Ched Evans was sentenced to jail time, not lifelong unemployment

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Why is Ched Evans’ case such a big deal? Of the almost 2,000 convictions a year, why is he singled out? It’s mostly because he’s a footballer, right? He’s in the ‘public eye’, a role model, earning a high wage. But if he were an artist, for example, or a plumber, he’d be able to continue to paint or plumb. Another reason is his lack of contrition; he has not apologised and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to return to his work until he sincerely does so. These seem to be the two main reasons for Evans’ particular presence lately.

There are others, one of them the worthy grievance about the length of his sentence and time served, and although these ought to be discussed in greater depth, it is not specific to Evans’s case. For clarity: I am not defending Evans the man, but instead the principle that offenders are entitled to (with some stipulations) move on with their lives however they see fit after they are released. Ched Evans is no exception. Here’s why.

Few would argue that criminals shouldn’t be allowed to return to work after release, which gives them a little hope in post-prison life and draws a firm strike across the hope of rehabilitation. Yet certain jobs (here is one stipulation) are rightly off limits. A convicted paedophile can’t work in a school, for example. So should a rapist be allowed to play football? On the face of it, yes, the crime and the profession aren’t connected.

But then come the two objections: firstly, that football is a highly paid, highly respected job. Highly paid, yes, but Evans has a right to employment and is even headhunted, as football usually dictates. Or should every ex-convict stay on the minimum wage? Should they have their post-prison profession decided for them? If so, then what job do we deem as sufficiently punitive? If it is decided that manual labour or stacking shelves is disciplinary enough, then is this not insulting to labourers or shelf stackers? The only fair way, as I see it, is to let a (mostly) free man choose his profession and then let employers decide if they want to hire him. They can very well turn away. But the point is that his sentence was five years in prison, not a lifetime of no opportunities.

As for “highly respected”, aren’t footballers some of the most widely mocked public figures for their apparently low intelligence? Bear in mind that Oldham, who entered negotiations to sign Evans recently, have form when it comes to employing the recently released. Lee Hughes signed for the club after his release from prison for killing someone due to dangerous driving. Are we to lay out his future too? No fanfare there and his rehabilitation already seems underway.

The second objection is about the role model aspect, and it’s one I can’t quite buy. I love Steven Gerrard. I do. But when I say that, I mean I love how good he is at football. People didn’t cheer Stan Collymore when he scored because of his domestic abuse. It was because he scored goals – just as people don’t like Luis Suarez because he bites people and they recognise that his rottweiler habit is fairly insane, but they like him because he’s a great footballer. You can’t conflate what one person is best at with the worst thing they’ve done. Otherwise you’d have to tear down the statues of George Washington because he owned slaves while calling for their freedom. You couldn’t enjoy the Jungle Book because Rudyard Kipling wrote The White Man’s Burden. You couldn’t read Dostoyevsky because he was an anti-Semite. “Okay, but Evans isn’t an influential writer, he’s just a footballer.” Exactly – he’s just a footballer.

Evans’s lack of contrition is a big point, too. He shouldn’t be allowed to return to football, it’s argued, solely on the basis he has not apologised, showing no sympathy for the effects he has forced not least upon the victim. However, his lawyers have put forth an appeal to the Criminal Cases Review Commission and he has maintained his innocence since day one, so an apology for the crime he does not believe he has committed would be ill-advised from a legal standpoint and disingenuous on his part. He has apologised for the effects, yes, but not for the crime, which would effectively be an admission of guilt: something people understandably want following a conviction, but something he, understandably, cannot give.

Then there are people who claim that he should be able to play because they believe he is innocent. Evans’s future father-in-law has refused the verdict, even offering to cover Evans’s wages for Oldham and reimburse their loss of sponsorship. Inexcusably (read: criminally) some of Evans’s fans have tormented the victim, even forcing her to change address. Though there are doubts by some surrounding his conviction, this is dangerously irrelevant. He should not be treated as someone wrongfully convicted – he has been found guilty. Whether you or I disagree matters nil. He must be treated like any other person in his position, and part of that treatment is being allowed to work.

The one worthy gripe that he didn’t spend enough time behind bars has been highlighted by the media probing, which will hopefully lead to a greater discussion of the corrections system. A five-year sentence was given, only two and a half of which were served. This may seem short (in both the sentence time and amount served), but let’s not forget that this length and early release is the case for almost everyone released from prison. Should none of them work either? Though this particular objection is a good one, it is a grievance at the justice system, not Evans’s individual case. We should not punish one man far greater than the other nigh-on 2,000 (notwithstanding those convicted of everything else) because the job he happens to be under the eyes of the media.

As a small side point, Oldham Athletic and his previous team, Sheffield Utd, have received more media attention than ever only because of Evans. But yet another objection to Evans’s choice is: “It shows that football puts results before principles.” Is it not principled to allow a man get on with his life after his release? To show that our society is an empathic and liberal one? To trust that the offender can be rehabilitated? If the justice system is to be at all trusted, he should work.

All this said, if I were a football boss, I’m not sure I’d have the courage to sign Evans for fear of loss of support and sponsors. But that’s capitulation to public opinion, and where does that lead? A small minority of Oldham fans threatened rape and violence toward the families of the club’s board members if they signed Evans; basic irony along with decency or a brain was lost on these moronic fans. And truth be told, I would have a hard time cheering on a convicted rapist because he scored a goal. But I believe we shouldn’t single out Evans for further punishment. (Isn’t it depressing that his “punishment” is the key here, even by politicians’ own comments, not his “rehabilitation”?) Evans has a right in a free country to ply his trade. He was sentenced to time in prison, not lifelong public abuse. The case was not The People v. Ched Evans, the case was R v. Evans.

Evans should be signed – not to stand up against the increasing public ruling, certainly not as a show of support to his alleged innocence, and not even necessarily as an example that everyone deserves a second chance, but simply because he’s decent at footy.

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