If the claims by the lawyers for Ma’lik Richmond, the former high school football player convicted of rape, are true, Youngstown State University President James P. Tressel is to blame for the growing controversy over Richmond’s presence on the Penguins football team.
Tressel, who has been president since June 2014, is best known for his success as a college football coach. He guided Ohio State University to a national championship after leading Youngstown State to four crowns.
It appears that Tressel’s football instincts crowded out whatever instincts he possesses as the head of a four-year institution of higher learning.
His role in Richmond’s presence on YSU’s football team was one of omission, rather than commission.
As the president, Tressel was in a position to stop the former Steubenville High School football player from joining the team.
Instead, he issued an endorsement of sorts, according to a lawsuit filed by Richmond’s lawyers against the university.
Here’s how Attys. Susan C. Stone and Kristina W. Supler of the Cleveland law firm of McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman portrayed Tressel’s involvement:
“In August 2016, his [Richmond’s] legal guardians, Greg and Jennifer Agresta, initiated contact with persons they knew at YSU in order to determine whether Ma’lik might be permitted to play. Greg also attended an event at which YSU president Jim Tressel was a speaker. He introduced himself to President Tressel, gave him a business card, and indicated they had a mutual acquaintance, Ma’lik’s high school coach, Reno Saccoccia.
“Thereafter, Coach Saccoccia initiated a call to President Tressel on Ma’lik’s behalf. President Tressel said he was fine with Ma’lik playing football at YSU, but wanted the decision to be made by YSU head football coach Bo Pellini (sic). Greg drove to YSU to meet with Coach Pellini (sic), who indicated he wanted to meet Ma’lik. Thereafter, Coach Pellini (sic) was fully supportive of Ma’lik and of his wish to play for the YSU Penguins.”
Tressel has not publicly commented on the claims made by Attys. Stone and Supler.
By contrast, Pelini has been forthcoming about his involvement in the matter. In an interview with The Vindicator, which broke the story last month about Richmond’s presence on the team, Pelini admitted that he had accepted the former Steubenville High player as a walk-on.
Indeed, here’s what the lawsuit against YSU had to say about the coach’s stance:
“Ma’lik and his guardians were very enthused about Ma’lik’s opportunity to attend and play for YSU for two reasons. First, YSU was close to home. Second, and more important, they saw YSU as a place where the coach and administrators understood the importance of second chances.”
There it is.
The details of Richmond’s behavior when he was at Steubenville are now memorialized in newspaper and television stories across America and around the world.
The fact that he and a high school football teammate 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 after being convicted of rape and was allowed to return to his high school football team for his senior year.
After attending a couple of colleges, he came to YSU in August 2016. He was largely anonymous on campus – until he showed up for football practice.
The Vindicator story by sports writer Brian Dzenis prompted a female student to launch an online petition campaign that urged Tressel and Pelini to bar Richmond from further participation in football.
The thousands of signatures on the online petitions, together with the outcry in the community, forced YSU to revisit the decision.
It subsequently put out a statement that said, in part:
“Youngstown State University takes the matter of sexual assault very seriously and continues to educate everyone within the campus community about the impact and prevention of sexual assault.”
The statement also said Richmond would not play in the Fall 2017 season, but would be part of the football program as a practice player.
That decision prompted the lawsuit by Richmond in federal court that sought a temporary restraining order and ultimately seeks a permanent injunction.
On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Benita Pearson in Youngstown granted the TRO and said YSU must allow Richmond to be on the team. Judge Pearson made it clear that any decision by Coach Pelini about playing time must be based on standards that are applied to all players.
On Friday, the university appealed the judge’s decision to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. The appeals court refused to set aside the lower court’s decision.
In filing the appeal on behalf of YSU, Atty. Christina Corl of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office argued that the decision to keep Richmond off the field was not meant as a sanction against him, but rather a decision made in the best interests of the university, the student body and Richmond.
Why were the best interests of the university, the student body and the player not considered by President Tressel, Coach Pelini, Athletic Director Ron Strollo when they first dealt with the issue?
Indeed, why wasn’t Tressel’s immediate reaction when he was first approached about Richmond playing for YSU an unequivocal “No!”?
Tressel and Pelini, who came to Youngstown State from Nebraska, both have dirty laundry that has been aired publicly with regard to their coaching careers.
The Richmond scandal has sports writers around the country rehashing the details of their falls from grace.