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Tuesday, November 18, 2014 

Ched Evans is an unashamed rapist. That doesn't mean he shouldn't play football again.

Amid the outrage, the group resignation of patrons from Sheffield United Community Foundation and 160,000+ signatures calling for him not to be re-signed, you'll struggle to find any summary of how and why Chedwyn (you can see why he shortens it to Ched) Evans was convicted of rape, beyond that his victim was drunk and the jury decided that while she had consented to sex with Clayton McDonald, she did not with Evans.

This isn't because it suggests Evans is, as he claims, innocent, guilty only of infidelity to his girlfriend, who has supported him throughout.  If anything, it makes him look even worse.  According to the account provided by the Court of Appeal, the facts are these.  The victim  "literally stumbled across McDonald's path" some time after 3am on the morning of the 29/30th of May 2011.  CCTV footage from before then shows her falling over in a kebab shop, and indeed, she was such the worse for wear she left her handbag behind.  The taxi driver who took McDonald and the victim to a nearby Premier Inn said the victim's "upper clothing was somewhat dishevelled".  While in the taxi McDonald texted Evans "telling him that he had 'got a bird' or words to that effect".  The night porter at the Premier Inn described the victim as "extremely drunk".

Some time after the pair were showed to the room, Evans arrived with two other male friends.  Evans persuaded the porter to give him the key card to the room as he had "booked the room for a friend who no longer needed it".  McDonald and the victim stopped having sex when he opened the door.  This is when according to Evans the victim was asked whether he "could join in" and she replied in the affirmative.  The night porter, for whatever reason checking on what was happening, heard what he thought was a couple having sex and thought no more of it.  Evans' friends meanwhile were outside the bedroom window filming the goings on until the curtains were drawn.  It doesn't seem their recording picked up the exchange Evans says there was between him and the victim.

About half an hour later Evans and McDonald left the room.  McDonald spoke to the porter before leaving the hotel, telling him to look out for the girl in room 14 as she was sick, while Evans went through a fire exit.  Both men then went back to Evans' home.  The victim woke up at 11:30am with no memory of what had gone on, and straight away went to the police.

The prosecution's case was the room at the Premier Inn was booked for the "sole purpose of procuring a girl or girls later that night".  The defence stated Evans had in fact booked it for McDonald and a friend to use to stay in.  Despite being in Rhyl all evening, it seems McDonald hadn't succeeded in meeting anyone who wanted to go back to the hotel with him until by chance a young woman he must have realised was extremely drunk approached him and asked what he was doing.  The jury in acquitting McDonald and finding Evans guilty seems likely to have decided, as the Court of Appeal puts it
 

that even if the complainant did not, in fact, consent to sexual intercourse with either of the two men, that in the light of his part in what happened -- the meeting in the street and so on -- McDonald may reasonably have believed that the complainant had consented to sexual activity with him, and at the same time concluded that the applicant [Evans] knew perfectly well that she had not consented to sexual activity with him (the applicant).

They also note the jury might have considered the different ways in which McDonald and Evans left the hotel to have been relevant.

Regardless of what you think of the behaviour of all involved, the case was as the CoA puts it, a "classic case for decision by the jury".  A different jury might well have reached a different verdict on the same evidence.  Nonetheless, all of Evans' appeals to date have failed.  It could be he is the victim of a terrible miscarriage of justice.  It could also be, and it has to be said this is my view, that both he and McDonald took despicable advantage of someone they must have known to have been incapable of truly consenting to sex.  When you then consider the further extenuating circumstances, that immediately after Evans' conviction the victim's name was being spread on Twitter and she was being denounced as a liar and worse, not to mention his wholesale lack of remorse, you can more than understand why some don't want to see Evans playing football for Sheffield United again.

Except the campaign against Evans isn't being fought on those grounds, for the good reason a person sent to prison shouldn't be stopped from returning to their job once released unless it was directly relevant to the crime, or if the conviction makes it impossible for them to resume, i.e. if they were in a position of true authority.  All the onus has instead been put on the "role model" argument, the exact same one so often snatched at by tabloids when they've uncovered a footballer having an affair or a celebrity taking drugs, having failed to prove hypocrisy.  This assumes first that anyone who plays football at a professional level can be held up as a role model, that the simple act of pulling on a football shirt elevates them above normal mortals and demands they show extra responsibility, lest anyone is naive enough to think what a player does off the pitch is just as worthy of emulation as what they do on it.  This is quite the burden to put on the shoulders of young players, whom regardless of their new found status are likely to be just as immature as their peers who aren't in the public eye.

Second, the argument seems to suggest some people can be so overawed by the status of someone they admire that any other bearing on their thinking, whether it be friends, parents or siblings can be disregarded.  There is perhaps something to Jean Hatchet stating that for Sheffield United to re-sign Evans would be to send a message that "men who commit such atrocious crimes will suffer only a small penance whilst the women they attack suffer for the rest of their lives", but Evans, whether he plays again for United or not, will forever be remembered as being convicted of rape and having caused this entire furore.  Some Sheffield United fans have responded in a way that gives credence to the claim re-signing Evans trivialises his offence, and the club while condemning the abuse meted out to Jessica Ennis-Hill could have justified its decision to allow Evans to train with the team instead of hiding behind the PFA's request far better, yet fans will nearly always defend their club when they perceive it as under attack, as we saw with Liverpool and Luis Suarez.  Sheffield United players have not worn t-shirts defending Evans for one thing.

It's also come to something when Julie Bindel, of all people, wonders if the campaigns against Dapper Laughs and Julien Deblanc aren't in danger of morphing into a censorship akin to the one her generation detested when it was led by Mary Whitehouse.  Evans is clearly a separate issue, but it does as she writes distract from dealing with the wider issue of misogyny and outdated attitudes in general in the game; when Richard Scudamore can say he wouldn't employ a rapist, but is more than happy to bully smaller clubs and remain friends with people who refer to women as "gash" then it's not as though an example is being set at the very top.  The underlying sentiment may be the right one; whether Evans and Sheffield United are the right target at the right time remains to be seen.

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