By Justin Wier
Ma’lik Richmond is eligible to participate in Saturday’s Youngstown State University football game after a ruling by Judge Benita Y. Pearson in U.S. District Court late Thursday.
Judge Pearson granted a temporary restraining order against YSU, which had previously issued a statement that said Richmond would be allowed to remain on the team but not participate in athletic competition after a petition circulated asking for his removal.
Richmond is one of two football players found delinquent by a juvenile court judge in a 2012 Steubenville High School rape case.
The restraining order prohibits YSU from forbidding Richmond to play – unless the action results from a legitimate coaching decision based on criteria the coach would apply to other players. Athletic department spokesman Trevor Parks would not say if Richmond will play this Saturday against Central Connecticut State.
“We’re aware of it and we’ll address it when we have more information,” Parks said of the order Thursday night.
A complaint filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday claims Richmond was denied the right to play football this season despite not having violated the student code of conduct – a breach of contract – and without due process in violation of the 14th Amendment.
It also claims the university discriminated against Richmond on the basis of his sex, in violation of Title IX – a federal law which requires universities to provide the same opportunities to both male and female students.
Richmond’s lawyers had filed a motion arguing that he should be allowed to play while the case is being adjudicated.
The temporary restraining order extends until Sept. 28 at 2 p.m., when an injunction hearing will take place.
“There is a great interest in having law and order upheld,” Judge Pearson ruled from the bench. “But there is an equal interest in meeting expectations and keeping promises.”
Richmond’s attorneys argued that when Richmond paid tuition, he entered into a contract that said as long as he abided by the student code of conduct he was entitled to the same rights as any other student.
“It’s important [schools] don’t shift policy just because the tide of public opinion changes,” Richmond’s attorney Susan Stone argued.
Judge Pearson said the breach-of-contract claim was the strongest in Richmond’s complaint.
Columbus attorney Christina Corl argued on behalf of YSU. She claimed the Ohio Revised Code gives the president of a university the ultimate authority regarding intercollegiate athletics.
“The ORC does not give the president the right to trample on a student’s civil rights, and that’s what’s been done here,” Stone argued.
YSU acted “because of a petition that screamed sexual assault on campus. However, no sexual assault occurred,” Stone claimed.
She argued that Title IX has been used to “capitulate the rape frenzy” which has occurred on college campuses and said no frenzy should have occurred at YSU.
“The plaintiff’s Title IX claims are square pegs attempting to be put in round holes,” Corl said.
To make a Title IX case, Corl said Richmond’s attorneys must prove he was treated differently than a female student in the same circumstances would have been and they made no attempt to show that.
Judge Pearson suggested Richmond may have a stronger case once his attorneys gather more evidence for the following hearing.
The parties also discussed whether not playing football would irreparably harm Richmond.
His attorneys argued that fewer games provide him with fewer chances to impress NFL scouts and further his athletic career.
Corl cited an affidavit by YSU Athletic Director Ron Strollo claiming two years of eligibility is plenty of time for Richmond to prove himself.
“Every court that has heard that claim has rejected it on grounds that it’s speculative,” she said.
That is, at this time, it’s unclear whether Richmond would have an NFL career were he able to play this year.
“Isn’t the athletic director’s statement just as speculative?” Judge Pearson asked.
Richmond would be irreparably harmed if he’s not allowed to play Saturday because he never again will have the opportunity to play football for YSU on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, Judge Pearson said.
“It must be answered whether or not [Richmond] can remove this taint which has been attached to him, whether intentional or not,” Pearson ruled.