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Copyright 2014 Charleston Newspapers
Charleston Daily Mail (West Virginia)

WHEELING - It would have been easy for Steubenville High School football Coach Reno Saccoccia to say no when Ma'Lik Richmond asked to rejoin the team. But Saccoccia chose to give Richmond a second chance - and he should be supported in that.

Richmond, of course, is the teenager who was convicted of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old Weirton girl in August 2012. Another student, Trent Mays, also was convicted.

What they did was wrong. It will leave their victim with lifelong emotional scars. That aspect of the situation should never be overlooked or minimized.

But Richmond served nine months in a juvenile detention facility and is required to register as a sex offender. He has apologized for his actions.

And Richmond is just a teenager himself, about the same age as his victim. After being released from youth detention, Richmond went back to Steubenville High School in January. During the spring semester, he was suspended from all extra-curricular activities.

Now, Saccoccia has allowed him to rejoin the football team. No doubt the coach will be criticized, even vilified, severely by some.

Robert Fitzsimmons, the Wheeling attorney representing the rape victim, will not be among them. Fitzsimmons has represented his young client vigorously, at one point protesting in court that not enough attention was paid to her suffering.

But Fitzsimmons believes Saccoccia made the right decision. He said being on the team "will be very good for (Richmond). Coach Saccoccia will be a very positive influence in what was a very bad situation.

Precisely.

High school athletes often are referred to as "young men. But Richmond was just a boy - 16 years old - when he and Mays commited their crime. His youth then and now, along with the remorse he expressed, argue in favor of a chance to redirect his life.

Playing football may be viewed as a second chance. But if Saccoccia treats Richmond as we are certain many coaches would, it also will be a test of the lad's character.

Far from being viewed as excusing his crime, Saccoccia's tough call should be seen as part of the process of rehabilitating Richmond, both for his own good and that of the community he will join after high school.

A DIFFERENT OPINION: Steubenville Wrong to Reinstate Sex Offender

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