That’s because an awful lot has been written and said about it. And much of it has troubled me.
I’d rather not think about men like Ched Evans, he is completely alien to my experience of men.
And I’d really rather not think about rape either. I’m small and slight and almost every man I meet could hurt me if he chose to. That thought almost never crosses my mind because I live among good men and in a society that does not tolerate violence.
That’s not to say my circle of family and friends has not been affected by rape, sadly it has, but I’ve never allowed this to colour my view of men. Why would I? There are bad and good people in the world.
But I have been very unsettled by a lot of the reaction to Ched Evan’s potential return to football, about the messages it would send out and, mainly, about the impact it would have on the woman Ched Evans raped.
Appallingly, she has seemed secondary to a lot of this debate. She – a 19-year-old waitress at the time of the rape – has been raped, subjected to a horrific hate campaign that forced her to leave her hometown and is now at the centre of an awful, drawn out public debate about the worst thing that will, hopefully, ever happen to her.
But all-too-often people haven’t been talking about her, except to comment on whether what happened was her fault for being drunk. The debate hasn’t been about how hard all of this must have been on her, it’s been about how bad the rape actually was and how the man who did this to her should, or shouldn’t, be allowed to resume his high-profile career in football.
It’s a discussion about Ched Evans’ career statistics versus the potential negative PR to have him employed by, in this case, Sheffield United. It would be so, so much easier if he had no talent. How simple to not employ him and take a moral stance then.
To be clear, I agree anyone leaving prison has a right to seek employment. Ideally, that person would be rehabilitated, unlikely to re-offend and remorseful. I believe in second chances.
Yes, Ched Evans has a legal right to seek employment within football and football clubs have the legal right to employ him if they choose to. It is my fervent hope that football chooses not to employ him on moral grounds.
I’ve been told morals no longer exist in football. I would like to believe that’s not the case and, if it is, that doesn’t mean we should accept it.
This isn’t a platform to go into the rights and wrongs of every man convicted of a crime who then returned to football. My purpose in writing this is to give some kind of order to my own thoughts, my growing unease, about the possibility of Ched Evans returning to the game.
It is not about being vindictive or inflicting additional punishment, he has served his time in prison. It’s about the voice of football and what it is going to say.
Is it going to say, it’s ok to cheer this man, to have his name on the back of your shirt, to raise him to the status of local hero because of the colours he wears and the goals he scores?
Or is it going to say, we could employ this man, we know we could benefit from his skills, but we will not tolerate rape and will not inflict further distress on his victim.
I’m sure about that last bit. If he is employed within football again, she will feel further distress. She will feel the rape, and everything she has endured as a result of reporting that rape, matters less than this sport. Certainly, that’s been the tone of a lot of what I’ve read this week.
I’m sure the majority of football fans will at least feel discomfort seeing Ched Evans wearing their club’s colours, but he will be idolised by some in the stands. In the most unpleasant way, by the most unpleasant people.
And the fans who chant that god awful ‘she said no’ song will tell themselves, and may believe, that they are standing up for the victim, but they’re not. They’ll be referencing rape to ‘score points’ against a rival football team, bringing up this horrific event once again in public, every week for as long as he has a career in the game.
Ched Evans may feed off that negativity. I imagine his victim would rather not hear it, would rather not be the subject of a football stadium back and forth about something this personal and painful. She deserves better than this, than all of this.
I believe a major factor in all this debate is the fact that she was drunk when she was raped. Had she been sober and dragged off the street, Ched Evan’s return to football would be unthinkable.
We should not need reminding that it is never, ever the victim’s fault. It’s not a crime to be drunk but it’s incredible how often this is referenced by media reporting this story. Try inserting the words ‘vulnerable and’ in front of ‘drunk’ next time you read it.
And this makes Ched Evans’ potential re-employment in football an even greater concern to me. Because you would hope that the overwhelming majority of male football fans would never consider a violent rape on a stranger, but you can bet many will find themselves alone with a very drunk woman who is incapable of consent.
If he resumes his high-profile career it’s a message to them – it’s says, Ched was unlucky, he shouldn’t really have been convicted, it wasn’t that bad, it was her fault really, here’s your hero.
I don’t think for one moment that I would be able to return to my job (as a freelance PR) if I was convicted of a violent crime against a vulnerable person. I would have to find other employment and I suspect that would be the case for many people.
Other entertainment industries appear to have an informal moral code we agree with. Nobody would be happy to have Jim’ll Fix It back on our television screens. There would be an outcry. I don’t understand why football should be different.
Ian Birrell wrote about rehabilitation and Ched Evans’ right to return to football in The Guardian today.
He wrote: “A rapist footballer cannot be equated with a fraudster trying to get a job in finance, or a paedophile teacher seeking work in a school, when there are obvious reasons to bar their return to a job. He is simply a sportsman.”
I value women over financial institutions that may fall victim to a fraudster (thankfully, we can all agree on the paedophile teacher analogy) and Ian is referring to a sportsman who will play in front of women and work with women.
A high-profile sportsman, now more high-profile than ever, who will appear on television and radio, in the press, in fanzines and on social media, in front of women.
A woman, specifically a woman given the nature of this crime, is the victim here. That is one compelling reason to “bar his return.”
Violence against women is endemic, the sentencing of domestic abusers, when they are actually brought to court, is shamefully lenient. That, and the sentencing for rape offences, is another story but it is relevant here. Here, where a woman has literally been ‘named and shamed’ and faces still more abuse.
Reported rapes rose by 29% in England and Wales last year. If we want victims to come forward, this would be a good time to send them a message.
Football is a game I love. It has brought me fantastic friends and helped shape my career. Today, it has the chance to say something meaningful to the victim of Ched Evans, to me – to all women.
If it chose to, it could say: we, football, this male-dominated industry, will not tolerate violence towards you, we believe in you, we will support you.
You can get signed up to true faith for a mere £17.99 annual cost. Or you could go for the
£5.99 quarterly option. Each season we bring out ten issues and each issue will have a minimum of 100 pages, though some will have more, like this one coming in on 108 pages. Each subscription entitles the reader to free access to our back catalogue of 30+ issues. There is no extra charge.
Just click here to get an instant subscription.