Olympian Jessica Ennis-Hill is the latest high profile name to publicly speak out against Sheffield United and any intention the club may have of re-signing convicted rapist Ched Evans. The Sheffield born athlete, who has a stand at the club’s stadium, Bramall Lane, named after her has told the club’s hierarchy that should Evans join on a permanent basis she would demand her name be removed.
Evans, 25, was released from prison last month after spending half of a five-year sentence for raping a 19-year-old in a hotel in Rhyl, Denbighshire back in May 2011.
In a statement Mrs Ennis-Hill said: “I believe being a role model to young people is a huge honour and those in positions of influence in communities should respect the role they play in young people’s lives and set a good example.”
“If Evans was to be re-signed by the club it would completely contradict these beliefs.”
At this moment, Evans is training with the Yorkshire club with manager Nigel Clough saying no decision has been made on offering a deal to the forward.
Ennis-Hill follows TV presenter Charlie Webster, who was club patron for the Blades, into speaking out against Evans resigning. Webster, who revealed earlier this year that she had been a victim of sexual abuse as a teenager, resigned from her role on Tuesday.
The Sheffield United board have also faced threats from their two shirt sponsors, DBL Logistics and John Holland Sales, who have both indicated that they would be disappointed if Evan was signed.
DBL Logistics, who are on the back of the club’s shirts released a statement highlighting ‘family values at its core’ and promised to ‘end’ its sponsorship with the club, should the striker sign.
“DBL Logistics is a business that has been built with family values at its core. It strongly condemns rape and violence of any kind against women,” the statement read.
“DBL Logistics would end its back-of-shirt sponsorship with Sheffield United if the club employed a convicted rapist.
“However, whilst the current situation remains and Ched Evans is not contracted to Sheffield United, DBL Logistics will continue its business to business relationship with the club.”
Front-of-shirt sponsors John Holland Sales said they would have to ‘re-evaluate’ their relationship with the club if the former Welsh international re-joined.
‘John Holland Sales is a long established family business and condemns rape and violence of any kind against women in the strongest possible terms,’ the Sheffield based company said in a statement.
‘Whilst ever the ‘ex-player’ is not employed by Sheffield United Football Club, John Holland Sales Ltd remains committed to its commercial partnership. Should this situation change John Holland Sales will re-evaluate its position as shirt sponsor.’
Singer Dave Berry has also resigned as an honorary patron, claiming that he wanted to make a ‘moral stand’ against the decision to allow Evans to train for the club.
But will these resignations and threats make any difference?
Ched Evans scores goals and sadly, in football, goals are the currency. Sheffield United are desperate for promotion but currently stand ten points off the top and many fans suggest the lack of goals – 22 scored – is to blame.
In footballing terms it would be fair to say that the Blades never replaced Evans after his contract ended which coincided with him going to prison and it is easy to see why some fans are feeling open to his return.
42 goals in 103 games speaks volumes and Twitter is awash with fans saying as much.
— Nathan Kelsall (@Scalpyboy) November 8, 2014
Oooooooo his name is chedwyn Evans And he’s finally free Yes he served his fucking sentence And he scores goals and that alright for me
— Ricky Speed (@r_speed92) November 11, 2014
But regardless of his goal record, if it was my club, I wouldn’t want Ched Evans anywhere near it. His crime is heinous one and while Evans may protest his innocence, the way he has gone about it – quotes such as ‘she was well up for it’ – are hard to understand and offensive.
But Evans has fans, some which are backing him through tweets which leave you questioning their moral standing. Some of course, want him back for his goals and believe that he has done his time and deserves a second chance while others see the argument that he is a role model as futile.
However the abuse that Charlie Webster received after quitting her role as club patron is a disgrace and insult for a great club like Sheffield United. The debate over Ched Evans simply has not painted some of the club’s fans in the best of light.
This Charlie Webster is really starting to do my head in shut the fuck up you daft ugly stupid bitch!!
— Ryan Taylor (@TayTayThomas96) November 13, 2014
@BradLCarroll be funny if ched raped her
— Luke Bunting (@LukeBunting) November 12, 2014
The resignation of Webster, Ennis-Hill and Berry as-well as the threat from sponsors, has kept the debate rightly in the public eye and it is an important one. Time and time again, footballers have crossed the line and committed crimes, some terrible ones and then served time before walking right back into the game.
The PFA have backed Ched Evan’s return to the sport but should it not be time that they and the FA make an example of a criminal and use him as a deterrent to other footballers? Break the law and you’re not coming back.
Why should this start with Evans? Well why shouldn’t it? The case couldn’t be more in the public eye and to make an example of Evans would hopefully be the first step towards waking footballers up and realising how privileged they are.
But will the resignation of the club’s patrons and Ennis-Hill really make a difference? Probably not. But the threat from the sponsors may do. Sponsors can be worth tens of millions of pounds and the club really need to ask whether Ched Evans is worth losing a relationship with a local Sheffield business which is paying to be on the shirt. Another pressing question is if there would be a new company willing to join the club after such bad publicity, and would they pay a similar price as the current sponsors?
Promotion is everything – it means more money into the club, higher prize money, higher television rights and bigger world wide appeal. Some clearly believe that Evans can help Sheffield United gain that and the board’s hierarchy may be willing to take the risk to see that come a reality. I, like thousands of others hope they don’t’ – Sheffield United is a great club with family values but with Evans already training with the club, the fear is that he’ll be backing playing in the famous red and white stripes soon.