(The opening paragraph is a play on that great Country song “Drop Kick Me Jesus (Through the Goalposts of Life)”
Last week, Youngstown State University was drop kicked through the goalposts of shame by a New York newspaper sports columnist over the Ma’lik Richmond scandal. Make no mistake about it: What occurred between YSU’s Athletic Department and convicted rapist Richmond is a scandal.
It was just a matter of time before the decision by the university’s higher-ups to let Richmond join the Penguins’ football team caught the attention of journalists outside the Mahoning Valley.
Boy, did it ever with sports columnist Evan Grossman of the New York Daily News.
Here’s the headline to Grossman’s piece published Friday: “Youngstown State president Jim Tressel, football coach Bo Pelini jerks for allowing convicted rapist to join team.” The subhead read, “Youngstown State head coach Bo Pelini is one of the jerks of the week.”
The opening paragraph went for the jugular:
“If you’re looking for a college team to hate-watch this season, a team to root against every Saturday and hope for terrible things like last-second losses and missed field goals and fumbles to happen to, look no further than Youngstown State. That’s because in a college football landscape littered with them, these guys might be the biggest jerks of all.”
Would someone please pass the ointment to Tressel and Pelini to salve the deep cuts caused by Grossman’s word-slashing?
YSU’s president and the university’s head football coach will also need some counseling, given their unfamiliarity with being publicly berated in such a blunt manner. After all, hero-worship is a characteristic of a goodly number of Valley residents when it comes to the rich and/or famous.
In his column of 1,000-plus words, Grossman used the word “jerk” or “jerks” eight times to describe Tressel, Pelini and others involved in the Richmond matter.
In setting the stage for his no-holds-barred criticism of Youngstown State, the New York journalist had this to say:
“First and foremost, Youngstown State President Jim Tressel and head coach Bo Pelini are allowing a convicted rapist to join the Penguins’ football team. That’s bad enough. But rushing to the front of the line to give a kid who was convicted of raping an unconscious girl in high school a second chance is only half of what makes these guys the biggest jerks in sports this week.”
The details of Richmond’s criminal behavior are now memorialized in newspaper and television stories across America and around the world. The fact that Richmond and a high school football teammate at Steubenville High School preyed on a defenseless girl and took pictures that they shared with friends shocked the senses of all decent human beings.
Richmond served 10 months in juvenile detention and was permitted to return to his high school football team for his senior year.
After attending a couple of colleges, he came to Youngstown State in August 2016. He was largely anonymous on campus – until he showed up for football practice as a walk-on.
That’s when the Penguin guano hit the fan.
Vindicator Sports Writer Brian Dzenis broke the story of the convicted rapist joining the football team, and it triggered an intense debate in the Mahoning Valley.
Online petitions showed more people opposed to Richmond playing for YSU than those who believe the young man has been punished for his crime and has earned a second chance.
The word “redemption” has become the neon sign for those who believe the football player is deserving of our understanding.
But the New York newspaper writer offered this observation that undoubtedly will be embraced by most thoughtful people:
“Richmond needs football like he needs a hole in his head. Had Pelini left the kid alone, nobody would have known Richmond’s story on campus, he could have [gone] about his business in peace. Now he is the face of Youngstown football, for better or worse, and he is smack in the middle of a controversy. Thanks, coach.”
Just days after The Vindicator’s story broke, Youngstown State announced that Richmond would not play this season, but he will be permitted to practice with the team.
While Tressel, Pelini, and Athletic Director Ron Strollo deserve some praise for recognizing that the Richmond situation had become untenable, Youngstown State University’s reputation has taken a national hit.
It should come as no surprise that the Daily News’ Grossman referred to Tressel’s and Pelini’s own travails in explaining why there was such a myopic view when it came to convicted rapist Richmond.
“If you’ve followed Pelini’s career, you know he has a long track record of being a jerk. Like the time at Nebraska when the hot-tempered coach was caught on an expletive-filled audio recording cursing out Nebraska media and fans. “F--k all of you.’ F--k ‘em,” Pelini said. The same guy assembled his team off-campus and torched administrators in a meeting after he lost his job. Former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, who hired Pelini, questioned his “character” after Pelini was fired by the school in 2014.
“His boss at Youngstown, Tressel, isn’t much better. This, of course, is the same guy who left Ohio State in disgrace in 2011 when the NCAA accused him of cheating, lying, and keeping players eligible and active when he knew they were violating NCAA rules. That was all part of the school’s infamous tattoo parlor memorabilia scandal.
“These guys know all about second chances, so it must make them feel good to give one to a kid who did something awful and disgusting when he was in high school. But Tressel and Pelini and the rest of the Youngstown administration have completely botched the whole thing by announcing ... that Richmond can practice and be a part of the football team this year, but he can’t play in 2017.”
By now, some crusty old sports writer has undoubtedly chosen this moniker for Youngstown State University: “School for Scoundrels”.