It’s not just football – it’s much more important than that
There has been a lot said about Ched Evans. I read that Mr Evans is “devastated” and blames “mob rule” for being turned down by Oldham Athletic.
There are so many things about this story that bother me that it is hard to know where to start! Not least of these is the startling revelation, that a named daughter of one of the board members of Oldham Athletic has received a threat which states that she will be raped if the club signs the convicted rapist! What??? That is a terrible thing to happen and the family must be very upset and frightened by it. The fact that somebody – anybody – thinks that is an appropriate response is utterly bizarre. But it does seem to underline that that many people within the male orientated world of professional football are confused about rape and the attitude they should have to those convicted of rape or indeed other serious criminal offences.
The debate raging on the internet about whether or not what Ched Evans did is rape, is really unpalatable. I accept that as individuals, men and women have a responsibility to look after our own safety. But on the occasions when we don’t do that, when we misjudge the situation, when we let ourselves down, when we find ourselves in a situation which is out of control, when we are just plain unlucky or make bad decisions we do not give others carte blanche to commit crimes against us. It’s not ok – it’s never ok to take advantage of someone for criminal purposes. If you have sex with someone without their permission or when they are so drunk they cannot give permission then it is rape. That is it.
In addition there have been more than enough column inches and video footage of Ched Evans proclaiming he is innocent. Seems to me that is the least important part of this whole debate. Whether he thinks he has been badly treated or not is frankly, not important. Whether he appeals or not makes no difference to anything as it stands. Ched Evans was found guilty in a court of law where he was tried by a jury who, unlike almost everyone else commenting on this story, actually heard all the evidence from all those involved in the incident. It is for the law to decide whether his conviction should be reviewed or not and an organisation like the FA or club managers like Steve Bruce, who commented recently are not qualified to make those decisions.
So we have a man convicted of a serious crime wanting his job back. Should he get it? I think not. There are jobs Ched Evans could do and I am sure that the people who exist to help rehabilitate ex-offenders will do their best to assist Ched Evans to find work. He has done other work whilst in prison and he may have other skills he can use, He could return to study or do voluntary work. Should he be employed as a professional footballer? Absolutely not.
The reasons why not are numerous but for me they are about standards and ethics within professional football. We should expect that those appearing as role models for our young people, representing their club and potentially their country, to maintain a high standard of behaviour. If they don’t then they are not suitable to represent a club or a country as a professional footballer.
If Ched Evans had been a police officer, a health worker, worked in a bank, as a civil servant, or for the council, being found guilty of a serious crime would have meant he lost his job and did not get it back. That is because the employers and organisations mentioned – the banks, civil service, councils have a set of standards – a code of conduct for their employees and Ched Evans would have fallen foul of those standards and been sacked. It is unlikely that he would be re-employed in any of the roles that I mentioned.
Do I want Ched Evans to be unemployed for life? Absolutely not. I want him employed, living a full and happy life, contributing to society but I want him to have to work to get there and that should be outside the privileged world and influential role of a professional footballer. In time he may be considered by some organisations as a potential employee following a suitable period of rehabilitation, doing other work, building up good references, demonstrating that he is a trustworthy member of society, and this may lead to him being employed in sports or football again. It seems that football clubs do not care whether Ched Evans has demonstrated his suitability – they are solely interested in the results – perhaps acquiring a good football player at a knockdown price? The FA says they have no grounds to intervene and yet they take action against footballers who bite ears off, who make racist gestures or tweet unacceptable comments and otherwise bring football into disrepute. Surely a footballer who has been convicted of a serious offence is bringing the game into disrepute? If they are so worried about the reputation of football then the FA should be taking a lead on this. It is not enough for them to allow clubs to make the decision. By the competitive and financial nature of club football their view is narrow and focused on their own aims – not necessarily the wider issue. Given the massive publicity that football attracts the FA should be clearly stating their position that criminal behaviour and particularly violent crimes against women receive zero tolerance within the world of professional football.
There have been other cases where serious offenders have been allowed to play professional football and these clubs too are wrong to allow that to happen. The FA seriously needs to review its code of conduct. A serious criminal conviction must mean that footballers lose their jobs and do not just waltz back in when they feel like it. I am glad that Oldham Athletic have decided not to sign Ched Evans – I have an affection for Latics that comes of growing up in Oldham,passing the ground on a daily basis and discos at Boundary Park on a Friday Night – but I was truly shocked that they would consider doing so in the first place.
My final word is about the victim. The girl in question has had to move several times and her recovery from the rape must be seriously hampered by this whole distasteful public spectacle. I am truly sorry for that. Ched Evans was found guilty of raping a woman. He has to pay the price for that and in this case that should mean he loses his prestigious job and has to start again rebuilding his life and his reputation. He has a long way to go.