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Puskas: Throwing a flag on Big Red

Published: Sun, August 17, 2014 @ 12:08 a.m.

This column is not for the Steubenville football program, its largely myopic fan base or Big Red football coach Reno Saccoccia.

In welcoming convicted Tier II rapist Ma’lik Richmond back to the Steubenville football team, it is clear they don’t care what anyone else thinks.

All they care about is what happens under the Friday night lights on Reno Saccoccia Field at Harding Stadium.

The legendary venue also goes by another name — Death Valley.

Death (to common sense and morals) Valley, that is.

Just win, baby.

And that rape stuff, just forget about it. Get over it.

What’s really important is how Richmond will help Big Red win games this fall.

After all, he paid his debt to society in a nine-month stint in a youth detention facility. Fellow rapist Trent Mays, convicted along with Richmond, is still serving his two-year sentence.

Richmond has been back at Steubenville High School since his January release. Last week, the public at large learned he’s also back with the football team.

And if you don’t like it, Saccoccia and a significant portion of Big Red supporters have a message for you.

Mind your own business. This is Steubenville and this is how we roll.

You and I, with teenaged daughters or a sense of right and wrong — in many cases both — are not going to change the culture there.

There seems little regard for a young girl who will have to deal with having been violated — and filmed in the process — for the rest of her life. Thousands won’t be cheering for her on Friday nights. But many mocked her on social media and in the streets thanks to Mays and Richmond.

Thirty years ago, 15 members of my high school’s football team were suspended for the season for admitting to drinking beer.

Things sure have changed in what feels like a relatively short time.

Or is it just Steubenville that lost its way?

Not everyone there has, of course. But good people who don’t kneel in idolatry at the altar of Big Red football are afraid to speak out against Saccoccia and other enablers in a crumbling rustbelt town that clings to the promise of football glory above all else.

Participating in high school sports is not even a right. It’s a privilege. No one is denying Richmond a chance to get an education and to try to become a good citizen.

If Saccoccia was a true leader, he’d help Richmond do that, but only as a manager. Let the kid wash uniforms and haul equipment if he wants to be part of the team.

Like that would happen.

This column isn’t for those who’ve already sold their souls. It’s for Steubenville’s 10 opponents. One of them is Ursuline, which has a Sept. 12 date in Death Valley. In fact, nine of Big Red’s regular-season games will be there unless good sense triumphs.

Those schools should deliver a collective blow to Steubenville by refusing to play a team with a convicted sex offender on its roster.

Hit Big Red where it hurts — at the gate.

No conscience in Steubenville? Then no games there, either.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association says Richmond’s status is a decision for the school.

If Steubenville isn’t going to do the right thing, someone else should.

Write Vindicator Sports Editor Ed Puskas at epuskas@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @EdPuskas_Vindy.

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