We should not stop Ched Evans returning to football

Ched Evans is a convicted rapist: that is indisputable. What should happen to him, having completed the prison component of his sentence, however, remains to be decided. While an immediate return to his old job is clearly out of the question, an eventual return to football should not be ruled out. There are also serious shortcomings to the campaign to prevent his re-employment which raise important questions about how we as a society, treat those who have been convicted of serious offences.

Firstly, I think we need to clarify exactly what sort of job Ched Evans would be going back into. It’s easy to associate ‘professional football’ with the enormous salaries and extravagant lifestyles seen at the top of the Premier League, but for the League One and Two clubs that have made moves to sign Evans, things are much more modest. Exact figures are hard to judge, but the average salary in League Two is around £65,000. He would be well paid, but a return to football would not make him a millionaire.

Similarly, the lower tiers of professional football are by no means as prestigious as many of Evans’ critics would like to suggest. Most League Two games draw crowds of only a few thousand and most people – dedicated fans excluded – cannot name any of their ‘local’ team’s players. Does going into League Two football really make Evans into a high-profile role model, or is it simply a slide into relative obscurity?

Put simply, is going into League Two football really worse than for Ched Evans to take any other fairly well-paid, fairly prominent position? There would not be such an outcry if Evans were returning to a job in management consultancy. If we take the view that rapists should not be hired for any ‘prestigious’ position, that raises serious questions about how we deal with those who have been convicted of serious crimes.

Generally speaking, further punishment once an offender has been released from prison does not benefit society. Criminals have, by definition, committed often-terrible crimes, but demonization and exclusion from work serves only to increase recidivism; if we prevent the convicted from honest work according to their talents, is it any surprise if they return to crime?  As a high-profile offender, and a convicted rapist, Evans does not neatly fit this profile, but we need to consider this general principle if we are to demand that he be prevented from returning to football. It is an over-simplification to say ‘criminal, therefore bad, therefore should not hold a ‘privileged job.’ People who are convicted of crimes, no matter how serious, should not be denied the potential for rehabilitation.

We should also be concerned by the nature of the campaign against Evans re-joining professional football. Even if we accept that this is a reasonable reaction to a high-profile rapist, the unevenness with which the internet responds reeks more of mob-rule than the application of justice. Ched Evans is, depressingly, far from the only rapist in Britain, but the campaign against him has achieved a disproportionate momentum of its own. We must trust to the criminal justice system to punish offenders – if his sentence is too short, that is another matter – allowing amorphous groups of internet activists to decide these matters is not the recipe for a fair society.

Ched Evans is not the victim of this drama, and we should not be too keen to come to his defence. But that does not mean we must rush to judge and condemn him beyond what the law has already done. Allowing Evans to return to the lower echelons of professional football does not mean to say that he is not a rapist, nor does it heap undue fame and riches upon him. We should not prevent this man from returning to his career but should simply allow him to fade from the public eye.