Wednesday 7 January 2015

Football has always admitted ex criminals back into the game: Why is the Ched Evans case different?

It seems almost certain that League One club Oldham Athletic will sign the footballer and convicted rapist Ched Evans later this week. Since his release from prison and his stated intention to get back into football, few topics have divided football so strongly.

Whether you believe Evans defence that sex with his victim was consensual you can't deny that his behaviour on the night the offence took place was appalling. I don't particularly have a problem with Evans maintaining his innocence, what he hasn't done is show any insight into his actions or show any understanding or remorse for his victim.

Despite the awfulness of this crime, he isn't the first player with a criminal conviction who has returned to football. I think one of the reasons for the hostility to him returning to the game relates to the fact his offence was sexual in nature.

My concern with the Evans case is that we seem to be entering a situation where as a society we want to pick and choose which people and which crimes we think are deserving of a second chance. It's for this reason I think Evans should be allowed to return to football.

I keep hearing the argument that footballers are 'role models' to youngsters and allowing him back into football sends out the wrong message. The whole 'role model' argument is so boring it's beyond boring. It's another example of how football is elevated to a status whereby anyone who can kick a ball is lifted to the status of role model for millions to look up to.

Perhaps it's just me but when I was a kid I never saw footballers or any sports stars as role models, I admired them but I didn't look to them for my moral compass.

If parents hold up footballers to their children as role models then something has gone seriously wrong. There's also the view that football is "glamorous". That's true to a large extent but the glamour of plying your trade in Leagues One and Two is few and far between.

In the last ten years there's been quite a few high profile cases of footballers returning to football after being released from prison. In 2004 The Premiership footballer Lee Hughes was found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving and was jailed for six years. Following his release he resumed his football career playing for Oldham and Notts County.

In 2008 Luke McCormick was jailed for seven years after pleading guilty to causing death by dangerous driving, as well as a charge of drink-driving. He killed two brothers while twice over the legal drink-drive limit. Following his release from prison he returned to his former club Plymouth.

At my own club Birmingham City, we signed Marlon King in 2011 who served time in prison and had a string of criminal offences stretching back over a number of years.

I ask the question again is the hostility to Evans based upon the fact that his offence was of a sexual nature? Or the fact that he maintains he innocence?

In today's Guardian Marina Hyde wrote a great article on the subject making the point that those arguing for Evans to be banned should protest at lenient rape sentencing rather than expecting football to give a moral lead.

I couldn't agree more. It's ridiculous how we expect football to stand above and beyond the rest of society. Football is entertainment, like the music and film industry. We don't expect music and films stars to be perfect role models.

For much of my career I worked in health regulation. Health professionals such as doctors, nurses and psychologists are unlikely to return to their professions should they be convicted and imprisoned for a serious criminal offence.

In many cases they would be struck off the register. One of the reasons for that decision is the idea of maintaining public confidence in those professions as well as the issue of public protection.

Again football is entertainment - my confidence in football will not be undermined by Evans return. He does not pose a threat to the public by playing football.

As football fans we don't have to like or look up to every footballer - Ched Evans lack of remorse for his victim means he is unlikely to ever gain great public support or sympathy. We do however live in a society where we look to rehabilitate ex offenders and allow them back into employment and participation into society.

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