Last week saw a Football League club close to signing a convicted rapist, out on licence so not having completed his time contrary to popular misrepresentation of the facts. A good friend of a friend, Malin, some of you will have met her before and after matches, asked to produce a guest post on the subject. That she is a Gooner entitles her to have her views aired on this medium before anyone makes a snap judgement to the contrary. That I agree with every word makes it compulsory for me. Thank you Malin.
A few days have passed since Oldham released the statement that they were no longer considering signing convicted rapist Ched Evans.
A correct decision, and yet which still leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. It was the right decision, as it was when Sheffield United decided not to let the striker train with his old club, but a right decision made for all the wrong reasons.
The level of naivety with which the clubs, their representatives and other prominent names within the football community have approached this subject is staggering.
Football prides itself on being a vital part of any local community. Footballers are the number one source of male role models in the United Kingdom (and many other parts of the world as well). This means that, whether they want it to be the case or not, they have a certain responsibility.
Evans is not the first footballer to be convicted of a crime and I am fairly sure he won’t be the last.
The fact that there aren’t any guidelines when it comes to situations like these is, frankly, crazy. It’s as if everyone in the football world thought this wasn’t going to be a big deal.
I’m happy that the general public proved them wrong.
But I’m disappointed that football failed to realise this. Being a female football supporter I am very aware that football, in many ways, is still a boys-only club. Even though things are improving, we have a long way to go, and this case only emphasises that fact.
I have seen endless comments trying to play down what Evans did as “not real rape”, stating that the girl was drunk and knew what she was getting into when she decided to take the taxi back to the hotel together with Evans’ mate. This is not only a horrific case of victim blaming, it’s also incredibly disrespectful to the girl.
Before Evans can even consider going back to playing professional football, he needs to show he’s understood what it is he’s done and take responsibility for his actions.
Step number one would be to close down his website which proclaims Evans to be “wrongly convicted of rape” and tell his fiancée’s father, Karl Massey, to back off. Right now the businessman is doing more to harm than to help his future son-in-law.
The website has, besides other things, published CCTV footage showing the victim entering the hotel together with Evans’ mate and encouraging people to “make up your own mind” as to whether or not the girl was too drunk to consent.
With friends like Karl Massey, and the Internet followers who tirelessly harass the victim, Evans doesn’t need enemies.
I’m also terribly disappointed in the statements coming out in Evans’ defence from the likes of Steve Bruce and Harry Redknapp. About as disappointed as I am in the lack of big names taking a stand for the victim in all of this, in fact.
So many big names within football are expressing concerns about Evans’ well being and his right to get on with his life. But I have seen few mentions of the girl in question.
Not many talk about her right to get on with her life. Something she cannot do considering she’s been forced to change her identity five times, according to her father, because Evans’ supporters continue to hunt her down and expose her.
Some people seem to claim that Evans only did what any other 20-something young man would do in that same situation.
And this is the main problem.
Those who are defending Evans are shouting themselves hoarse pointing at how much the victim had to drink, that she knew what she was getting into, that she has herself to blame – but they all miss the point.
Nothing about her behaviour should matter.
The natural response to meeting a too-drunk girl on the street after a late night shouldn’t be to bring her back to your hotel room, all the while texting your mate about how you “got a bird”.
The natural response is never ever to take advantage of someone.
Pretending that what Evans and his friend did is normal, or simply is what to be expected, should offend any other man out there who knows they would never do the same thing.
This isn’t only football’s problem. It’s society’s problem. The way that some men keep saying that we can’t know if Evans actually is guilty seem to conveniently forget that a jury, with access to the full details, thought that he was. The court that denied Evans his appeal agreed.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission has agreed to review his conviction, but this doesn’t mean he’s innocent. It doesn’t even mean that the CCRC will actually find enough to warrant an appeal.
But still – the footballing world is full with men who weren’t present and are sure that they know better than the witnesses, the jury or the judge. With men who claim it isn’t really rape. Who claim Evans really isn’t that kind of guy.
Evans has every right to play football, but he has no undisputed right to do it professionally. And he definitely has no right to doing so without any criticism going his way.
The situation he is in now is a direct result of the choices he made that night in Rhyl. What happened afterwards didn’t happen to him – it happened as a consequence of his actions and the choices he made.
Football needs to take responsibility and show that it is an inclusive sport for everyone – and not a boys-only-club where men of different ages only look out for themselves and each other.
They owe that much to all their female supporters, all the young boys and girls who are looking up to these players and above all everyone who has ever been the victim of something like what happened to the girl in Rhyl.
I believe Evans can play football professionally again, but I believe that the club who decides to sign him must realise what it means to be a part of his rehabilitation. Oldham, it would appear, thought they could get a talented footballer at a bargain price because of his conviction, but without accepting any of the responsibility. This is insultingly arrogant.
Evans is not helped by people telling him he has done nothing wrong. He is helped by people holding him accountable for his actions.
If football is serious in its claims to be a sport open to everyone, this could have been a great time to show it. Instead we are left with a shambolic mess that very few, least of all those representing the beautiful game that is football, come out of with any shred of dignity.
This IS important because we, the wider population that football has fought to court in recent years, feel strongly about it.
Those representing football today owes it to the supporters to take it seriously.