I want to talk about Ched Evans.
I know: yesterday I was all serious, too. But I’ve been thinking about this a lot, so I thought I’d lay out my thoughts here. Feel free to disregard ’em.
If you’ve been reading here awhile, you’ll know that I’m something of a bleeding heart. I don’t believe in the death penalty, I don’t believe in imprisonment for imprisonment’s sake, I believe in immigration and I believe that the state should support those unable to support themselves. I believe that drug users are ill, not criminals, and I believe the NHS is one of the greatest things to ever come out of our country. I also believe that it’s highly unlikely that in 2015, our government would support such a philanthropic gesture again. All in all, I’m a bit of a soft touch, which is probably why I believe that when someone has been sentenced and served their time, they should be entitled to a second chance and indeed, return to work. Where and what that work may be is wholly dependent upon the sentence, naturally, but a prison sentence shouldn’t sever a career.
Enter Ched Evans.
For those who aren’t aware, Evans is a Welsh footballer who was charged and subsequently jailed for rape in April 2012. He served three years of a five year sentence, and was released last October to serve the remainder of his sentence under licence. He has always – and continues to – vehemently deny the charge. He is neither apologetic nor repentant, and is wholly supported by his family and the family of his fiancee.
Since his release – and I should note here that a release under licence doesn’t necessarily restore liberty like release after a full sentence – Evans has been attempting to return to his career as a professional footballer, initially by returning to his old club Sheffield Utd. After considerable furore and a wave of bad press, he was eventually released from Sheffield when the club struggled to reconcile his return with retaining public support and club sponsorship. He’s since been courting Oldham Athletic, and with a “80% likelihood” of the deal going again, fierce debate – on either side of the discussion – rages.
I am not so naive as to presume that judges and juries don’t make mistakes, but given our courts are duty-bound to turn in a not guilty verdict if there’s even a prickle of doubt about a defendant’s culpability, I’m inclined, on this occasion, to take the conviction on face value. (You can argue with me about this if you want – I wouldn’t hold it against you.)
So. Given I’m a bleeding heart liberal, and given I believe – passionately, actually – in rehabilitation and second chances, I’ve found myself somewhat torn when it comes to Evans.
Well. Initially, anyway.
A professional footballer holds a position of immense – and intense – responsibility. “Role model” is a term that’s thrown about with reckless abandon, but I believe that footballers do indeed influence thousands of impressionable young people. Evans’ victim – a woman who, despite anonymity, has had to change her identity five times and continues to live in fear of repercussion – was sexually assaulted, and when she found the strength to report Evans she was branded a liar. Evans has not apologised to her. And those who champion him, those who tweet that Evan has served his time and should be entitled to return to work, are missing one key point: despite the protestations to the contrary, Evans hasn’t served his time – not yet, anyway. He’s a convicted sex offender who’s been released only on licence.
It’s not Evans’ fault that he held that position of influence prior to his conviction, and I have no doubt that a rapist working in any number of “ordinary” jobs could (safeguarding issues pending) eventually slot back into working life after release. But the reality is that Evans doesn’t have an ordinary job, and therefore – rightly or wrongly – isn’t afforded ordinary protection. Plus, he hasn’t served his time, and he isn’t remotely remorseful. Hence, I don’t believe that he has any entitlement to return to work – not yet, and not that particular job, either.
I wouldn’t want my son wearing a football shirt with Evans’ name blazoned across the back. I wouldn’t support a club that thinks it’s okay to place a convicted sex offender back onto the pitch. I appreciate that Evans presents a wholly new scenario that neither the clubs nor the Football Association know how to deal with, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay for Oldham to proceed. Just because – as yet – there’s no legal ramifications to prevent the club from signing him doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to do so. Until the FA have clarified rules about this, Evans shouldn’t be entitled to return. His return is potentially setting an alarming precedent.
I don’t believe Evans is entitled to go back to his pre-conviction life until his entire sentence has been served. And even then, I don’t believe it’s morally or ethically acceptable to permit him to return to the spotlight of a professional footballer’s life. There are other positions around the football industry that he can pursue – managing, coaching, PR, hospitality, strategy etc. He has more options than some, and more opportunity than most.
If Oldham proceed, I fervently hope that every single sponsor, season-ticket holder and indeed member of staff revolt.
Edit: As I typed my final full-stop, Sky News popped up on Twitter, confirming that – owing to the withdrawal of a major sponsor – Oldham will not be going ahead signing Evans.
How sad that the moral argument didn’t convince them, but the fear of losing cold hard cash did.