How Ched Evans can return to football

Return of the Dragon: Evans was freed from prison this morning

Return of the Dragon: Evans was freed from prison this morning

Early this morning, Ched Evans left Lancashire’s Wymott Prison in the backseat of a tinted vehicle a free man, having served half his time for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room in Rhyl, north Wales.

But returning to society as a convicted rapist, the 25-year-old footballer may only now truly realise the severity of his actions. The wrath of the baying terraces and toxic tackles await Evans should any club risk their fans’ loyalty by playing society integrator.

In a week when a BBC study into the Price of Football revealed statistics that many believe do not equate with the astronomical television rights to broadcast Premier League football matches, the thought of helping to pay the wages of a man showing no remorse as yet for the crime he committed would be another sign of the gatekeepers to our national game being out of touch with the many thousands entering the turnstiles each week.

There is nothing legally preventing Evans from returning to football. It is now a subject of moral debate: Should the Wales international receive the double punishment of now being shunned by football?

Sheffield United, the club with whom Evans scored 42 in 103 games prior to being jailed on April 20th 2012, are yet to make a decision on whether or not to bring the player they once bought for £3million back to the League One side. Manager Nigel Clough recently visited him in prison and revealed that it would be the board – “above football level” – making the call.

If that judgment shall be made based partly on opinion polls, Evans would surely not be granted the second chance that in principle he should be afforded in a law-abiding society. What really rankles the 145,000 people to have signed a petition against United re-employing him is that he is yet to show signs of rehabilitation. His lack of apology has angered members of the public alike, many of whom feel he should serve a longer sentence in order for him to accept wrongdoing.

Accepting responsibility for the crime would help. But should we be led to thinking Evans is condoning rape due to his remorseless stance? Where do we stop punishing people? Were he to be a convicted paedophile, returning to a role as a nursery assistant would be deemed as endangering the public – but he is not.

Running around on a grass pitch does not pose a threat to society in itself. As bleak as it might sound, Evans is no less likely to re-offend on an inebriated night out as a recruitment consultant or executive manager.

Denying him the opportunity of returning to a profession in which he has a track record of performing well would not only represent a failure in the principle of second chances, but it could lead to less of a re-integration into society. Indeed, if football rejects Evans, why wouldn’t any other sector? The idea that footballers were seen as role models died long before the advancement of social media. They are mere sportsmen capable of mistakes.

Selling a plush car to his victim’s family garaged during the two-and-a-half-years spent in prison would prove an insufficient apology (that much we already know), but is saying he has rehabilitated any more indicative of a man who has learned his lesson? It is his actions that shall speaker louder than his words.

This relatively high-profile case should be used as an example to young aspiring footballers in particular that there is no place for rape nor violence towards women. It can also be used to dissuade drunken girls from throwing themselves at high earners who are constantly under public scrutiny. Sheffield United, and other clubs in the Football League whose plight could be eased with the acquisition of a player of proven ability, should be lauded and not chastised if they hold out an olive branch to the offender, but only if Evans plays his part.

Football has an illustrious past of turning sinners into saints. Oldham Athletic signed Lee Hughes after the striker had served three of a six-year sentence for killing a passenger upon losing control of his vehicle. The sport’s working-class roots are still pervasive, allowing it to be used as a tool for good when many of the underprivileged turn to crime. Evans has flouted the golden rule in throwing what has been offered him back in the face of football, but the fickle nature of the sport could just as easily represent his saviour, even if the striker doesn’t replicate the goal-scoring record Hughes achieved for the Latics.

How would he feel if his daughter had been raped and the perpetrator showed no sign of repentance? Does he feel he has the right to resuscitate his career when his victim has had to deal with Twitter hate campaigns, been forced to adopt a new identity and leave her hometown?

The Office of National Statistics reported yesterday that 22,000 rapes cases were reported for the 12 months leading up to June 2014 – a 29 percent increase. In order to help reduce these figures, Rape Crisis, the registered charity in England and Wales, should take the moral high ground of engaging with the footballer’s family in its campaign for change.

Evans must now be allowed to send out a strong message condemning sexual violence against women before any ball is kicked in anger. Involving himself in campaigns alongside anti-rape movements, donating his wage to Rape Crisis and admitting guilt would go a long way to welcoming Evans back into the football fraternity and society as a whole.

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