With former Sheffield United striker Ched Evans returning to society after a worryingly brief stay at Her Majesty’s pleasure, a myriad of problems arise from the rape conviction that is now inextricably linked to his name. Should he be welcomed back into football as an attempt to consolidate rehabilitation, or should his transgressions be deemed as repudiation for the privilege of being a professional sportsman?
Football does get an undeservingly bad press on occasion, considered a sport bereft of moral compass. Frequently written off as racist, cheating yobs kicking a ball around, this ludicrous and reductive analysis does a disservice to the thousands of professionals who are a credit to their club and community. But as with any vocation, footballers are not without their villains. Unlike most other jobs, however, there is a chance that these villains will be on the receiving end of the adulation of thousands of fans when they score or save a goal.
This is the reason why the case of Ched Evans is such a contentious issue. Well, perhaps the biggest reason is that he is a convicted rapist. If Evans can stroll back into the footballing world, then from a rehabilitating perspective that is surely a good thing. From the perspective that thousands of impressionable children are applauding the work of someone who in the past has objectified and victimised women, this is not such a rosy affair. To be a footballer you need a very specific skill-set, and you need to be a positive role model. Fail in the latter, and the right to earn thousands of pounds in the public eye should be waived. Considering the severity of Evans’ misdeeds, this is surely not unreasonable. He has had his chance, and he blew it.
Those who sympathise with Evans will point to his intransigent insistence of his innocence, or to the unwavering loyalty and support of his girlfriend. But just because one can consistently maintain that they are innocent, it does not make it so. Just because his partner is tolerant enough to overlook infidelity and predatory actions, it does not make Ched Evans a saint whose reputation has been unfairly tarnished. No, the conclusions of a court of law make him a convicted rapist. It sets a dangerous precedent to question these rulings; we live in a democratic society and therefore must place our faith in its workings. Undoubtedly rape is often cruelly reduced to a ‘you had to be there’ act, with the cynical claiming it is easy for a victim to cry wolf.
But what is less easy is to be raped, and then forced to change your name and change your home as a consequence. This is the case of Ched Evans’ victim. Evans is a convicted rapist, and football must say no to him. This is a particularly vexed issue when considering the forgiving nature of football in the past, as it invites hierarchizing crimes. Luis Suarez is the most popular example of a footballer given repeat chances after repeat offences. Racism is a crime, as is assault that manifested in the bizarre choice of biting. These are abhorrent acts, irrespective of cultural misunderstandings or of the deliciousness of Giorgio Chiellini. Without justifying this behaviour, because it cannot be defended, it is important to remember that the heat of a moment in a football game is very different to the cold and ruthless actions of a man in a hotel room.
There are cases that are more similar to that of Evans. Luke McCormick served time in prison for causing the death of two children by means of dangerous and drunken driving; he now serves time as captain of Plymouth Argyle. Marlon King and Nile Ranger both have lists of offences longer than Harry Redknapp’s transfer window shopping list, and both continued their footballing career without much repercussion. It is such a fragile issue. The cases of Ranger and King in particular should not be perceived as precedent for Evans to resume his career, but rather mistakes on the part of the clubs that employed them. In an arena where many children will seek role models, the sport has an obligation to ensure that the right example is set.
However this pans out, there will be dissenting voices. As a society, rehabilitation and reform are values that we should strive for. But for a convicted rapist to stroll back into a well-paid job at the forefront of a community raises a multitude of issues. There are rumours abound of Evans being rehired by Sheffield United. If Sheffield United do employ Ched Evans once more as a footballer, almost as if nothing has happened, then it trivialises the issue of rape.
Whatever way you look at it, there are six words that cannot be forgotten: Ched Evans is a convicted rapist.