The Ched Evans saga has done nothing for the reputation of Sheffield United, football in general or the individuals involved, with a few notable exceptions, (take a bow Charlie Webster and Jessica Ennis). The following suggestions might help football avoid similar situations in future.
Rape convictions are rare but there is a history of some footballers behaving in a sexually abusive way towards women. Footballers are never likely to sign vows of chastity and as famous, wealthy young men, they are always going to be a focus of attention for some young women. Given this, clubs should take responsibility for educating all players about what consent means in sexual relationships. Players benefit by learning not to behave in ways likely to end up in court.
Decisions about whether a player with a serious conviction should return to the game should not be taken by individual clubs but by an external panel including representatives from outside the world of football. The panel could look at a number of factors including the seriousness of the offence, the degree of remorse and the player’s willingness to use his status to raise public awareness about the issue in question.
No player convicted of a serious offence should be able to return to the game until all the legal processes have run their course. In the Evans case one of the arguments for his lack of contrition was that this might undermine his appeal, and in this case it is clearly premature to consider any return to the game.
The underlying assumption for this approach is that clubs accept that footballers are role models – looked up to by many and in particular by young people, so clubs should demand certain behavioural standards of their players. For those who claim that this is too idealistic I’d suggest an alternative option. Any clubs not wanting to go down this route could sign up to the following charter.
“We are not a family club. We are only interested in making some money for the directors and hopefully winning a few games to keep our manager in his job. To this end we are happy to sign up any degenerate as long as he can hold our shaky back four together or get us 15 goals a season.”
Should go down well with the sponsors.