Friday, January 9, 2015

The Ched Evans affair

I'm not really a football man.  I like it enough, I guess - but I'm hardly what you'd call a fantatic.  I leave that level of obsession to cricket, for which which I'm much more likely to forego sleep for.  I follow Fulham FC - those that want to can trawl through various of my posts on them - I like it when they do well and I follow the Premier League pretty closely, but in general I follow it because I like sport in general rather than having any sort of great attachment to the Beautiful Game. 

The Ched Evans affair has piqued my interest a little however, most likely because if you follow British sport at the moment you can't not read about it, and have an opinion by consequence.  For those that don't peruse the BBC website as regularly as I do, the bare bones of it are that in 2012, Ched Evans, then a Sheffield United footballer, was convicted of raping a 19 year-old woman in a hotel room and sentenced to five years in prison.  After having served half his sentence (par for the course in these situations, apparently), he was released in October 2014 and has been looking for a gig since.  

Given the fact that the transfer window for signings opens every January, the story has really grown legs lately as speculation has mounted as to whether anyone would sign him.  His old club Sheffield United were moderately keen to re-sign him but bowed to public pressure to have nothing to do with him, and another club in Oldham Athletic were quoted as saying that they were 80% sure they would offer him a contract until they in recent days also pulled out following pressure from sponsors, the public and allegedly, threats that had been made against various of their staff if the deal went through.  Meanwhile, Evans has protested his innocence throughout, and the entire case is subject to an enquiry from the Criminal Cases Review Commission.  

Things are very messy indeed at the moment, with every man and his dog offering an opinion.  Any number of MPs and public figures have labelled Evans as a monster and worse, and have condemned attempts from any clubs interested in signing him.  This has actually extended to Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, both of whom have weighed in against Evans and questioned his future in the game.  It hasn't all been one-way traffic though, with Premier League managers Harry Redknapp and Steve Bruce both suggesting that he had done his time and that he should be given the opportunity to work again.  Bruce in fact seems to have risked being found in contempt of court by questioning the convinction.  

Sex crime and its perception within the community is a really difficult beast to tackle, but as I suggested above, it has been interesting to see the British reaction to it.  Historically, Brits have loved a sex scandal, and whilst this doesn't quite qualify it's certainly ballpark.  The fact that it involves the national obsession in football, during transfer "season" only serves to make it worse, and I have to admit that it bothers me a little that people like Clegg and Cameron think it's appropriate for them to comment on the man's future.  It seems like this is one of those stories that just need to die down for a week or two for Evans to get a break and a contract, but there are any number of elements of the British media and society at large that keep stirring it up.

Does he deserve to get a break and a contract, though?  I'd argue that he does, although "break" isn't really the word I'd use.  We are dealing with a convicted criminal here and that can't be forgotten, but something that a lot of people seem to be forgetting is that he went to prison for two and a half years.  The nature of being "sent down" is that you are rehabilitated, and that you pay your debt to society.  By very definition of the law as I understand it, he would not have been released if these critirea were deemed not to have been met.  That being the case, he should be afforded every opportunity to re-enter society, and being that he's a footballer he should be allowed to play football!  As Harry Redknapp suggested, he must be allowed to live his life.  Anything else is extra-judicial punishment, and essentially makes a mockery of the prison term - if he wasn't paying a debt for previous mis-deeds, then what was he doing there?  

Clearly when it comes to something as high-profile as football we're dealing with more than black and white legal issues, of course.  One of the first things anyone thinks of upon hearing the word "football" is "money", and with money comes the nature of branding and marketing and image - does a company in the business of producing football, who want to engage with their local community by necessity, want to ally their brand with a convicted rapist?  You could see why that would be a challenging thing to consider.  I still think he has earned his right to be considered for a contract along with anyone else, though.  By definition of his imprisonment and release, he should be allowed to ply his trade, and his slate should be clean.  Shouldn't it?     

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