While is not unknown for football clubs to be over-sensitive to criticism, I would not blame Sheffield United for feeling they were being demonised by some national outlets.
Whatever they decide on Ched Evans there will be some sort of outcry, doubtless for one course of action more than another. And even those taking a purely moral stance will be aware that, rightly or wrongly, jailed footballers invariably return to their trade.
This is rarely at the club they served when they offended, which is why the spotlight on Bramall Lane is so fierce. But we should not forget this: it is not this club - or any one club - on trial here.
Evans assuredly WILL play again somewhere. Those who think that is wrong have a fight to pick with the game as a whole. This column joined the recent chorus for a decision from United one way or the other. But that supposes the co-owners are in agreement. If they are not, do they have an option beyond playing a waiting game?
The fast-tracking of an investigation into Evans’ rape conviction, which could take it to the Court of Appeal, is a new element. Logic, rather than emotion, seems to side with former sports minister Richard Caborn’s view that United should not take Evans back barring an expression of remorse (which the player flatly refuses to give in continuing to protest innocence) or a successful appeal. This would appear to leave the club (where ex Sheffield MP Caborn was once a director) with little choice but to let the dark clouds hover and weather the storm. Yet maybe they could/ should explain this? That they are waiting out the legal process and won’t sign Evans in the meantime?
Or would they worry that would let in other clubs? We know they are watching.
There’s simply no getting away from a subject making national news. Evans could still be many months from a judgment. Is he to be kept in employment limbo? Would re-signing him in the meantime be interpreted as Sheffield United going above the law in believing the conviction was unjust? Just two of many hugely difficult questions.
Then again, Evans’ supporters can argue that he must be sincere to take what many would regard as the more difficult comeback course. It is not for a football journalist to delve into the finer detail of the case itself. My concern has been for the club’s welfare in questioning whether such a signing now, when good good alternatives are surely attainable, would be worth the hassle.
Perhaps the one good thing to emerge from this traumatic episode is that a great many decent folk have been able to disagree, often strongly, without falling out. In the main.
Sadly, there will always be those who can’t accept a conflicting opinion without resorting to abuse. But the bottom line surely is that holding a different view from others doesn’t make you (or them) bad people.
On the moral question of whether United should rehabilitate a rapist who has done his time, I have heard opposing attitudes vehemently expressed... by genuine, “right thinking” people in most cases. One opinion is not necessarily right or wrong. It’s in that spirit of tolerance that we must try to continue because there are no easy answers here.