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Rape is deeply, inexcusably wrong. What part of that does the Steubenville City School District not understand?

When Steubenville's Big Red football team took the field on Tuesday in a scrimmage against Cambridge, Ma'lik Richmond, 17, was back as a wide receiver.

This comes after he spent the better part of a year in a juvenile detention center for taking part in the rape of a 16-year-old girl during a night of drunken partying.

Richmond was released in January and went back to school, but the district in Jefferson County along the Ohio River suspended him from extracurriculars for the rest of that school year. But now he's allowed to play -- just as that storied football team heads into another season.

His former teammate, Trent Mays, 18, remains locked up, serving a year for the rape and another for disseminating photos of the naked, unconscious victim.

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Richmond will be representing his high school and his hometown as a member of the team. Is this the public face the district wants to show? Is this the message that it wants to send?

"We don't deal in death sentences for juvenile activity, and I just feel that he's earned a second chance," said his coach, Reno Saccoccia.

One might buy that this is a sincere belief in second chances -- not just a cynical excuse to give the past state-championship team a boost with one of its stars -- if adults in that district, including the superintendent, didn't stand accused of tampering with evidence and lying about the crime to protect their all-important team.

Ohio High School Athletic Association spokesman Tim Stried told the Associated Press that it's up to the school to determine whether a student can participate in sports. Richmond's participation isn't breaking any rules. But maybe there should be a rule. Clearly, not all districts have the same priorities.

In 2009, for example, Upper Arlington High School's principal suspended nine senior football players for a game for making an obscene hand gesture in a team photo.

On the college front, Ohio State Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer teaches his team core values, including "treat women with respect," and he has suspended players for violating that.

Sports is supposed to be character-building.

If coaches and schools want to continue to make that claim, they need to be ready to back it up with consequences for players who show a lack of character.

Richmond is young, and watching his tearful apology to the girl's mother in court makes that vulnerability clear.

It's also heartbreaking to watch his own mother sobbing and his father pleading with the judge to spare his son. Any parent can imagine their anguish.

But any feeling person likewise can imagine the anguish of the victim's mother and father as they found out what happened that horrible night and saw the cruel Twitter posts, photos and video of their child being violated and degraded.

One hopes Richmond is using the experience of this past couple of years to mature and redeem himself.

But his high school is doing enough for his future by allowing him to complete his education. It doesn't need to again elevate him to Friday night celebrity.


August 16, 2014


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