This week Chedwyn Evans, the former Sheffield United striker, was released from prison after serving half of a five-year sentence for rape. Sheffield United have made no public demonstration of distancing themselves from the 25 year old striker, fuelling widespread speculation that Evans will return to play for the club now that he is free. The idea that Evans can come out of prison and return to a position of fame, wealth and extreme privilege sends an unsettling message about the stance football takes against perpetrators of serious sexual crimes. A decision by Sheffield to sign Evans again would perpetuate the damaging notion that professional footballers can behave abysmally and get away with it. Insulated by their fame, wealth and the support of powerful clubs, these young men are elevated to a dangerous and invulnerable position in society, where they will feel little or no repercussions for their actions.
The sexual assault Evans was found guilty of committing is just one example of the trivialisation of consent and sexual violence within football culture. In 2009, Marlon King was convicted of sexual assault and bodily harm after groping a woman and punching her to the floor. After serving an 18-month sentence, King was allowed to return to profession football following his release. There is also the case of Tesfaye Bramble, who was convicted of rape in 2011. During Tesfaye's trial, his brother Titus Bramble (who played for Sunderland at the time) was called to give evidence. During his testimony, Titus Bramble was quoted as saying that he assumed, "when a girl's coming back to a hotel after the club it's for sex."
This sense of exceptionalism amongst professional footballers is deeply troubling. Young men who find themselves with enormous wealth at their disposal seem to develop a sense of entitlement to women's bodies, bypassing the need for active and vocal consent. These kinds of disgusting attitudes, which trivialise sexual violence and downplay the importance of asking for consent, are prevalent in football culture and need to be rooted out. Flagrant sexism is pervasive in professional football; from Malky Mackay's leaked text messages to Richard Keys' insistence that his derogatory comments about Sian Massey were 'just banter,' it becomes clear that misogyny is ubiquitous in the 'beautiful game'.
Football culture trivializes sexual violence, with a disregard for the importance of consent seemingly engendered by the wealth, privilege and self-absorption that come with the status of a professional footballer. Insulated by their prestige, young men develop wildly inflated egos and a sense of entitlement towards women's bodies, with no efforts made to educate them about the importance of bodily autonomy and mutual respect. This all makes for a deeply troubling attitude towards sexual consent and gender equality.
Reflecting upon the complete lack of remorse shown by Evans throughout his imprisonment, it is clear that allowing him to return to professional football would send an appalling message about the importance the FA accords to tackling sexual violence. Admitting only to infidelity, Evans still maintains that his conviction was a serious miscarriage of justice and that the sex he had was consensual. However, it seems Evans, like many others, needs to be seriously re-educated in what counts as 'consensual' sex; if a woman comes back to your hotel room, that does not mean she is consenting to have sex with you; if a woman flirts with you, that does not mean she is consenting to have sex with you. Unless a woman gives active and vocal consent, no man is entitled to her body.
There are no blurred lines when it comes to sexual consent, and Evans' refusal to accept responsibility for his actions is absolutely abhorrent. In court, Evans said that his victim was "moaning and groaning like she was enjoying herself," apparently unaware that groaning is a sign of distress, particularly when a victim is under the influence of alcohol. Professional football creates a culture in which young men come to believe that they are indomitable. Perhaps it was this sense of supreme entitlement that led Evans to say to police upon his arrest, "we're footballers, we're rich and we've got money, that's what girls like."
On the condition that he fulfils some placatory prohibition measure, Evans will be allowed to return to Premier League football. This is simply not acceptable. We need to stop allowing perpetrators of sexual crimes to re-enter positions of privilege with such ease. This simply sends the message to football fans that sexual violence is a trivial matter, and Evans' presence on the pitch will undoubtedly act as a trigger to countless victims of sexual assault. Whilst many may protest that Evans has served his time for the crime committed and should be allowed to integrate back into society, this neglects to acknowledge that certain positions are off limits to those with a history of sexual violence. If an individual is forbidden from holding a position of trust, such as that of a teacher, after committing such offences, then why should Evans be allowed to return to such a position of fame and influence following his crimes? If all that is required of him is to meet up to meagre probationary conditions, this clearly sends a troubling message to young football fans regarding sexual violence.
The damaging characteristics of football culture need to be challenged, and fans need to demand a change in the way perpetrators of sexual violence are treated following conviction. It is far too easy to become desensitised to the pain and suffering caused by men like Chedwyn Evans, as their victims are not the ones we see on the football pitch every week. If a positive attitude towards gender equality is ever to be achieved, it is imperative that bodies like the FA impose tougher penalties on those who commit such serious offences.