Were Sheffield United Right to Reject Ched Evans?
The media frenzy is over- for now. The Ched Evans saga has been an interminable foundation of controversy for the South Yorkshire club. Three celebrity patrons resigned, Jessica Ennis threatened to end her affiliation with the club outright, sponsors levied sincere financial warnings, and over 160,000 people signed a petition, all unanimous that a convicted rapist be prohibited from resuming their career.
In the end, that backlash, which rapidly evolved into an international headline encompassing a wide range of morale issues covering both the front and back pages, was enough for the club to U-turn on its decision.
Interestingly, their co-chairman Jim Phibbs has had the audacity in the public eye to maintain his stance, stating:
I’m angry that we are not able to get a chance to do for this footballer what should be done, the influence of mob-like behaviour has made it difficult to take the simple step of allowing Ched to train. I’m upset that we are not able to do what we wanted to do. But I acknowledge that my view is not the only view. My principles and the board’s principles are not the only thing that matter. I will acknowledge that our decision to not let Ched train is probably a decision that will make it harder for him to get on with his football career in the immediate future. The people who believe that Ched should be punished for the rest of his life might call that a victory. I think of it as a defeat for the principle that punishment under the justice system should be left to those that are authorised by law.
That statement pretty much draws on all of the key arguments surrounding the debacle. Reprimand or rehabilitate?
On one hand, Evans is role model to a very specific, and equally, very large demographic. Much of that demographic are male and young, still making their own decisions as to how to treat woman. Granting Evans the right to resume his career sends out a conflicting message- does society condone rape? Males under the age of 21, as Sheffield United patron Charlie Webster made vociferously clear during her live resignation on Newsnight, should see a henious crime punished. While Phibbs homes in on the defeat for the justice system, one could alternatively argue that Evans is a super-unique case; it’s seldom an ex-convict can return so quickly into such a high profile industry. Hence, Evans should be treated differently.
There’s also the issue of his sincere lack of remorse. Rightly or wrongly, Evans has maintained a hard-line stance of innocence throughout, despite being found guilty. Because the complainant was too intoxicated to recall what happened, no one knows whether she consented or not- and that’s the key as to whether she was raped. But, if you take the view that an objective court, consisting of an impartial jury who analysed all available analysis extensively, found him guilty, and that by therefore maintaining his influence he is lying, then Evans remains an unchanged man. Why rehabilitate him if a two year prison sentence has seemingly already failed?
But should maintaining one’s innocence be deemed so cynically? As the banner of his highly detailed website notes, ‘The Ministry of Justice allow prisoners who maintain their innocence to use the internet through a third party to make serious representations about their innocence.’ Perhaps Evans is innocent. He freely handed himself over and admitted to the charge when he did not need to- the complainant would not have been able to identify him otherwise- indicative of his confidence in having done nothing wrong.
Is Evans likely to re-offend? Almost certainly not. What message do you send to every convict in prison hoping to change their life? A mixed, confused, and demotivating one. What incentive do they have to change their ways upon their re-emergence into society if they’ll only be punished further? If we live and preach a liberal democracy people should be able to maintain their innocence. We cannot allow retribution to govern the way society treats individuals after they’ve served the punishment our extensive judicial system asks of them for their crimes. There is no hope for the incarcerated otherwise.
Lee Hughes was prosecuted for six years for killing someone while driving dangerously. Luke McCormick caused the death of an 8 and 10 year for the same crime. Marlon King had 14 convictions by 2009 for a host of issues and is currently on the sex offenders list. Joey Barton has had two charges of violence and assaulted his own teammate. Patrick Kluivert was allowed to slot in easily at Newcastle despite his dark past. The entire saga has been inflated into a hyperbolic tabloid witch-hunt when you consider the hypocrisy relating to the treatment of other ex-convicts who have resumed their careers.
If allowed to play, public indignation will shackle Evans wherever he plays. Would he therefore not act- almost- as a walking reminder for the seriousness in which society views rape?
Whatever is deemed right, if the prospect of him training- let alone playing- provokes a public outcry of such magnitude, it’s unlikely he’ll ever play football professionally again- in Britain at least. If one thing is certain, it is that society that will never unanimously decide if that treatment is right. In light of that public response Sheffield United were right to reject Ched Evans. Whether that rejection was based on the right factors (public image, sponsors) will remain fiercely contentious in both the the footballing and political spheres.