A great deal has been written over the last number of weeks about Ched Evans following his release from prison for the rape of a 19 year old woman in May 2011.
The focus has solely been on Evans’ attempts to resume his career as a professional footballer. His attempt to rebuild his career with former club Sheffield United led to a severe backlash from fans, corporate sponsors and club patrons. A subsequent attempt to revive things at Oldham led to the club revoking the offer of a two and a half year contract for Evans after club officials received death threats.
The Professional Footballers Association (PFA) has lent its support to Evans, who they describe as being free to return to employment having being released from his custodial sentence. The fact that Evans has served his time in jail does not diminish the public’s vehement reaction to a convicted rapist potentially returning to the status of a well-remunerated professional footballer.
The very idea that a professional football club would consider offering a contract to a convicted rapist highlights that ethical standards can be sometimes ignored in favour of commercial success. Before his conviction Evans was a striker of some quality, having scored thirty-five goals for Sheffield United. His ability at the League One level of football in England could be invaluable in a push for promotion. Perhaps certain individuals felt he was a risk worth taking. A cynic would say that if it wasn’t for pressure from corporate sponsors who feared that their image may be tarnished by being associated with a club who employs a convicted rapist, then the deal may have gone through.
The intent to employ Evans signifies that professional football is out of touch with the values of modern society. Whether footballers like it or not they are role models, if Lionel Messi adopted the practice of diving after every tackle to win a penalty then be assured you would see the same behaviour adopted by youngsters all over the country. So what kind of message does the Ched Evans story send out to young people? Does it provide young men with a sense of sexual entitlement with women? Do the actions of professional football clubs and organisations take account of the consequences of rape or the rights of the victim?
With everything that has been written about the case there is also a sense of empathy emerging for Evans. If we are talking about the consequences of rape then a pivotal question is what happens to Evans?
Due to his conviction he will remain on the sex offenders register for the next fifteen years. He will regularly have to report to the police about his activities, he is prohibited from certain jobs, and he is unlikely to be allowed to travel abroad to work. What does he do with his life? I imagine that his whole life has been dedicated to becoming a professional footballer, he probably doesn’t know anything else but is that a good enough reason to allow him back in?
One of question marks hanging over Evans relates to his rehabilitation back into society following his conviction. He served half of a five year sentence, the guidelines for that type offence indicate the sentencing be between four and eight years. If Evans secures employment then there will be conditions relating to his probation. However, despite all this Evans continues to protest his innocence and The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) is conducting a review of his conviction which could take several months. It leaves the case very much unresolved and it is hard to see if Evans has accepted responsibility for his actions.
Questioning the verdict of a rape case in this way puts so much pressure on the credibility of the victim. Only in cases of sexual assault is the victim questioned in terms of their credibility, even what they were wearing and their previous sexual history. To date little has been written about the female involved in this case. What is known is that she has had to move home and change her identity several times following a social media hate campaign. It only highlights the need to protect victims of rape and safeguard their emotional health and well-being.
Yet all this deliberation brings us no closer to resolving the matter of Ched Evans return to football. If professional football is to demonstrate any shred of ethics in sport at the absolute bare minimum any club should refrain from offering a contract until the result of Evans appeal is heard. Personally, I feel he should not return to football. In committing a sexual assault an individual is reflecting their sense of entitlement to take what they want. Evans actions detailed in the facts of his court case are inexcusable. He may need his life back but he does not deserve the benefits of his previous life as a footballer.
The entire affair highlights our discomfort with the thought of sexual offenders integrating back into society. If he doesn’t return to football, what then for Evans? Does he remain an outsider forever? There will always be a stigma attached to sexual offenders and Evans will have to carry that burden, but he cannot continue to be scrutinised in the media. At the same time Evans cannot be treated any differently because of his status as a footballer, an offence as serious as his can not be easily forgotten.
Perhaps the case of Ched Evans confronts us with uncomfortable questions. As a society we do not accept sexual assault yet we have no real answer about how to properly deal with the consequences of that offence. Perhaps now is the time to forget about Ched Evans and discuss how as a society we safeguard our future in properly punishing such heinous crimes.