Modern football is less of a moral maze than a moral vacuum, a sport rife with corruption, dodgy ethics, questionable codes of behaviour, and a place where the customary rules of personal engagement are often suspended. Nevertheless, as our national sport, and the only game that truly matters to us, it occasionally finds itself being judged - quite rightly - by the mores of the wider society. Footballers are not just sportsmen, they are role models.
Which, naturally, brings us to Ched Evans. Sheffield United Centre Forward Ched Evans. Or, as he more probably will be known forever, Convicted Rapist Ched Evans. After serving half of a five-year prison sentence for rape, Evans was released from prison last month and, backed by his fiancée at his side throughout, he continued to protest his innocence. He had, not unreasonably, believed that he had served his sentence, although it was clearly ill-advised for Evans to make public statements lacking in consideration, conciliation and, most grievously, remorse.
He should, of course, have kept his mouth shut and his head down, because, at 25, he still has most of his life to live, and much of his career as a footballer ahead of him. Instead, he invited moral judgement to rain down on him from all sides. He believes himself to be innocent, and is seeking to overturn his conviction. The Criminal Cases Review Commission is speedily conducting a review of his trial.
That's the way the British justice works. Except that it's not these days. Trial by our peers does not mean by the lawful judgement of twelve men and women of sound mind. It means by everyone with a Twitter account, by all those who feel obliged to sign up to online petitions, by everyone who has suffered at the hands of a sexual predator, by every newspaper columnist, by - in fact - by the entire British public. And, in this court, Evans has been found guilty, and there's no way he can reverse that conviction.
Sheffield United have allowed Evans to return to train with the club (without actually re-signing him), and have made some pretty punchy statements in response to the public opprobrium they have faced. A petition against his reinstatement has been signed by 157,000 people and one of the club's patrons has resigned. No doubt there will be many more high-profile pronouncements, and I wait for politicians on all sides to get involved, making sure, as always, that they follow rather than lead public opinion. But the club itself is clear. “In a nation of laws,” they said, “served by an elected parliament and duly constituted courts of law, there can be no place for mob justice.”
I hesitate to endorse a football organisation using truth, justice and the rule of law as a bulwark against their actions, but I can't help agreeing with the sentiment. Evans has served his time. Since when was an expression of remorse part of a sentence? Does every high profile criminal now have to undergo a second, public trial? Of course, Evans should have acted with more contrition on his release, but can we really allow public opinion to decide whether a person gets a second chance or not?Reuse content