another home. During the car ride, the victim’s shirt was removed and Trent Mays digitally penetrated the her vagina and exposed her breasts while his friends filmed and photographed her.
Once reaching the house, the players took the victim to the basement where Mays attempted to orally rape the victim by forcing his penis into her mouth. She was stripped naked and the second accused, Ma'lik Richmond, also digitally penetrated the victim's vagina while she was photographed. Three witnesses to the crime took those photos back to the second party and shared them with friends.
In the days following the rapes, Trent Mays tried to orchestrate a cover-up, telling a friend, 'Just say she came to your house and passed out,' and pleading with the victim not to press charges. But Ohio investigators confiscated and analyzed 15 cellphones and two tablets, collecting hundreds of text messages and photos and videos from dozens of students.
During the trial, the victim testified in court that she had no memory of the six-hour period in which the rapes occurred, except for a brief time in which she was vomiting on the street. She said she woke up the next morning naked in a basement with Mays, Richmond and another teenage boy, missing her underwear, flip-flops, phone and earrings.
The evidence presented in court consisted of hundreds of texts and cellphone pictures taken by more than a dozen people at the parties and afterwards traded with others and posted to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
On March 17, 2013, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond were convicted of rape after the judge found they had used their fingers to digitally penetrate the victim's vagina and that it was impossible for the victim to have given consent. Ma'lik Richmond received a minimum sentence of one year for penetrating the girl while she was unconscious, while Trent Mays was given a minimum two year sentence for penetrating the girl while she was unconscious and disseminating pornographic pictures of her. Ma'lik Richmond was released from detention on January 5, 2014 and this story is about him ...
In 2016, Ma’lik Richmond transferred to Youngstown State and tried to resurrect his football career. YSU head coach Bo Pelini knew about Richmond’s transfer, and met with him in person after YSU’s 2015 season ended. Richmond made the team as a walk-on, and was slated to appear for the Penguins until a student circulated a petition demanding that YSU prohibit Richmond from playing for the team. More than 10,000 people signed the petition, and YSU officials then announced that Ma’lik Richmond would be allowed to stay on the team for practices and other team activities, but would not be allowed to play for the Penguins during the 2016-2017 season.
Richmond—who says his transfer to football powerhouse Youngstown State had nothing to do with football—sued the school for denying him the opportunity to potentially advance his professional football career and this month his lawyers and the school reached a settlement that will reinstate Ma’lik Richmond to the team.
“What is most important is that Ma’lik moves on. This is a case about Ma’lik being given all the opportunities afforded a student of good standing.”—Susan Stone, Richmond’s attorney
But what about ethics? Most colleges and universities hold their student athletes to higher levels of accountability than typical students; breaking even the smallest of team rules can result in disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal from the team. And while college athletics departments have a spotty track record for handling instances of sexual assault, players have been cut from rosters all the time for getting into legal trouble. But what about the legal trouble that occurs before the student joins a team?
During court hearings, Richmond’s legal team argued that YSU had “hurt [his] 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; this claim is absurd because no college athlete, anywhere, any time, is guaranteed a spot on a team’s roster. Still, Richmond won his case and will be allowed to play on the team, so here’s the question: when do we forgive, if that’s even the right word, and move on?
While many, myself included, think Richmond’s sentence for rape was far too light, it was the sentence given to him, and he served it. And so, do we continue to punish him for the rest of his life for a crime, albeit a sexual assault, he committed as a teenager? When do we move on? Do we move on?
I lean toward ‘Yes.’ Richmond did the crime, he did his time, he paid his debt, hoewever light that might have been; but then I think about the victim. She’ll carry this with her forever, and then, perhaps, one day she might absentmindedly be clicking though the channels on her TV and come across a professional football game and see one of her rapists playing, being celebrated for his athleticism, and making, no doubt, quite a good living off the sport.
And I lean toward ‘No.’ Have we done her a disservice? Have we once again subjected her to more victimization?
I want to think we could, and this isn’t the right word, forgive, the crime of a teenager and let him, or her, live their lives as they choose, but then I think about the life-long emotional scars on that victim and wonder if we should ever, in any way shape or form, forgive a convicted convicted rapist.
Like I said, I’m stymied. Do we continue, for the rest of his life, to punish Ma'lik Richmond for his crime and deny him the right to earn a living doing what he loves? Or, do we stand with the victim, for always, and tell this young man that all he is, and all he will ever be is a convicted rapist?
What do you think?