Davis discusses football player debate

STEUBENVILLE – The debate over Ma’Lik Richmond playing varsity football for Steubenville High School continued at City Council Tuesday night with Councilman at large Kenny Davis calling for area residents to stop judging Richmond.

Davis made an emotional statement at the conclusion of Tuesday night’s council meeting in response to comments made at last week’s council meeting by local businessman Mark Nelson.

“After last week’s council meeting I have prayed and laid awake thinking about our position. After talking to our law director and the rest of council I have decided to respond. This city has more churches than bars. We have more good people than bad people. I have lived here my entire life and I chose a long time ago to never move because of the people here. This town comes together in times of need like no other town in this great country. To cast an unfair image on our town because the media named this the Steubenville rape case instead of the high school athlete rape case is unfair,” Davis read from a handwritten statement.

“Those of you who live here have to keep the faith and let this new council and administration continue to do our job that you have elected us to do. And, those people who don’t live here should come and get to know us. Chances are you won’t leave either,” continued Davis.

“As a lifelong Catholic and what I consider a pretty good Christian, I ask all of you to think of your reaction. Who are we to judge when our lord and savior forgave the very people who condemned him to death. Mr. Richmond apologized to his accuser and her family in public with tears running down his young face. He made a mistake and he is sorry. He went to jail and now must register as a sex offender. He is complying with everything. So as a Christian community, should we throw another young man that made a mistake back into the streets that we are trying to clean up? Or should we give him structure so he can try to improve his life and become an asset to society?” asked Davis.

“Our school system is one of the best in the state of Ohio. But it is not perfect. An elected body makes decisions on a daily basis for what they consider to be the best direction for our schools and our children. They make those decisions on who will lead their programs and our children to the road of a successful future. More than 30 years ago they chose Reno Saccoccia to lead their football team and its program to become one to be proud of and one of success. Now, this same case has unfairly pulled his good name and reputation through the mud,” said Davis.

“Coach Saccoccia is a God-fearing and law-abiding man who comes from a great family. He goes to church every day to pray for direction and, more important, he promotes discipline and structure in his players, coaches and whomever else he comes in contact with. For those of us who live here, isn’t that what we need? And for those of you who don’t live here, don’t you wish you had leaders like ours?” concluded Davis.

Nelson stood by his comments of a week ago, “because the world looks at Steubenville and doesn’t see a public outcry. Some of us are outraged because the school district is not handling the situation properly. The school district lowered the bar to accept someone who committed a crime against a woman. What does this say about the team and its players? This is especially grievous when it makes the national and international news.”

“I would stress the fact high school sports is a privilege, not a right. There are people who feel this young man deserves a second chance. But in life, all actions have consequences,” Nelson stated following the council meeting.

Richmond was convicted in juvenile court March 2013 along with co-defendant Trent Mays of raping a female juvenile from Weirton following a series of alcohol-fueled parties.

Mays was sentenced to a minimum of two years in a Department of Youth Services facility. Richmond was sentenced to a minimum of one year in a state youth detention center and and was released in January.

Mays and Richmond were both classified as a Tier II sex offender requiring them to report their addresses to the county sheriff where they live every six months for 20 years.

(Gossett can be contacted at dgossett@heraldstaronline.com.)