Ugh. Here’s one I didn’t want to write…
But Evans’ recent release from prison, together with this thoughtful piece by Jacques Rousseau, have prompted me to jot down some thoughts.
I’d very deliberately stayed well away from this topic for many reasons. Not least of these reasons is that (as you will probably learn below), I am still undecided on exactly where I stand on the subject. But there are other reasons too.
As ever, please feel free to debate or question anything I write, but let’s keep it reasonable, shall we?
Also, for full disclosure, I’m a lifelong Sheffield United fan, although I’ve come to the realisation that my feelings on this matter may (incredibly) somehow transcend that.
The Ched Evans thing has been covered ad nauseum all over the place for a long while now, but suffice to say that he was a successful, well-liked striker at United and also an international for Wales. He was arrested over an incident at a hotel in May 2011 and was convicted of rape in April 2012. Having been released from prison this week, debate rages over whether United should re-employ him.
What follows is more a collection of thoughts than any coherent argument either way. It’s an emotive subject which has divided fans of the club and, seemingly, the entire nation. I’m not expecting everyone to agree with me.
> There is a petition of 150,000 signatures, urging United not to re-employ Evans. Of course, while demonstrating some degree of public feeling, this shouldn’t have any effect on the decision that United make. People are free to share their opinions on any matter, but the value of a digital signature on an online petition shouldn’t be over-estimated. I’d wager that half of those supporting any online petition actually have very little idea what they were clicking.
But then, even a properly audited, hard-copy petition shouldn’t sway the Blades’ decision on this matter. It’s one thing to make your feelings known; it’s quite another to expect everyone to act upon them.
> Some people are unhappy that some United fans were heard chanting Ched Evans’ name at the recent Bradford City game. The Daily Mail made a story out of this because the match was live on Sky. In fact, this chanting has been going on at most United games, but they weren’t live on Sky, so nobody cared. Of course, the Daily Mail are up in arms about the fact that:
Police took no action.
But I’m guessing that their hands were tied by the fact that no-one had actually done anything wrong.
Firstly, I’m quite sure that there were worse chants at football matches on the weekend, but the Daily Mail didn’t report on those ones. And secondly, looking for intelligent, meaningful comment in football chants will near always leave you disappointed.
> Evans still maintains his innocence. Jacques has a good point on this:
According to The Telegraph, the “woman said throughout the trial that she had no memory of the incident. Evans maintains his innocence, claiming that the sex was consensual.” Yet, the court found him guilty, so as I say above, that’s the basis on which we need to proceed.
Exactly. If our starting point is that the court got it wrong, then we are on shaky ground not just in this case, but on every other judicial decision as well. That said, given the “no memory” quote above, I have never understood how Evans’ co-defendant, Clayton MacDonald, was acquitted. But, as I say, I – we – have to accept the court’s decision or suddenly everything falls apart.
> Evans’ is still challenging the court decision:
The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has said its investigation into the case could begin within weeks… It says it is acting, in part, because of “issues raised” by Evans’s legal team.
Of course, if he does get the conviction overturned, his name will never be cleared. Mud sticks.
Equally, no matter what, his victim’s life has also been ruined. There are no winners here.
> Evans is apparently going to make a “profound and personal” statement in the coming week. Don’t expect this to include remorse for a crime he says he didn’t commit. The Daily Mail will be up in arms about this.
> He’s served his time. You might not think so, but if one has to accept the court decision, then one has to accept the sentencing too. Otherwise, at what point do we agree that he has been punished enough? Never, some would argue, but that’s a foolish and fanciful idea. There are sentencing guidelines and if you have a problem with them, you need to take things up with the sentencing guidelines people, not pick and choose which cases you’re going to disagree with.
If you’ve committed a crime, should that automatically mean that you are permanently unemployable from that moment onwards? That simply wouldn’t work. Or is it just for certain crimes? In which case, who gets to choose which ones and why do we bother with having a legal system?
And yes, should he be re-employed (by any club), Evans would be in line to earn a very decent wage, but if that is the reason that you are objecting to his reinstatement, then you are opening a can of worms and my well-documented vermiphobia means that I don’t want to be involved, thank you very much.
> The Professional Footballers Association supports Evans’ reinstatement. That’s not at all insignificant.
> With that PFA blessing, I’m quite sure that if United don’t re-employ him, someone else will sign him up. Will those campaigners then forever hold Sheffield United close to their hearts for making such a “courageous decision”? Would that matter to the Blades? Would this really make a stand against violence against women?
And then, would Evans be a poisoned chalice for any other club? Would anyone really walk away from any club that signed him? Would they care? If I had a quid for the number of times I’ve heard football fans make empty threats like that, I wouldn’t need to do science. Or anything else, for that matter.
> We wouldn’t be fighting over this if we were talking about a window cleaner or a sheet metal worker. And while that might seem unfair, I do see why. Footballers are (rightly?) seen as role models and are idolised by many kids.
Of course, they’re rarely perfect in that capacity. Biting, fighting, drunk driving, bringing a gun to training: you name it, (and by “it”, I generally mean “something utterly stupid and regularly illegal”), they’ve done it. Has this had any effect on the kids that follow their every move? Has there been a recent outbreak of tooth-related assaults in Montevideo?
I haven’t seen it.
Of course, that’s not to say that I wouldn’t rather have more positive role models for our youth. And yes, I do get that this is part of a wider thing concerning violence against women. But then, our roads would be a safer place without the likes of Stéphane Sessègnon, Mesut Özil and Carlos Tevez. And yet they’re all still playing and allegedly influencing the future behaviour of young people today.
The fact is that kids want to be like the players on the pitch, not off it. That’s what matters to them. Just as I don’t expect any young West Brom fan to go out drink-driving in the future and then turn around and say “Well, Stéphane Sessègnon did it when I was a lad”, nor do I expect local rape statistics to increase simply because Ched Evans starts playing football again.
All in all, while I’m struggling to come to a firm decision one way or the other on this, I think I have to come down on the side of re-employing Evans. I recognise that some people will certainly find this opinion distasteful or even unacceptable, but we have a legal system and it’s there for a reason. He was found guilty and he was sentenced to a custodial sentence for his crime. In that respect, it’s done.
You might argue that Evans hasn’t accepted his guilt, but that is perfectly within his rights. That same legal system says that as the defendent in this case, he’s perfectly entitled to question the verdict against him.
Just suppose for a second that he actually isn’t guilty (and for immediate clarification, I’m not suggesting that that’s the case). Suppose you were in his position. Wouldn’t you use everything at your disposal to attempt to clear your name? How far down that road do we allow him to go before we tell him to give up and accept his guilt? And when we do that, what difference does it really make, given that he has already served 2½ years in prison?
It’s a horrible crime, it’s a horrible situation and it’s horribly divisive.
As I say, I didn’t ever want to write this post and I don’t feel any better for having done so.