Pelini addresses situation with Richmond

YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown State football coach Bo Pelini took a long time to answer a question about the federal lawsuit for embattled football player Ma’lik Richmond coming to an end.

It was obvious Pelini put a lot of thought into his answer. He spoke passionately and with emotion, but he was careful with his words. He even stopped and collected his thoughts before talking uninterrupted for about six or seven minutes.

The well-thought out response paled in comparison to the time and thought Pelini said he put in when deciding to allow Richmond on YSU’s football team this past January.

“I’m a father,” Pelini said. “I have a son and two daughters. I understand this is an emotional issue, on both sides of things. It can be very emotional, and I understand that. I didn’t take this decision lightly at all.”

Richmond, a former Steubenville High School football player who was convicted of rape as a teenager, came to Youngstown State in the fall of 2016 as a sophomore after attending colleges in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Pelini, at first, said he denied Richmond the chance to join the team.

After numerous calls, messages and emails from Richmond’s guardians, juvenile officers and coaches, Pelini agreed to meet with Richmond.

“I listened to his story,” Pelini said. “I got to know the young man. I talked to him, his guardians, listened to them and saw how remorseful he was, and really came to know that here’s a young man sitting in front of me that four or five years prior had served a sentence, a 10-month sentence, and was looking to move on with his life.”

Still, Pelini denied Richmond the chance to join the team. Instead, Pelini broke down a detailed plan that Richmond needed to follow to earn a walk-on tryout with the Penguins. The plan, which wasn’t divulged during Tuesday’s news conference, was going to take time.

“It was about a six-point plan that you must follow X, Y and Z, and we’ll see how it goes,” Pelini recalled of their conversation. “There are no promises. You’re going to have to earn your way. He did that, pretty much every step of the way, and so here we are.”

Richmond, 21, joined the team in January and earned a spot on the roster during spring practices, but he was then told he couldn’t play in any games this season after a student petition to keep him off the team was started. Richmond then filed suit against the school on Sept. 13, and a judge issued a temporary order at a hearing that again allowed Richmond to play. A few days later, the 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end played in his first game, making two tackles late in a 59-9 victory over Central Connecticut State.

On Monday, YSU agreed to settle the lawsuit with Richmond. An attorney for Richmond said he will remain on the active roster of the football team and will undergo unspecified training as part of the agreement.

“While the settlement agreement may cause concern for some, we believe it is in the best overall interest of the university, students and the community,” Youngstown State said in a statement released Monday.

Pelini and the university have endured scrutiny for allowing Richmond on the team in the first place. Richmond served a 10-month sentence after he and a Steubenville teammate were convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl at an alcohol-fueled party in 2013. The case brought world-wide attention, and allegations of a cover-up to protect Steubenville’s program surfaced.

Richmond’s father, Nathaniel, was shot and killed in August of this year after he shot at a judge.

Ma’lik Richmond has not been available to the media since he joined the team.

“I saw an opportunity to help a young man that was looking to move on with his life,” Pelini said. “I think he earned that, not only with what he did with us but what he endured over the last four or five years. At some point, it was the time that he should be given a chance, without any guarantees. It wasn’t like I said, ‘You’re going to start. You’re going to do this’ one way or the other. I said if you want to come be a part of the football program, this is how it’s going to be.

“I thought it would be beneficial to him and our university that he be part of a culture in our program that’s based on accountability, hard work, discipline,” Pelini added. “(Being part of that culture) is not only beneficial for him as part of our community but obviously him as a young man.”

Richmond did not play in Saturday’s 19-7 win over South Dakota State. Third-ranked Youngstown State (3-1, 1-0 Missouri Valley Football Conference) plays at South Dakota at 3 p.m. Saturday.