Politicians question return of convicted rapist
An English football club came under attack from leading politicians, campaign groups and its own shirt sponsor on Wednesday for allowing a player who was convicted of rape to resume training at its facilities.
Sheffield United, which plays in English football’s third tier, has accepted a request from the country’s players’ union to allow Wales international Ched Evans to train at the club following his release from jail after serving half of a five-year sentence for rape.
“He is purely down to train with us and we will take it from there,” said United manager Nigel Clough, who added that no decision had been made over whether to offer Evans a contract.
Paul Blomfield, a Sheffield-based legislator of the opposition Labour Party, urged the club to reconsider its decision because the issue is “dragging our name through the mud and dividing fans” and does not believe Evans has recognized the gravity of his crime.
“Since his release, Ched Evans has not taken this first step towards rehabilitation, but has trivialised his crime by describing it as an ‘act of infidelity,’” Blomfield said in an open letter to Sheffield United’s co-chairmen.
“So we are considering the case of an unrepentant convicted rapist. To take him back in these circumstances sends a disturbing message to young people and victims of sexual violence about how we view rape.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg reiterated his view that United needed to think “long and hard about the decision” because footballers are not “just any old employee, they’re also role models.”
“It is for the football club to decide,” Clegg said, “but I really do think that footballers these days, they are major public figures who have a public responsibility to set an example for other people.”
Charlie Webster, a patron of Sheffield United, said late Tuesday she was resigning from her position, telling the BBC that was unhappy that nobody at the club had acknowledged the seriousness of Evans’ offense.
United came under further pressure later Wednesday when DBL Logistics, which sponsors the club’s shirt, said it would “end its back-of-shirt sponsorship ... if the club employed a convicted rapist.”
DBL Logistics said in a statement that it would continue as a sponsor “whilst the current situation remains.”
United said it had considered the views of its staff, official bodies, the union, club supporters and the public before agreeing to the return of Evans.
And in a statement, the club said there should be no place for “mob justice” and that society had no right to “seek to impose extrajudicial or post-term penalties on anyone.”
“According to the law of the land he is entitled an opportunity to resume his career,” Clough said Wednesday.
Clough’s view was shared by Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association.
“We recognize that these issues can provoke strong feelings,” Taylor said.
“However, we feel that there must be some recognition that, if the justice system determines that an individual has served his or her punishment, then it is appropriate to allow them to return to the community.”
Evans, who has played 13 times for Wales, admitted to having sex with the woman but denied raping her. The woman said in court that she had no memory of the incident and the prosecution said she was too drunk to consent.
The 25-year-old Evans is a former Manchester City player. He was playing for Sheffield United before being convicted.