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Ched Evans, 25, was sentenced in April 2012 to 5 years in prison for the rape of a 19 year old girl. He is due to be released later this month. Unfortunately, this is not why this individual case is newsworthy. Instead, Evans is a professional footballer, and his former employers, Sheffield United, are rumoured to be considering offering him his old job back. According to Alan Smith of the official supporters’ club at Sheffield, he will be greeted with the opportunity to take up his old job on release. However, a petition against his re-employment has thrown a spanner in the works, quickly going viral and gaining coverage across national media. More than 140,000 people have signed it.
Some argue that a past employer willing to look beyond an individual’s past and understand the rehabilitation that prison offers is a positive for criminal justice – it is argued that shows the justice system is working. However, Evans’ profession is unique. It is not the basic nine to five job; instead he will constantly be in the public eye. Football is not just a job; it’s a world – a world with its own rules, its own insane pay scale, its own international reach and its own way of entwining itself so fixedly in our culture.
So, the re-employment of Evans appears to trivialise the crime of rape, as his status remains unchanged, despite this horrific crime. And this is the core reason behind the uproar against his return to professional football. Returning to Sheffield United, he will once again take on the responsibility of a role model for the younger generation of fans. However, it must be questioned whether this is actually possible for someone who has only served half his prison sentence. This story has gained further coverage after Judy Finnigan, from Richard and Judy fame, publicly supported Ched Evans re-joining Sheffield United on her TV debut on Loose Woman, claiming the victim did not receive any “bodily harm”. Finnigan quickly apologised for these comments after media and public scrutiny, but her strong views and the reactions to them indicate that this case is very divisive.
Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, has also spoken out in favour of Ched Evans re-joining Sheffield United. Speaking to the BBC, Taylor said “I didn’t know there was a law that said once you come out of prison you still can’t do anything… As a trade union we believe in the rule of law … besides that, he still wants to contribute to society.” However, this goes against the judge’s sentencing remarks back in 2012, where he stated “You have thrown away the successful career in which you were involved.” If Evans does go back to Sheffield, he won’t have thrown it away at all. He’ll just be going back to that same success. And rumours circling that Evans may be recalled into the Wales international squad simply adds insult to injury. Representing your country, in my opinion, is the greatest honour an individual can receive, yet someone convicted of such a serious crime as rape doing this seems unjust.
It is not the first time a footballer has left prison to be welcomed back into the footballing world. Lee Hughes, 38, was convicted in 2004 for causing death by dangerous driving and was sentenced for 6 years. He was sacked by his club at the time West Bromwich Albion, but after serving half his sentence was picked up by Oldham Athletic, a smaller club in comparison.
Joey Barton, 32, was convicted of assault on two separate occasions, one being an attack on one of his teammates Ousmane Dabo, in a training ground incident and the second being an assault on a man on the streets of Liverpool, where CCTV picked up Barton punching him 20 times. Barton was sentenced to 6 months in jail, serving only 77 days. However, Barton remains a household name, captaining Queens Park Rangers in the Premier League. But Hughes and Barton both pleaded guilty for their crimes, whereas Evans is still appealing to clear his name.
I personally believe in second chances, yet this case sits uneasily for me. I understand that as an enlightened society we should forgive an individual for their crimes after serving their punishment. However, the idea of people looking up to an individual convicted of such a crime is hard to accept and it potentially portrays an image whereby rape is easily swept under the carpet. This situation would be an excellent time for football to distance itself from this culture.
Being a footballer for Sheffield United and Wales, however talented one may be, is not a right. It is a prestigious and prominent position which is not suitable for a man who has never even acknowledged that he raped his victim.