If English football wants to maintain even the tiniest shred of moral high ground, then Ched Evans cannot come back into the professional game yet. And shame on the desperate club who'll inevitably try to sign him.
A little background first, in case you've been living under a rock on a planet without wifi or radio. Chedwyn Michael "Ched" Evans is a Welsh footballer who played for Sheffield United until 2012, when he was convicted of raping a 19-year-old girl in a hotel. He was sentenced to five years in prison and was released this week after serving half of that time.
Evans insisted that he's innocent of any wrongdoing throughout, prompting a very vocal group of his 'supporters' to go on a crusade against his victim - who has had to be given a completely new identity and move away from her family after being subjected to, in the words of one detective, "psychological GBH" as she was constantly harassed.
On the other side of the debate, an online petition urging Sheffield United not to re-sign Evans has gained over 150,000 signatures, as the club have admitted that they're seriously considering giving him a reported £5,000-a-week contract.
It's wrong. It's plainly, unavoidably wrong and if the Blades sign him, any pretence being a community or family club will disappear in a flash.
The pro-Evans movement is basically split into two camps. One half believe him to be innocent based on little more than the idea that "he wouldn't do that, he's clearly a good guy" and are by far the more troubling half. The growing support for this campaign - and make no mistake, '#justiceforchedevans' is now a campaign - reinforces the idea that 'normal' people don't commit rape, a thought that is made an absolute nonsense of by the sheer volume of rapes and sexual assaults recorded every year.
The other half are coming at the issue in a different way. The argument is that Evans has served his time in jail and should, having been punished, be allowed to return to his previous job. There is, they point out, no law saying that a convicted criminal cannot hold a job.
On the face of it, it's a reasonable point - after all, who doesn't deserve a second chance? But with a little digging, cracks start to appear.
Ask yourself now - if you spent two 1/2 years in prison convicted of rape, would you expect to come out and be immediately offered your old job back? Almost half of the people released from prison still find themselves without work two years later, with around 75% unemployed at some point in the first two years - and that's mostly for crimes far less heinous than that which Evans was convicted of.
Another issue is Evans' complete unrepentance. If, as it seems, he's going to continue to protest his innocence - there's no way that he will make amends for his actions. He's also publicly thanked his 'supporters'. Yes, the ones who drove a rape victim out of her home and away from her family. That's not a reformed character.
Why does it matter? Because like it or not, footballers are role models. Idolised and elevated beyond all common sense, the support that Evans is receiving sends the message that what he did was okay. If a club signs him, that message is driven home even further.
Sky Sports presenter Charlie Webster, a Blades fan and a victim of sexual assault herself, hit the nail on the head, saying: "You will have young people cheering him on when he scores a goal saying I want to be like Ched Evans. Not under my name, under my club, or my community." This is bigger than one man being given his six-figure salary back.
The only way he should ever be allowed to play football again is if he throws himself into atoning for his actions. First and foremost, accepting and admitting culpability for his crime and a real, sincere apology. Second, an apology for at no point making any attempt to quell the sickening abuse of his victim from his 'supporters'.
A move like that might lay the groundwork. From there, an actual effort to work in the community - both local and footballing - to try and fix some of the damage he's done.
But this is football. Give it 18 months, he'll score a hatful of goals and all will be forgotten by the media. By the fans cheering his goals. But not by the only actual victim in this case - his anonymous victim, who will have to sit at home and see people chanting her rapist's name on the TV. Justice? What justice?
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