Ched Evans will be released from prison shortly and there’s a queue of clubs lining up sign the former Sheffield United man. Conor Heffernan has his say.
In April 2012, Welsh footballer Chedwyn Evans was convicted of raping a 19-year-old woman and sentenced to five years in prison. It was a tragic story that destroyed the lives of all those involved and was played out in front of the cameras of the English media.
Papers, forums and TV stations commented on the court case with the insensitivity we have come to know and expect from them.
Prior to his conviction, Evans had eked out a respectable reputation at Sheffield United and had turned out for his country on a number of occasions. Following his conviction Evans was vilified from every angle, released from his club and had, in the words of his Judge, “thrown away a successful career.”
Two years on from the case, Evans will be released from prison and the controversy hasn’t gone away.
The first mumblings of discontent emerged when it became apparent that several clubs, including Sheffield United, want to bring the Welshman onto their books when he leaves prison. In response, over 140,000 people signed a petition stating that Evans should not be allowed to return to professional football. Newspapers have also gotten in on the act and are questioning whether or not a convicted rapist deserves to earn a living.
English feminists feel betrayed. Katie Russell of Rape Crisis England argued that Sheffield United would be failing “to send a very strong message that rape and sexual violence – and violence against women and girls more broadly – will not be tolerated within football”, should they re-sign Evans. The fact that Evans will be known as ‘the rapist’ for the rest of his playing career does not help matters.
Conversely Evans does have his fair share of supporters. PFA Chairman Gordan Taylor is in his corner and has argued that Evans has every right to return to his employment having served his time in prison. Many seem to agree with Taylor’s point of view and argue that a society that doesn’t believe in rehabilitation isn’t one worth living in.
It doesn’t seem fair in many respects to ban someone from re-entering the only profession they know how to do. On the other hand, the victim’s feelings must also be considered. English football finds itself in a no-win situation.
The problem with the Ched Evans case is that it’s uncomfortable territory for English football. The English FA likes to present itself as a neutral political body, likewise for the PFA. This case is inherently political. Feminists, the press and Evans’ own supporters have made sure of that.
Whether or not Evans re-laces his boots is almost secondary. Football has become the arena for a much larger societal issue. At the moment the eyes of the football world rest on Ched Evans does next. No matter what happens once he’s released, it’s guaranteed to be controversial.
Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena.