England still questioning one convicted rapist’s place in professional soccer

Fact: Ched Evans is a 26-year-old striker who scored 35 goals for Sheffield United in 2011-12.

Fact: Ched Evans is a convicted rapist.

Since Evans was released from prison in Oct. last year, several English clubs have been considering whether to sign him – in essence, calculating whether the first fact, his undoubted talent for goalscoring, outweighs the reputational damage and problematic moral message that comes with the second.

Sheffield United backed away from re-signing Evans after a public outcry that saw British Olympian Jessica Ennis-Hill threaten to sever ties with the club if he joined (one of the stands at Bramall Lane, United’s home venue, is named in her honor).

A mooted move to Malta was dismissed after it emerged that Evans isn’t allowed to go abroad as part of his probation conditions. In a disappointed-sounding statement, Hartlepool United ruled out signing him despite “his obvious ability as a football player.”

Now more than 20,000 people have signed an online petition calling on third-tier side Oldham Athletic not to sign Evans, according to the BBC. Back in 2007, the club faced similar scrutiny for signing Lee Hughes, a prolific forward who served a prison sentence for causing death by dangerous driving. Now it appears Oldham (three points adrift of a playoff place, and with only one player who’s scored more than 3 goals this season) is eager to get Evans on board, but a backlash from fans and sponsors is prompting a rethink. In an impressively uninformative statement, the club announced on Monday that it would not be making any announcements.

With more than 100 professional soccer clubs in England, the odds are that Evans will eventually find one willing to brave the criticism, though it might have to be lower and more obscure than the third tier. But the key argument for allowing him to resume a privileged, high-profile career associated with role models is that his reintegration would form part of his rehabilitation. That line of thought isn’t persuasive as long as Evans continues to insist he was wrongfully convicted and “maintains his absolute innocence.”.

The absence of remorse is not only a tone-deaf failure to provide the kind of untrammeled public contrition we have come to expect from disgraced athletes; more importantly, it’s also deeply hurtful to his victim and dismissive of her suffering. And who could deny the significance of public opinion in a job where a worker’s wages are essentially paid by thousands of ordinary people, and where the decisions clubs make have a huge impact on the identity, mood and even values of entire communities?