Whether Sheffield United take him back or not, Ched Evans looks set to join the ignominious list of footballers who've returned to the game having served a custodial sentence. Whichever club takes him, it's a decision which will rightly cause moral outrage throughout the sport.
For PFA chief executive, Gordon Taylor, football is just another job, an opportunity to earn, pay taxes and "contribute to society" - something like a rape conviction shouldn't inhibit this. For the 100,000 plus who've signed an e-petition calling for Sheffield United not to reinstate the player, these assumptions are destructive; welcoming Evans back would be detrimental, both to the game and, far more importantly, to the victim of his crime and the 85,000 women who are raped in England and Wales every year.
Attitudes like Taylor's undermine the severity of rape but unfortunately, his views are not uncommon. This notion that all is well once a rapist has served his sentence in jail is misguided. It's part of the reason we now find ourselves in a situation where 80% of victims do not report their assault to the police, where only 5.7% of reported rape cases end in a conviction, and where one third of cases are dropped altogether. Yesterday's ONS crime statistics show that despite an overall decrease in reported crime levels, the number of rape cases rose by 29% across the UK last year. Every facet of society should be rigorously addressing how and why these statistics are so pitifully low, sport included.
In the hyperbolic, over-reactive world of football, suggesting a convicted rapist should be shunned by teams and effectively handed a lifetime ban is actually a fairly sensible suggestion. This is, after all, the sport where pundits have suggested similar action be taken against Suarez for something as trivial, albeit weird, as biting and where those who refuse an international call up should be expected to explain their decision over the phone to the mothers of dead soldiers.
It's surprising then that even in this bubble of partisan populism and obligatory sensationalism, Evans' case is a divisive one. His supporters say he's paid his debt to society, that he has a right to return to work and that his crime was not football related. The modern game is just a business and if clubs can profit from his skill set, one likely to come at a reduced price, then they have a right to do so.
This is a warped assessment of the game though, one which devalues its cultural significance. Football is not just a faceless industry, it's a social barometer and catalyst for progressive change; it's not simply another job, it's a privilege. Taylor can point to the legality in bringing back Evans but in doing so he is simply deferring responsibility, conforming to the perception that football's senior figures prefer to bury their heads in the sand than actively engage in any serious attempt to tackle sexism.
One third believe that women who flirt are partially responsible for being raped, highlighting the prevalence of Britain's patriarchal culture. It's one which pervades football, where sexism is often passed off as 'laddish banter', the kind that saw the LSE men's rugby club disbanded earlier this week. From fans to governance, the problem persists: we've heard chants for Chelsea's female physio to "get her tits out for the lads", watched pundits mock female linesman and read the derogatory messages sent by prominent figures like Richard Scudamore and Malky Mackay. FIFA supremo Sepp Blatter admitted that football was "very macho" and found it "difficult to accept women". His candidness is a far cry from Richard Scudamore's insistence that there was no "closed culture of sexism" in the Premier League.
There is something deeply disconcerting and actually quite perverse about the thought of Evans being championed by fans, or the possibility that he may celebrate in front of those who've been the victim of a sexual assault. He has shown no remorse for his crime and to have him reclaim such a high-profile position in the public domain is, as the petition states, insulting to his victim, who will continue to pay for his crime long after his release.
Despite Evans' persistent protests of his innocence, the fact remains: he is a convicted rapist. He has the right to a second chance and the right to make a living, but there are plenty of roles in football he could return to - the prestige of playing in front of thousands shouldn't be one of them. Welcoming him back with open arms will alienate a huge demographic of fans and undermine the plight of the 85,000 women who are raped annually, and the 400,000 who are sexually assaulted. That Evan's spent three years incarcerated, 'paying his debt', does not change the fact his victim will bear the scars for life. Dissolving football of its social responsibility to tackle sexism, rape and domestic abuse, in the same way it has addressed racism, will only perpetuate the culture of denial.