The case of Ched Evans has hit the headlines once again as news reports announce that he’s due for release any day. This has again raised the question as to whether Sheffield United, the football club he used to play before, should give him a new contract to come back and play for them.
Ched was given a 5 year prison sentence for rape – a conviction which he is appealing. At the time of his arrest, he was playing for Sheffield United. Shortly after he was sentenced, his contract came to an end, and the club decided not to renew it at that stage.
But the same principled question remains – should he be able to return and work as a professional footballer? Sheffield United have suggested that they’ll be considering whether to offer him a new contract once he’s released – and at the time of writing this, that hadn’t happened yet.
Interestingly, Gordon Taylor, Chief Executive of the Professional Footballers Association, has come out clearly stating that the law doesn’t prevent ex-prisoners from working. That is very true, but likewise nor is there a law that says to employers that they must employ people in Chad’s situation either – ultimately, it’s up the employer to make a judgement.
So is there some kind of ‘higher-rule’ when it comes to people in the public-eye, or in roles where people get paid a lot of money or ‘looked up’ to as role-models? That’s certainly the line of the organisation Rape Crisis. In their view, bringing him back would be failing “to send a very strong message that rape and sexual violence against women and girls more broadly, will not be tolerated within football”. Yet following that logic, who should be allowed to employ him? Surely no profession wants to be associated with ‘tolerating’ that kind of behaviour?
And that’s where I think things goes wrong. The ‘strong message’ that rape and sexual violence will not be tolerated was (and is) shown by his arrest, charge, conviction and sentence. That’s why we have an independent judiciary – their role is to look at the full case and decide on the most appropriate punishment, if found guilty. Nobody is condoning the offence that he has been convicted of. And it’s right that, whatever happens, it’s made clear that people who carry out such offences will be punished.
But giving somebody a job when they’re released from prison is far from ‘tolerating’ the behaviour that they were sent to prison for. If this was the case, nobody released from prison would ever get a job (making it even more difficult than what it already is).
Following the logic of ‘not being a professional footballer’, the next question would logically be what type of job would be ‘acceptable’? The truth is that it’s dangerous territory to start defining which roles people should or shouldn’t be able to do, unless there are clear risks which need to be mitigated against (for example, working with children).
The risk with this case is that the ‘ordinary rules’ go out the window. But if we go back to basics, society generally wants to see people caught, charged, convicted and punished. Most importantly, they don’t want it to happen again. And that’s what we encourage employers to look at when they are thinking about recruiting somebody who has a conviction. Firstly, employers should decide on the best person for the job. In this case, Sheffield United may decide that Ched is that person. If so, the next thing they need to consider is whether Ched is ‘a risk’ of offending again. Given he’s serving he rest of his sentence in the community, the Probation Service should be able to help with that one.
But that’s not been the focus of this debate – it’s been more focused on whether, morally, he should be able to continue as a footballer? The ‘risk’ of offending has not really been a factor that’s been discussed.
So should we be listing the types of jobs that people with convictions cannot do, simply because they’re high-profile? Should we be barring more people with convictions from more types of work? More importantly, should we be seeing footballers, and other people that young people in particular ‘look up’ to a role-models, as being as good as the worst part of their past?
Without diminishing the serious of the offence in question, the reality is that people make mistakes. Clearly, whether Ched accepts his guilt or not, there were some moral questions behind his behaviour, and I hope he’s had chance to reflect on this whilst he’s been in prison. And when he is actually released, it will be interesting to hear his perspective. But once he comes out, that’s where the ‘punishment’ needs to stop.
There are over 9 million people with convictions in England & Wales. To varying degrees, many feel like the punishment never ends – a criminal record, in many respects, is a “life sentence”. But that doesn’t mean that, as a society, we have to continue to punishment people. And this kind of ‘double punishment’ serves no meaningful purpose.
To my mind, the ‘two sides’ to this debate are not as polarised as might seem to be the case. Sheffield United wouldn’t be ‘condoning’ sexual violence by bringing back Ched Evans – they’d be recognising that people deserve a second chance!