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University appeals order allowing Ohio man to play football

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — An Ohio university is asking a federal appeals court to block a judge's decision to allow a man convicted of rape as a teen to play in a college football game as early as Saturday.

Ma'lik Richmond sued Youngstown State University this week after the school allowed him to join the football team as a walk-on and then told him he couldn't play this season. He's seeking reinstatement to the team's active roster along with attorney fees and an unspecified amount of damages.

Late Thursday, federal Judge Benita Pearson issued a temporary order allowing Ma'lik Richmond, of Steubenville, to play football for Youngstown State University for the next 14 days, including in a 2 p.m. game Saturday against Central Connecticut State University. Pearson scheduled a hearing Sept. 28 on whether to make the order permanent.

One of Richmond's attorneys, Susan Stone, said they are pleased with the decision.

"Ma'lik has been working very, very hard, practicing every day, and he's excited about Saturday's game," she said.

The university appealed Pearson's order Friday morning. The appeal argued the school had a right to stop Richmond from playing to prevent campus protests and disruptions to the team.

"It is beyond harm to the University to have this temporary restraining order enforced," the university said it its appeal.

The appeal requires a judge's ruling by noon Saturday, before the game is set to begin.

During Thursday's hearing, Stone argued the university was contractually obliged to allow Richmond to play so long as he followed university rules. She said the university hurt Richmond's football career prospects by curtailing his exposure to professional scouts at the peak of his abilities, and that the order was necessary to prevent Richmond from losing any more playing time.

An attorney representing the university, Christina Corl, said the university didn't violate any contractual obligations to Richmond because he didn't take advantage of a school grievance procedure before filing his lawsuit.

Richmond, 21, served about 10 months in a juvenile prison after he and a Steubenville High School teammate were convicted in 2013 of raping a 16-year-old girl during an alcohol-fueled party. The case brought international attention and led to allegations of a coverup to protect Steubenville's storied football team.

He was released in January 2014. He attended colleges in West Virginia and Pennsylvania before transferring to Youngstown State in the fall of 2016 as a sophomore.

Richmond and his legal guardians spoke with Youngstown State President Jim Tressel and football coach Bo Pelini about him joining the team, and both were supportive, the lawsuit says. Richmond made the team as walk-on defensive end in January.

After Pelini made his decision public, a female student at Youngstown State began circulating a petition calling for the school to not allow Richmond to play football.

Youngstown State subsequently issued a statement in a universitywide email saying the school takes sexual assault very seriously, and that Richmond would be allowed to continue practicing with the team but would lose a year of eligibility.

Richmond quit the team after learning of the email.

Richmond's father, 51-year-old Nathaniel Richmond, was shot and killed Aug. 21 in Steubenville by a probation officer. Authorities said Richmond shot at a judge who returned fire before the probation officer killed Richmond.

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