They same that time is a great healer, but in the case of football’s latest two controversies, nobody has defined the length of the prescription. The cases of Malky Mackay and Ched Evans are incomparable in terms of the gravity of their offences, but their reassimilation into football have thrown up similar problems.
Racism awareness groups, such as Kick It Out, and rape awareness groups who campaigned against Sheffield United’s decision to let Evans train with them, would doubtless refer to themselves as liberal reform groups. At least in their words, if not in their deeds, they appear to endorse the idea of rehabilitation; a concept that most people recognise as an essential part of any civilised legal system. In the case of Mackay though, there doesn’t seem to have been any efforts made to propose a suitable timetable for this process. And in the case of Evans, though a return to employment is acknowledged as an essential part of the process of ‘rehabilitation’, the idea of Evans taking his first steps towards doing this is apparently unpalatable. Why?
The phrase that has cropped up frequently in discussions is the idea that it is ‘too soon’ to begin rehabilitating both individuals. Let’s take the Mackay case first. Mackay hasn’t received any punishment for the bigoted language he was revealed to have used in private correspondence during his time at Cardiff City. This is because he was unemployed at the time of the revelations, and therefore outside of the FA’s jurisdiction. Many expected that a return to employment with Wigan Athletic would prompt an immediate FA charge. Instead his return has prompted a FA investigation, even though the subject matter is by now public knowledge and MacKay has admitted to using the language contained within the texts and emails.
At least in their words, if not in their deeds, they appear to endorse the idea of rehabilitation; a concept that most people recognise as an essential part of any civilised legal system
Mackay’s evasion of any kind of punishment is the real reason why most people find his appointment as Wigan manager so objectionable. He left a job at Cardiff, a job he was bound to leave anyway due to his untenable relationship with the owner, took a short sabbatical and seamlessly returned after a matter of months. The FA need to charge him swiftly and issue a ban of reasonable length from the game. Then Mackay can be said to have ‘done his time’ and the concept of it being ‘too soon’ for him to return can be put to bed.
It’s impossible to have any sympathy with Ched Evans. He has shown absolutely no contrition. It was a dreadful reflection of his character that he didn’t realise he was doing wrong at the time, and it’s an even worse indictment that he still is unable to grasp this fact. He would have helped his own cause a great deal if he had publically stated the reasons why his actions amounted to rape. There has been no evidence of Evans educating himself on the subject.
Nevertheless, Evans was charged, tried, convicted and sentenced before a court of law. He has served what the penal system and the relevant authorities consider enough time in prison, though this is shy of the original 5 year sentence. This is one objection that many have had to Evans returning; he hasn’t served his time fully. However, since when were football clubs given the moral and legal authority to determine when a convict becomes a free man? For the record, Evans is not yet a free man. He is only out on license.
There will be a club who takes a chance on Evans, because he’s a decent goal scorer. And people will have to accept that Evans is free to take up the offer, no matter what kind of example they think that sets
This strikes at the duality within the discourse of those social commentators and pressure groups that have had their say on the subject. On the one hand football is said to be morally bankrupt, with an anything goes culture that forgives practically anything so long as the perpetrator is reasonably good at kicking a bag of air around a field. This is to a large extent, a fair observation. Yet at the same time, the sport and the professionals who play it occupy a privileged position in society and should therefore lead the way on moral issues. These two notions are completely incompatible. If you think football is a moral and ethical wasteland, don’t insist that its inhabitants be societies’ moral tutors.
The pressure applied by several key figures, most crucially Jessica Ennis-Hill, forced the club to repeal their decision to let Evans train with them. There are good reasons why a football club wouldn’t want to employ Ched Evans. The nature of the crime and his lack of remorse have shown him to be a character you may not want representing your organisation. On a purely pragmatic level, signing him would create a media circus at the club and a distraction that Evans’ modest talents on the field don’t justify.
However, there will be a club who see past these considerations. It might be in three months, it might be in three years. There will be a club who take a chance on Evans, because he’s a decent goal scorer. And people will have to accept that Evans is free to take up the offer, no matter what kind of example they think that sets.
My personal view is that for all the high minded arguments regarding ‘role models’ and ‘setting good examples’, many of the objections to Evans’ return boil down to money. Rightly or wrongly, it disturbs people to think that a convicted rapist might earn £10,000 or £20,000 per week. As galling as that sounds when written down on paper, football is Evans’ trade and if he is to be rehabilitated, then he must be given a chance to return to that trade. I suspect for some, that return will always come ‘too soon’.
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Image courtesy of telegraph.co.uk