Professor Lincoln Allen, a world-leading scholar of the politics of sport, has called for the convicted rapist, Ched Evan, to be allowed to play professional football again.
In April 2012, Evans was convicted of raping a woman in a hotel room in Wales. According to his legal team he “maintains his absolute innocence and his family, friends and many who know the true facts of the case believe that his conviction was a gross miscarriage of justice”.
Evans’ case is being reviewed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission and in the meantime his attempts to return to football since leaving jail in October 2014 have failed, due to the pressure placed on clubs wishing to sign him.
On Thursday, Oldham Athletic, dropped plans to bring Evans to the club after fans, staff and sponsors received a barrage of abuse including death threats and threats to rape members of their family.
Speaking to BBC Radio Sussex, Professor Allison said:
“This is a very different character from Marlon King who was serially beating up women and who reappeared on the football field without anybody making the fuss that they have about Ched Evans. So I think the press have reacted in many ways and I think a bullying and hypocritical way to this case.”
Asked about the treatment of the female victim who has been the subject of abuse on social media which has led her to change her name and change address, the professor said:
“There’s no justice in vilifying the victim and that’s a function of bullying on social media and obviously I don’t condone that in anyway whatsoever, I’m not defending any of that, but he hasn’t done that.”
However, Allison said he had personal reasons for understanding why Evans hasn’t apologised for the crime, acknowledging the he had been wrongly accused of a minor offence at a university in Australia. He said:
“One of the procedures involved was that I should show some contrition and apologise and I wasn’t going to do that because I didn’t do it, in that sense I have an empathy with him. If you believe yourself to be innocent it would be ridiculous to show contrition. He has always said he was innocent.
Professor Allison also said that the idea that sportsmen should “show a higher moral standard than other people” was “loopy”. He said:
“Professional sportsmen consisting of young males, often from the lower strata of society, often have higher rates of criminality than the population as a whole, so this general expectation that they should be exemplars to us I think is simply a throwback to the days when the England rugby fullback, you know, was a surgeon who stayed up all night saving lives and so on. It’s a legacy of amateurism. It’s not a reasonable expectation of modern professional sportsmen.
“American professional sport in particular is full of people who’ve been in and out of jail. In my view, given that he has served a conviction for a crime that he’s always claimed he didn’t commit---to absolutely ruin his career by not allowing him to do what he does best would be ridiculous.
Can footballers be role models?
“It’s never been invoked in the case of any other footballer whose been accused of a crime. I was going through the list yesterday. George Best spent time in jail, so did Tony Adams, during their careers--okay mostly for offences involving assaults and driving---but they were offences that endangered life, which is a great deal more that what happened in that hotel room ever did.”
Asked whether he would want his sons to have a poster on their wall of Ched Evans as a football hero he said:
“My sons are grown up now and they were both football fans and basically there are not many footballers I would want them to have posters of in terms of their moral worth to be perfectly honest. You can have reservations about anyone’s personality or record while watching them do what they do. So no, I would discourage my sons from having a poster of him and a lot of other footballers on their walls, but I certainly wouldn’t wish to stop him working.
“I’m a shareholder in Burnley Football Club and if a Burnley came in and said well you’ve been vilified, you’ve always maintained your innocent, you’ve served your term and you can play for us and we’re not really going to be bound by what many of these clubs have been bound by, which is their sponsors image, in doing the proper thing here, then I would have been perfectly happy.”
How can offenders makes amends?
Juliet Lyon, the director of the Prison Reform Trust also spoke to the programme about what action is needed to help an offender rehabilitate when they leave prison. She said:
“There’s absolutely no doubt that it’s a difficult thing to do, to leave prison and re-establish yourself in the community. Obviously that’s what everybody wants, you want people---if they have had to serve a prison sentence because their offending was serious enough to warrant that---you want them to lead a responsible life in the community. The way that happens is to have a job, to have somewhere safe to live and to the have the backing of your family.
“Some of the most effective work that happens is restorative justice where people are really encouraged to think about the impact that their crime has had on the victim and on society and in some cases very courageous victims are engaged in talking to offenders about the impact on them or the family members and when somebody realises the damage they’ve done there is a better likelihood that they will be remorseful.
“People don’t spend time in prison feeling good about something they’ve done, I think it’s unusual to find somebody who’s enjoying the fact that they’ve done harm to somebody else, but of course you want people to understand the impact on victims and be remorseful.
“If somebody has a high profile---and certainly this case is absolutely atypical and unusual in that way---then you would really hope that remorse would be shown and it made clear that a case like this is very terrible and should never happen again.
“It can be complicated if somebody is in a process of appealing a sentence because in that instance while, if they’re approaching the Criminal Cases Review Commission, that means that they are maintaining that they’re in fact innocent of that crime and while they’re maintaining that and in the process of seeking to appeal their conviction, it does mean it’s very difficult for them to say anything at all about the crime in question.”
Rachel Anderson, the first female football agent, also spoke briefly to the programme about the sex of the victim. She said:
“I don’t think we’d be having this conversation had he been convicted of raping a man, then football would not, in any shape or form, entertain having him back.”