Ma'lik Richmond is getting a chance to play football again, this time at Youngstown State, 4½ years after being convicted in a juvenile court of raping a passed-out, 16-year-old girl when he was a wide receiver for Steubenville (Ohio) High School.
Richmond served less than 10 months of a one-year sentence before returning to Steubenville and its football team for his senior year in 2014. He transferred to YSU in the fall of 2016 after attending Potomac State College of West Virginia University and California University of Pennsylvania, without playing football for either school. He walked on for the Penguins in January, and last weekend, petitions to remove him from the team circulated.
Richmond won't be permitted to compete this year, but his ability to be part of the squad at all raises a question about second chances and how far they should extend.
In a statement this week, YSU said it doesn't restrict students' abilities to partake in extracurricular activities if they're in "good standing" with the school, adding that those activities help a student succeed. Richmond will forfeit a year of eligibility and will continue as a practice player, and "he will be given the opportunity to benefit from group participation, the lessons of hard work and discipline, as well as the camaraderie and guidance of the staff and teammates," according to the statement.
There's absolutely something to be said for the rehabilitative nature of campus activities for troubled students. In particular, the benefits of providing an education to those who have done their time are undeniable. A 2004 study by the UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research found that a "$1 million investment in incarceration will prevent about 350 crimes, while that same investment in correctional education will prevent more than 600 crimes." In other words, correctional education is nearly twice as effective as punitive measures.
There's also something to be said for the merit of second chances for young people, particularly juveniles, who make a "mistake" -- a word bandied about by Twitter defenders and even fellow students to describe Richmond's crime. At the same time, one wonders what compels others to diminish a rape conviction to a mere "mistake."
Many defenders of Richmond note that he served his time. Whether nearly 10 months of a one-year sentence is enough time is up for debate, one to be taken up with the justice system. And YSU said Richmond had to integrate himself within the campus community, academically and socially, before he and coaches could discuss a tryout.
But what about the prestige inevitably lent to college football players, whether or not they're eligible to play in their first year? Education, certainly, is a right. Sports are a privilege, one that confers both status and, as we've seen, certain advantages -- hall passes, if you will -- for bad behavior. The hope is that the discipline of being part of a team contributes to Richmond's rehabilitation; the fear is that the privilege of eventually being a star football player once more might lead to recidivism.
The Southeastern Conference and Indiana University have each adopted policies that prevent bringing in transfers or recruits who have a history of sexual assault, though neither policy would necessarily apply to Richmond. The SEC limits transfers of players with violent histories at other universities, while IU's solely prevents those convicted of, or who have pleaded guilty or no contest to, a felony involving sexual violence.
The NCAA should continue to provide further guidance to member schools on just how to handle such cases. On Thursday, the association announced a new policy mandating sexual violence prevention training to coaches and athletes each year. And as we've seen in the NFL, teams will only use their best judgment in signing players with violent pasts if they have to.
Until more stringent guidelines are established throughout, however, we're left wondering where second chances meet missed opportunities.