The future of Sheffield United footballer and convicted rapist Ched Evans has triggered a frenzied moral debate.
Should his club refuse to take him back on the grounds that he has committed a crime that is beyond the pale and re-employing him would irretrievably damage its image? Or, like any criminal who has served his sentence, does Evans deserve a second chance?
The debate has become increasingly heated – as two experienced broadcasters, Judy Finnegan and Michael Buerk, both unlikely controversialists, have found to their cost.
The situation is complicated by two factors. First, the outrageous behaviour of Evans’ supporters in identifying his alleged victim, thus forcing her into hiding. Secondly, Evans’ continuing battle to prove he was wrongly convicted of rape and that sex with his victim was consensual.
This second factor has hampered his attempt to begin a public fightback. Evans chose to do this by issuing a statement on YouTube. Soberly dressed in a dark shirt and black tie, and sitting next to his girlfriend Natasha Massey, who has remained loyal to him – though she looked deeply uncomfortable as she clung to his arm throughout – Evans declared himself guilty only of infidelity.
It was a muted apology – if it can be described as such. He regretted “an incredibly foolish decision” and pleaded for the chance to play football again to “prove myself to be a positive influence not just on the pitch but also on the community”. He apologised to his girlfriend but didn’t mention his victim.
It could have been handled better, but going public was not the wrong thing to do. If Evans wants to resume his career he cannot hope to hide from the consequences of his actions. He may not have sought to become the focal point of a debate that resonates well beyond football, but he has forfeited the right to a quiet life.
The instincts of Evans’ advisers may have been to tell him to keep his head down. Often that is the right option. One just can imagine them trotting out the old cliche: “He just wants to let his football do the talking”.
But in this instance if Evans wants to return to front-line football he will need to face up to the enormous public scrutiny that will surround his return. Thousands of fans will scream obscenities at him every time he takes to the pitch. Every journalist who ever interviews him will want to ask about the rape. There will be no hiding place.
Unless he succeeds in overturning his conviction on appeal, he will need to present a more contrite face to the world. He will need sound advice and to show he is serious about becoming a positive role model.
But he will only salvage his reputation if he is strong enough to cope with the media glare, not try to run from it.