How nice it would have been if the whole sorry saga of Ched Evans had been left in 2014. Unfortunately, Oldham Athletic are the latest team to suggest that they are considering signing the convicted rapist to play for their side, here on the other side of December 31st. If you - like me – think this is a truly terrible, awful decision, then you will be used to hearing the same arguments put forward in his defence, so here is a handy rebuttal guide.
Ched has served his time
Well actually, he hasn’t. Evans has been released under licence, but his sentence isn’t finished yet, it’s only the custodial aspect that is over. He could return to prison at any time if he breaches his probation conditions. He’s not allowed to go abroad, for example. He is far from being a ‘free man’.
He didn’t even do it!
A jury disagreed. The facts remain that on 30 May 2011, Evans got a text from his friend, Clayton McDonald, to say that he had “got a bird”, neglecting to mention he had “got” her at 3am in the queue for pizza when she was so drunk that she fell over and twisted her ankle. In fact, she had drunk so much that she doesn’t remember how she got to the hotel room where she eventually woke up, her clothes scattered around the floor. But this isn’t about her actions: it’s about Evans. And he does remember. He remembers – and freely admits - that he got a taxi to the Premier Inn where McDonald had taken the 19 year-old, let himself into the room and watched his friend have sex with her. He then “got involved”, while his brother and another friend watched through a window and tried to film it on their phones. Evans left later that morning via a fire escape.
Evans doesn’t think this sequence of events makes him a rapist. But unfortunately for him the jury did, and it is from that foundation that all our conversations about Evans and his professional career should start. The Football Association are not able to overturn or ignore the decisions of our legal system. Should the decision be overturned in court, then it's a discussion that can be reopened.
He has been punished, so now he should be rehabilitated
We need to be very clear what we mean by rehabilitation. Because rehabilitation does not mean a return to ordinary life, as if nothing has happened. Rehabilitation for Evans is not analogous with playing professional football. He could be rehabilitated without ever touching a ball again.
Rehabilitation is about reintegration into society, with the fundamental basis of this a reasonable understanding that the individual will not reoffend. And this is where we run into some problems, because Evans does not accept that he did anything wrong. In fact, he has repeatedly refused to accept even a modicum of guilt for anything other than cheating on his girlfriend. If he does not understand that what he did was rape, can we be sure he will not reoffend? He has shown no grasp of the issues surrounding consent, so can we really say he is rehabilitated?
But saying sorry isn’t part of his punishment
No, but acceptance and a willingness to change is part of rehabilitation, which is surely the issue at question here.
So are we saying that his life is ruined because of one mistake?
Are we really suggesting that simply not being able to play professional football will destroy his life? The woman he attacked has just had to move and change her identity for the fifth time, after his supporters tracked her down and abused her. They even have a website vilifying her. Evans has yet to condemn their actions. Perhaps when talking about lives that have been ruined, we should first talk about his victim, and learn from his response to her ruined life.
Is he never allowed to work again?
But a footballer isn’t in charge of children or vulnerable people, he is not a threat. Why shouldn’t he be allowed to play?
Not a threat directly, no, but footballers are idolised, and – rightly or wrongly – presented as role models. Regardless of how he has acted since his release, allowing him to walk back on to a pitch to cheers makes a mockery of what he has done. Do we really want his face decorating the bedroom walls of young fans?
Other sports stars have committed crimes in the past and been allowed to return. Why not Evans?
A wrong decision in the past shouldn’t stop the right thing being done now. This case should be judged on its own merits. And it is clear that public opinion now is overwhelmingly against Evans being allowed to return to professional football, with a petition to Oldham Athletic against the signing gaining 24,000 signatures so far, making it one of the fastest growing ever.
Perhaps it’s because he has shown no remorse, or because he has taken no responsibility for the despicable actions of his fans, or maybe it's because he is so unwilling to learn from what he has done. But it could also be that public opinion is finally starting to recognise rape as the most appalling of crimes which deserves to be met with nothing but disgust and contempt for the rapist, rather than a new contract and football shirt.
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