And the winning goal is scored by… a convicted rapist?

CHED Evans is a name I am sure many of you may have heard, particularly in the past few months. Evans is a Welsh footballer, who has represented Wales at international level, and played for Sheffield United up until 2012. However, non-football fans will likely know that on the 20th April 2012 he was convicted of the rape of a 19-year-old woman and was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Evans was eligible for release after serving half of his sentence, and consequently on the 17th of October 2014 was released. Since his release, Evans has been looking for a new club to join, but after considerable pressure from sponsors, patrons and the wider public to stay out of football he has yet to join one. However, it has been rumoured that he nears a contract signing with Oldham Athletic.

This is a contentious issue. Nevertheless, I believe that he should play football as he has served his time and should be allowed to return to his job. Many people will agree with me and many more, I am sure, will disagree. Those who feel Ched Evans shouldn’t play again state his reluctance to apologise for the crime and admit his guilt as their main reasons for barring him from his chosen profession. Those whom I have heard discuss this case argue that if he was a part of school campaigns to promote the importance of consent to children then many people would look more favourably on him re-joining the profession. Evans, however, is refusing to fully apologise, instead fighting his conviction as wrong and needing review. Yet, at this moment in time, Evans is a convicted rapist and it does not look likely it will change soon.

Although, does it really matter if he has apologised or not? He should be free, like other convicted rapists (Mike Tyson), to return to any job that he is able to do within the confines of the law. With a rape conviction he is not allowed, for example, to become a teacher, but the Football Association currently do allow people with convictions to remain footballers. Hence why, for me, if a club wants him, then they should be able to hire him. For me, this sheds light onto how we view the justice system in this country. Traditionally it is there to punish criminals, but a major and arguably more important part of the system is to rehabilitate for re-entrance into society. If we still insist that ultimately criminals should be able to re-join society then surely this should apply to Evans as well as the ‘average Joe’ making parole. If a club wants him and the FA allow him, then why shouldn’t he return to football?

I understand how the image of children with Evans’ name on the back of their football shirts may make you uncomfortable and uneasy. But this doesn’t mean that we have to idolize him as a hero – parents can choose what name their children get on the back of their shirts and what merchandise they buy. Crowds could even choose to not cheer him when he scores if they so wish. Families may find it difficult to take their children to matches, but there is always the decision of not attending. Perhaps this highlights an issue within society whereby certain professions and people are elevated to a star status, such as footballers. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, other celebrities that are on society’s pedestal are convicted/accused rapists or child molesters. Mike Tyson, the heavyweight prize fighter, is a prime example here; having been accused of rape twice he has been convicted once. Similarly to Ched Evans, Tyson served half of his six year sentence before being released on parole, yet continued to fight until his retirement in 2006. Additionally, Michael Jackson was formally charged with the sexual assault of a child, but remained a pop-star until his death. At the end of the day it is a job, whether he ends up playing for a local team or one in the Premier League, and it’s the public who control whether he is placed on that pedestal.

Ultimately what this case has done, is force the public to engage with questions that may make us uncomfortable. Are we okay with a footballer who has been convicted of rape being cheered by thousands on a Saturday afternoon for scoring the winning goal? Is it okay that Evans could represent his country at international level? If we believe in rehabilitation, then why is the Evans case different? In my opinion Evans has served his time and now should be allowed to return to football. I am not saying it doesn’t makes me uncomfortable, but if there is no legal reason for stopping him then I think it should be down to an individual club to decide. I think there is certainly a case that maybe the FA should review who they allow to play football, but for now, Ched Evans should not be stopped from re-joining football because he has served his time.