I have been keeping an eye on the sports news recently and Sheffield United especially. No, I have not suddenly developed a love of football, I have been interested to see what the response would be when Ched Evans was released from prison. As a convicted rapist, would he be welcomed back into the world of professional football or shunned by players and fans alike?
For anyone who doesn’t know who Ched Evans is, he was a Sheffield United football player who was convicted of raping a woman in 2012 and sentenced to 5 years in prison. He has recently been released after serving half of his term, sparking controversy and debate about whether he should be allowed to go back to playing football now that his sentence is over. This is obviously a topic that causes a great deal of debate with views ranging from ‘no, he should never be allowed to play football again’, to ‘he’s served his time and should be allowed to get on with his life’.
As with most things in life, I don’t see that the topic is so black and white. Yes, he has served his time and arguably once a criminal has served their time they should be allowed to get on with their lives. In fact, I used to work with offenders and was a big advocate for rehabilitation and people being allowed to have a life once released from prison. However, I do believe that in certain situations there should be restrictions.
Sheffield United seem very reluctant to make any decision about whether they will offer him a contract, however they have allowed him to start training with them. In a statement they were quick to mention that this was at the request of the Professional Footballers’ Association and that it does not mean that he will be allowed back into the team. Personally, I feel disappointed that Sheffield United have allowed Evans to begin training with the squad again, regardless of whether or not he offered a contract and allowed to play professional football. By allowing him the chance to train, and potentially earn his place in the team, it sends out the message that all is forgiven and worryingly, forgotten.
This doesn’t sit right with me for three main reasons. Firstly, Evans will be a role model to all the young people who look up to footballers. Football players in our country are idolised and by allowing him to return to this position of power we are sending a message to young men that rape is ok. This is certainly not a message I want sending to my two sons, or anyone for that matter.
Secondly, by allowing Ched Evans to play professional football again he will be back in the same types of situation that he was in previously. This potentially puts more women at risk. There are few people who would argue once a paedophile has served their time that they should be allowed to be in a position where they could potential abuse children again. So why allow Evans to return to an occupation that could put him in the same situations? Thirdly, Ched Evans has not rehabilitated. He may have served his time and even Sheffield United have claimed he has seen the error of his ways and learned from it. However, the fact that he still professes his innocence (his website states clearly that he ‘maintains his absolute innocence’) and therefore believes that he did nothing wrong, means that he is not a reformed character and arguably would do the same in the same situation. In order to rehabilitate he would need to accept that he committed a crime. What we therefore have is a role model who believes that having sex with women who too drunk to consent is fine. Does anyone else see a problem with this?
It seems that Evans’ crime is excused because the victim was drunk. He is not a rapist that stalked, hid in the bushes and attacked women at knife point. He is the kind of rapist that took advantage of a woman who was too drunk to consent, too drunk to say no and too drunk to fight back. It would seem that the second type of rape is easily excusable because in the current climate of blaming the victim, it was her fault for being too drunk. Again, is there not a serious problem with this way of thinking?
There are many Sheffield United fans who want Evans to return to the club and get back to scoring goals. It seems that scoring goals has more importance than the fact that he is convicted sex offender. It makes me wonder how many of these fans would be fighting for his return if he had been the type of rapist who attacked women at knife point, or if he had raped their wife, sister or daughter.
Sheffield United’s decision seems to only enforce the ‘rape culture’ that exists in society whereby the victim is blamed and shamed. It is rarely mentioned that Evans’ victim had to move away from where she lived and start her life again. It seems a cruel twist that she may now have to see her rapist being adored by fans across the country, living his life as if nothing had happened.
Arguably, Sheffield United have already done a great deal of damage by allowing Evans to return to training. It will be interesting to see if they continue to support his ‘rehabilitation’ and what affect, if any, this has on the reputation of the club.