The debate over Ma'Lik Richmond playing varsity football for Steubenville High School continued at Steubenville City Council on Tuesday, with Councilman 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.
"This city has more churches than bars," Davis said. "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 said residents have to keep the faith and allow council and the administration to do the job they were elected to do. He also invited those from outside the area to visit Steubenville.
"Chances are you won't leave either," Davis said.
Davis asked that Richmond not be judged for his actions.
"Mr. Richmond apologized to his accuser and her family in public with tears running down his young face," he said. "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?"
Davis said Steubenville has a great school system, but admitted it is not perfect. However, he said the decision to allow Richmond to play was just another in a line of decisions made by the administration to do what is best for the children of the community.
"They make those decisions on who will lead their programs and our children to the road of a successful future," he said. "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. 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?"
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" Nelson said following the council meeting.
Richmond was convicted in juvenile court in 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 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.