In a controversial move, Sheffield United have invited convicted rapist and former striker Ched Evans to come back and train with them following his release from prison. Evans was convicted of raping a 19 year old girl in a Holiday Inn hotel room in May 2011 and served two and a half years of a five year sentence before being released last month. The former Wales and Manchester City player insists he is innocent and is desperate to return to the game after what he said was a very painful and harsh lesson. Despite public opinion being mixed, United has offered Evans a route back into football, although the club still insists that no decision has been made about whether they will resign him. Citing the opinions of the Players Football Association who suggest that Evans has served his time so should be allowed to resume his life as a footballer, United’s actions appear to be in direct opposition of many associated with the club who are shocked by these latest developments.
This move has spurred anger amongst some fans with over 155,000 signing a petition against allowing Evans to return to the club. And in the last week Sky TV host Charlie Webster has quit her post as patron for the club in protest stating on the BBC Newsnight program that the decision to let a convicted rapist represent the club sends the wrong message to its younger fans. As a women’s right activist who herself was sexually assaulted in her teenager years, Webster has blasted the club and the player calling for them both to rethink this move. Her point is that as a player at the club, Evans is viewed as a role model for younger fans who are still learning how to respect and treat women. By allowing the player to return to his career at the club would send a message that what he did was acceptable which potentially sets a dangerous precedent. Webster informed the club of her decision to quit and has stated that she felt strongly that she had to act and give a voice to victims of sexual abuse.
Evans would not the first player to come back to the game after spending time behind bars. Joey Barton and Marlon King both made successful comebacks after serving their time for assault whilst Jermaine Pennant spent a period in jail for drink driving whilst excluded. Even Lee Hughes has managed to rebuild his life and career after being found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving. But all of the players mentioned above have one thing in common – they are all or at least have come out as remorseful for what they had done. Evans however has so far showed little remorse nor has not apologized to his victim, continuing to plead that he was wrongly convicted and that the sex was consensual. Whether he is telling the truth or not is to be debated but he was still convicted of a crime in a court of law. His lack of apparent remorse or reluctance to ask for forgiveness in any regard appears to be one of the key issues troubling many onlookers to this story.
There is a popular belief among many that football has created a false sense of entitlement in its players and that they can do no wrong. Awash with money and with boosted egos from the praise received from fans and the media alike, these footballers are turning into celebrities in their own right who believe that they should be treated differently than everyone else but this is not the case. They are still ordinary members of the working community and in such need to adhere to the laws of the land that they reside in. There should be no special treatments for them nor exceptions but in some cases this is not the case. Evans found out the hard way that his actions are accountable and must now stand up and recognize this as well. The argument over whether a convicted rapist should be allowed to return to his former place of work is not for us to determine nor is it our place on this blog to hand down a moral sentence to all in this situation.
But in this case, Sheffield United has the chance to send a strong message about what it believes around this issue rather than what it is choosing to do which is sitting on the fence. Either they publically stand up and back Evans by signing the player or distance themselves from him all together. They cannot bring him back on a temporary basis in the hope that the media attention and public outcry will simply fade over time. Now under increased pressure to act following revelations that key sponsors are about to walk away from the club if Evans returns, Sheffield United will need to make their decision quickly to avoid further problems. Regardless of what United chose to do, the question of whether Evans should play for any team is still up for debate but it is clear that until he shows real remorse for his actions three years ago, the voices that are objecting to Evans continuing his football career will likely continue to get louder and louder making a return to football in any capacity unrealistic.