"There Is No Reason Ched Evans Should Not Play Football Again"

Would we really be any better off as a society if former convicts were prevented from making a living?
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I do not want Ched Evans to be able to return to a career in professional football. The hoopla surrounding his recent release from prison has been thoroughly depressing and has shown some of the most idiotic, crass and offensive sides of human nature. However, my opinion here is entirely controlled by emotion rather than logic and, when I stop to think about it properly, there’s no reason Ched Evans shouldn’t be allowed to play football again.

Just to pre-empt the torch-wielding mob presumably now on the way to my flat, this piece is in no way attempting to defend Ched Evans or his actions. He is a convicted rapist and a young woman’s life has been ruined – those are the facts and I’m not for one moment attempting to dispute them.

When it comes to the Ched Evans case, we need to stop and ask ourselves something: what is the criminal justice system – and, in particular, prison – actually for? The reason people are incarcerated for their crimes is so that they can be punished and rehabilitated, meaning that they hopefully won’t reoffend. When somebody is released from jail, that is the criminal justice system’s way of saying that individual has paid their debt to society and can now resume their life. If Ched Evans doesn’t return to football is he, at the age of 25, supposed to never work again?

There are compelling arguments as to why Evans shouldn’t be able to return to football, yet they’re all driven by emotion rather than reason. The most popular – and arguably the strongest – is that the average person on the street wouldn’t be able to walk back into their previous job upon having completed a jail sentence. This is true, but the courts have decided Evans has now been adequately punished. Football is run by money and is fiercely capitalist, and if Sheffield United, or any other club, believe that Evans has the quality to help a team win games and earn more money, they’re going to sign him up. Football has never exactly been full of morals and decent characters; Evans is hardly the first footballer to do time and he isn’t even the first to be convicted of rape. Footballer Luke McCormick served four years in prison for causing death by dangerous driving and driving under the influence – he’s currently the captain of Plymouth Argyle. Ched Evans may be an extreme case, but there are precedents for criminals returning to football upon release.

Another argument centres on the controversial support Evans has been receiving from Sheffield United fans. In Scott Patterson’s piece that prompted this response article, he writes that at a recent Sheffield United match against Bradford, a number of fans were singing pro-Evans songs, including, “Chedwyn Evans, he’ll do what he wants.” Obviously this is sickening but a minority of football fans are, to use the correct scientific parlance, a bunch of fucking idiots. Every club has some fans who believe the players they love are beyond reproach and, let’s not forget, there’s a deep-rooted sexism in football which is one of many blights on the game. However, a club shouldn’t not sign a player because of a bunch of rape apologist twats in the stands. Whether Sheffield United sign Evans or not, those cretins will always be nothing more than oxygen thieves.

People are also up in arms about the fact that Evans hasn’t apologised for his crimes. While what he did was vile and horrific, sadly there’s no obligation for him to say sorry. Indeed, since he’s currently appealing his conviction (funded by his girlfriend’s Dad, no less), it doesn’t seem likely that he’s going to in the near future.

Let’s look at this another way. Let’s assume that the petition to stop Sheffield United signing Ched Evans is successful, no other clubs are prepared to offer him a contract and he’s forced to retire from football and seek employment elsewhere. All the signatories on the internet can give themselves a big pat on the back knowing a convicted rapist has been banned from playing football. But in the wider scheme of things – what has that achieved? No rules have been changed, no laws have been altered, and only one individual has been affected by all that action. There’s a bigger fight to be fought here.

I said at the start of this piece I don’t want Ched Evans to return to playing football and, while that’s still my emotional response, I don’t think there’s a strong logical argument to support it. All this debate around Evans’ potential return to the game though is ignoring the elephant in the room – the insultingly short duration of his sentence.

For the criminal justice system to work and for the public to have confidence in it, people should be appropriately punished for their crimes and at the nucleus of the complaints about Evans’ possible resuming of his career is the fact that he hasn’t been in jail for that long. In that case, why are people focussing on campaigning against just him rather than campaigning for longer sentences for rapists full stop? While Evans’ victim has had her life ruined, he’s free to potentially pick up where he left off having served just two and a half years. Recently, the BBC reported a shocking rise in the number of rapes in the UK, yet there are still disgustingly low conviction rates and, as we can see, pathetically short sentences for those cases that do make it to court.

As the Oscar Pistorius trial has shown us, not to mention the Steubenville High School case of 2012, the world values the lives of men more than it does women. The Ched Evans release should be the catalyst for self-examination and the realisation that a five year sentence for a crime of the severity of rape is an insult. Instead, people are intent on halting the career of one man, and sticking their heads in the sand and ignoring the wider issues.