A convicted rapist who was at the center of one of the ugliest sagas in recent prep sports history is back on his school's football team, less than two years after the alleged assault took place.
As reported by Cleveland ABC affiliate WEWS and Wheeling, W. Va. CBS affiliate WTRF, among other outlets, Ma'lik Richmond rejoined the Steubenville High Big Red football team on Monday with the blessing of the team's longtime head coach, Reno Saccoccia.
Richmond was released from juvenile detention in January 2014 after serving 10 months following his conviction on sexual assault charges. Richmond's conviction classified him as a Tier II sex offender, which requires him to register with state officials every 180 days for the next 20 years.
It's no surprise that Richmond's reinstatement generated a firestorm of controversy both in Ohio and nationwide, as many expressed outrage over the perceived leniency in his punishment. The fact that Richmond is back competing in his chosen sport less than two years after he was convicted of a heinous crime is made more galling when compared with the punishment issued to Deric Lostutter, the Anonymous hacker who is largely credited with exposing the subsequent cover up by members of the football program and school; Lostutter was sentenced to 10 years in jail for hacking into public computer systems.
The truth is that Richmond is probably only still a member of the team because of the classification of his crime; Steubenville district policy calls for anyone convicted of a felony to serve a one-year athletic suspension, but there is no such rule for misdemeanors, regardless of any violent nature.
Meantime, Richmond is back at practice, and Saccoccia is advocating for his continued involvement with all school activities, citing the need for the student athlete to receive a second chance.
"I feel he's earned a second chance," Saccoccia told WEWS. "We don't deal in death sentences for juvenile activity. I just feel he's earned a second chance. I thought about it hard, and I'm going with that decision. "(Richmond is) one of 55 players that are in good standing with their teammates and coaches. He will have the same opportunities as all the other players."
Richmond was playing as a linebacker and wide receiver in early practices and could have an immediate impact on the Big Red's season.
The other teen convicted in the assault, Trent Mays, remains in prison after receiving a two-year sentence; Richmond's sentence was for one year, commutable to 10 months on good behavior.
"I want to be shocked, but I think we all knew it was bound to happen," Alexandra Goddard, who helped bring the incident to national attention, told BuzzFeed. "Steubenville City Schools hasn't really done a lot in the past two years to prove to the world that they don't tolerate rape culture and allowing a Tier II registered sex offender on the team pretty much solidifies the assumption that they are concerned about wins rather than the safety of young girls or the destruction of rape culture in their area."