It is easy to sympathise with those who have asked Sheffield United to spurn the convicted rapist Ched Evans.
That is precisely why we should not do so. Evans was released from jail yesterday. Many people think that it would be wrong for him to return to his highly paid job as a footballer, and that it would reflect badly on the club. Such sentiments are understandable but they should be resisted.
It is a principle of justice that the punishment should be decided by the court and not the mob, even if the mob in this case is moderately expressed public opinion in the form of a 150,000-signature petition calling for Evans to be stopped from playing football.
The implication of the principle is that once he has served his sentence, the criminal is entitled to be treated the same as other citizens. There are pragmatic exceptions to that rule, such as that in this instance Evans will be on the sex offenders’ register for the rest of his life, and the case is so high profile that he is unlikely ever to shake off his notoriety.
We might wish that Evans showed that he understood the gravity of what he did and took it upon himself to use the experience to educate other young men in matters of consent. That this seems unlikely to happen is not in itself cause to deny him the chance to re-establish a life and a career.
In the meantime, if a club such as Sheffield United feels that it tarnishes its name or that of football generally to rehire a known offender, it is hard to argue that it is wrong. Hard, and harder still in a case such as this one. But it is worth trying all the same. If Sheffield United refuses to take Evans back, we should respect its right to do so. And if it does take him back, we should equally praise it for respecting the principle that no one should be punished twice for the same offence.
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