By Rachel Gobep
Ma’lik Richmond was granted a temporary restraining order against Youngstown State University on Thursday night, after a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Bonita Pearson.
This decision will make Richmond eligible to participate in the Penguin’s football team for the next 14 days and prohibits YSU from preventing him to play.
The hearing at the Youngstown Federal Court began at 3 p.m. After hours of negation between YSU and Richmond behind closed doors, the two parties entered the court room at 6:50 p.m.
Richmond was one of two Steubenville High School football players convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl in 2012. His association with the team caused a backlash at YSU and the community. Online petitions circulated on August 5, both in favor of his participation and in attempt to have him removed from the team.
On Wednesday, Richmond filed a federal lawsuit against the university as a result of the school allowing him to join the football team as a walk-on, but not permitting him to play in the 2017 season per a statement released by YSU on August 9.
The complaint stated Richmond was denied his right to due process, violating the 14th Amendment because he is a student in good-standing and did not infringe the YSU Student-Athlete Handbook or the Student Code of Conduct. There is also a breach of contract claim.
In addition, a claim was made that the university discriminated against him due to his gender and sex, which is a violation of Title IX. This federal law calls for universities to provide the same opportunities to students and athletes, no matter their gender. There is also a breach of contract claim.
“The relationship between a student and a university is contractual in nature,” Richmond’s council, Susan Stone said, citing Al Dabagh v. Case Western Reserve University.
Stone argued that Richmond’s tuition payment to the university entered him into a contract with the university, which entitles him to the same rights of all other students.
Judge Pearson said the breach of contract claim was the strongest for Richmond.
Christina Corl, a Columbus attorney, represented YSU. She said she does not agree and there is no breach of contract in the case.
She added there is no Title IX claim in this case; Richmond’s council must prove he was treated differently than females in the same situation as him. According to Corl, the allegation of a woman in this circumstance has not been made.
Judge Pearson said it is too early to know if there is someone of a different gender in this situation.
Corl argued that the Ohio Revised Code states that the decision for a player to remain on the team the president of the universities only.
Judge Person questioned the president’s authority on this matter, asking when else had Jim Tressel, YSU’s president, coached a team and made decisions
“The Ohio State Revised Code does not give the president that right to trump a student’s civil rights, breach a contract or effect future eligibility,” Stone said.
Citing an affidavit by YSU’s athletic director, Ron Strollo, Corl said losing a season at YSU will have no effect on Richmond’s NFL eligibility, considering he will have two more years to play.
Corl also claims Richmond has no proof at this stage that proves not playing could harm his eligibility and it is speculative, as other courts have ruled.
Richmond was advised by the campus staff to integrate into the campus community and then he could play, Stone said.
“Every year of eligibility is critical for Richmond to show his abilities. Richmond is healthy and free of injuries – it is his time to shine. He is being deprived of playing when he is at his peak,” Stone said.
Stone also noted Richmond’s participation on the team will not cause substantial harm to the university, other than the community criticism.
“Even if he does not go into the NFL, he should be allowed to play in Saturday’s game,” Stone concluded.
Ron Cole, YSU’s public information officer said the university does not have any further statements at this time and are aware of the ruling.
An injunction hearing will take place on Sept. 28 at 2 p.m. at Youngstown’s Federal Court House.