As the controversy around the return of Ched Evans to the training ground at Sheffield United rumbles on, musician and staunchly Sheffield lad Paul Heaton has become the latest patron of the club to resign. He stated “I firmly believe that Ched Evans has the right to rebuild his career in football but (this) should not involve walking straight out of prison and into the shirt of the club he so badly let down.”
Heaton added that his fee from an upcoming gig at Sheffield City Hall would be donated to the Rape Crisis centre in the city.
Sheffield United bosses seemed oblivious to the storm that Evans’ return would herald but are now said to be distancing themselves from from the convicted rapist, allegedly branding him ‘toxic’.
Guilty until proven innocent?
Evans remains adamant that he is innocent, and the only statements he has made are regarding his desire to return to the football pitch.
Is this refusal to acknowledge that a crime took place, and apologise publicly partly to blame for the backlash against him? The whole point of a custodial sentence is for the felon to serve their time and hopefully be rehabilitated by the time they’re released, ready to reintegrate into society but Evans’ continued protestation of innocence flies in the face of this theory. We all know that miscarriages of justice occur, but with a subject as sensitive of rape, his admittal that sex took place and the evidence of the victim being intoxicated, it’s difficult to sit on his side of the fence.
From Evans’ point of view, if he truly does believe that the sex was consensual, he’s doing what any right-minded person would do in maintaining his innocence. Unfortunately for him, this is all going on in the public domain and his apparent lack of humility is not going down well with many people. It has struck me that if he did admit his guilt and make a public apology, perhaps both Evans and Sheffield United would be having an easier time of it. After all, he’d have shown remorse and paid for his crime with a stint behind bars.
By not doing the above, Evans projects an air of something akin to arrogance and I believe that this is as damaging to his beloved former club as their initial agreement to his rejoining training with them. By continuing their association with him, Sheffield United were, by proxy, sending out the message that the British Justice System can’t be trusted to convict fairly
Who is right?
The very public resignation of Heaton and others as patron, and the clear message sent by Olympic athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill regarding the removal of her name from a stand at Bramall Lane will have removed any doubt in the minds of the club that allowing Evans to continue training will cause serious damage to the brand of the Blades and football as a sport.
Heaton is right when he says that “Evans has a right to rebuild his career” but by snubbing the opportunity to do so quietly, he has stoked the fire of opinion on social media and in the press and allowed the name of the victim to be dragged through the mud with him.