Footballer Ched Evans released after serving sentence for rape
Convicted of raping 19-year-old girl in hotel room in 2012
Almost 150,000 sign petition against his return to Sheffield United
NEW: Sheffield Utd denies reports it has offered a contract to Evans
Should a convicted rapist, who has served their time in prison, be allowed to resume their old job?
What if that job was as a high-profile football player?
In the early hours of Friday, Ched Evans was released from a British prison – a Category C facility for sex offenders – after serving half of a five-year sentence for raping a 19-year-old girl in a hotel room.
A blacked-out silver Mercedes 4x4 apparently whisked him out of sight of the waiting photographers before dawn had even broken.
In another life, photographers had trained their lenses on the 25-year-old Evans for very different reasons – he was the prized player of third-flight English league club Sheffield United, signed for £3 million ($4.8 million) in 2009.
Three years later, that privileged existence came to an abrupt end after the Wales international striker was found guilty of rape – a conviction he denies.
He might have “done the time,” but not everyone believes Evans should be allowed to tie up his bootlaces and start scoring goals again, with almost 150,000 people signing a petition against his return to the League One team.
“A lot of the backlash has been over the fact that he’s not accepted his guilt, despite having served his sentence,” lawyer and Football Association agent, Shehneela Ahmed, told CNN.
“But where does it say that a convicted criminal, who has served their time, cannot go out to work?”
As an elite football player earning the sort of money most people can only dream of, Evans does not have your average job.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who is also an MP in Sheffield, said Evans’ position as a role model for young boys needed to be taken into consideration by his future employers.
“He has done his time, but I just don’t believe that the owners of a football club can somehow wish away the fact that that has happened,” Clegg told LBC Radio.
“You are taking on a role model, particularly for a lot of young boys who look up to their heroes on a football pitch in a team like that, and he has committed a very serious crime.”
With the media furore increasing, Sheffield United took the unusual step Saturday of denying a report in an English newspaper that Evans has been offered a contract by them to play again.
“An article in The Sun today, that Sheffield United has offered a contract to former player Ched Evans is false and damaging to the club,” read a statement on its official website.
“We have made a statement on this matter previously and the lack of credibility and substance from this latest media report does not warrant any expansion from previous comments apart from noting that we are continuing to deliberate on any long term decision about Ched Evans.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of charity Women’s Aid, asked what message would be sent out if Evans played for United again.
“The club has a responsibility to look at who it is hiring in high-profile positions, and consider whether a convicted rapist, who continues to protest that he’s done nothing wrong and whose case has attracted widespread victim-blaming language, is someone that they want to be representing their brand,” she told CNN.
“It’s important that high profile institutions take a stand about the seriousness of rape as a crime, and do not in any way condone the blaming of victims of rape, or participate in a culture which trivializes violence against women.”
Ahmed argued that much of the fury over Evans’ possible return to football was related to footballers’ relatively high earnings.
“I think people are angry because normally a lot of the criminals who are sent to prison, once they’ve served their sentence in relation to a heinous crime, have to start from scratch trying to get employment,” she explained.
“But this is a young lad who has committed a crime, never admitted his guilt, and despite that, he comes out of prison and walks into a job which is so well paid.”
Evans was never sacked by the Sheffield club, which instead allowed his contract to expire while he was in prison.
So far, Evans has not revealed if he intends to return to football at all. Though all eyes will be watching his next move closely.
They will have to wait until next week, when Evans has promised to “make a very personal and profound statement by video,” on his website.
“Natasha [Evans’ girlfriend] and the family never asked for this media intrusion but it was thrust upon them following events of that night in Rhyl [where the incident took place], coupled with an insatiable and hungry media society,” said Evans, referring to the northern Welsh town.
“All they have ever asked for is for the media to report fairly, help raise the concerns that there are from the vast section of society about Ched’s conviction, and have a sensible debate.”
He wasn’t the only one apparently tormented by the media, with Neate saying the victim’s life was made hell after being identified by Evans’ supporters.
“Not only was the original trial covered extensively in the media, but the victim was harassed and unlawfully identified by Ched Evans’ supporters, and her life has been very badly affected,” she said.
“He has shown no remorse, and his former employer – Sheffield United – has not said anything to condemn the crime he committed.”
Sheffield United boss, Nigel Clough, has said only that he has had talks with club officials about the possibility of Evans returning, according to the BBC.
But as Ahmed argues: “If Sheffield United don’t take him, what’s there to say another club won’t sign him? Whether it’s in the UK or abroad?
“What impact could his return have on their brand? That’s something Sheffield United is going to have to look into.”
Ultimately Evans may have left jail, but his conviction remains, and his future remains uncertain.