I’ll start this article by acknowledging, upfront, that what I am about to say is completely hypocritical. I’m putting it out there now, because I’m sitting down to write this post and even I don’t know in which direction it is going to go.
The Ched Evans thing. It isn’t going to go away, is it? We’ve had an Olympian in revolt, a dubious website protesting Evans’ innocence, an intervention from the Ministry of Justice, and most recently, Oldham Athletic being dragged over hot coals. Oh, and finally, as of late last week, a begrudging apology (or at least a carefully scripted acknowledgement) from Evans acknowledging that his actions have had a devastating impact upon his victim.
As we all know, public opinion about this entire sorry saga has fallen in to two camps – ban him from playing football again, or let him play because he’s paid his dues to society. But what if you kind of agree with both opinions?
When Evans was first released, I was flabbergasted that Sheffield United were considering taking him back. I was as vocal as the majority who pointed out that putting a convicted rapist in to a position where he would be a role model was absolutely unacceptable. I’m a Sheffield Wednesday fan and United are our big city rivals, so I even threw in a dose of indignation towards our rival club for not being able to foresee the backlash that was coming their way. My club wouldn’t behave like that.
As we now know, Sheffield United’s decision to consider re-appointing Evans was a PR disaster, leading many to ask – What were they thinking?
But actually, what are any of the teams who have expressed an interest in Evans thinking?
It’s a simple answer.
They were thinking that they could get a £3m striker on the cheap.
And this is where it all gets a bit murky. Because football isn’t a moralistic sport operating on a level playing field. By its very nature, it is completely unfair.
You have your haves (Manchester United, Chelsea etc). And you have your have nots. And there are a LOT of have not clubs out there fighting to survive, who may have looked at the books and thought that Evans was a gamble worth taking, offering a way back in to the black.
Are we really surprised that some clubs have seen this as an opportunity?
Football is a business. It’s about making money. Yes, we can be passionate about it, yes, it’s a way of life for some, but let’s be honest – the majority of fans can be bought if the price is right (the Etihad stadium, anybody?).
It’s unfortunate, but the truth is that, if a sportsperson is successful and if they play for our team, we are more we are willing to forgive and forget their indiscretions.
I heard many Sheffield United fans argue that Evans had served his time. Would they have been as forgiving if Evans had played for a rival team? Or not been particularly successful in his time at United?
What about if Evans had played for my team, Sheffield Wednesday? Would more of our fans have argued for Evans’ forgiveness? I hate to say it, but we probably would. Because, when it comes to football, your team winning can matter more than anything else.
As repulsive and morally repugnant Evans is, the game can be equally so. So it seems contrite to expect football to be a moral guardian here. It’s up to society to demonstrate that we won’t tolerate rape.
Which is why part of me thinks that if this guy, a convicted rapist, wants to play in front of thousands of hostile fans week in, week out, then let him. Feed him to the lions.
Seeing Evans shamed by rival fans on the terraces could be a good way to demonstrate to young men that rape is a despicable, heinous crime. Because I don’t think Evans, even if successful, would be hero-worshipped like he was before. Yes, he might score goals again. His goals might even be cheered. But we all know what he did. And any father on those terraces would have considered: ‘But what if that were my daughter?’
Successful or not, Evans will never command a level of respect that he would have done prior to the rape. He will always be tainted by his actions. Fathers will not encourage their kids to look up to him – and who knows, it might even lead to an in depth conversation between a dad and his son about WHY Evans is not to be admired. That may be as good a reason as any to let Evans back in to the game.
There’s one caveat, though. Let Evans return to the game, as long as it isn’t at my club.
And that’s where my argument falters.
Like I said. I’m a hypocrite.