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Does British football have a problem tackling sexism?

Content warning: rape

Three days after being found guilty of raping a 19-year-old woman, Chedwyn Evans was included in the 2012 PFA League One Team of the Year. At the time, the animosity surrounding the case seemed to obscure the fact that the PFA considered three days an adequate period to let bygones be bygones.

Perhaps their view was obscured by a miasma of hatred created by those committed to criticising the complainant. Another explanation is that a trope within British football that fluctuates between casual sexism and misogyny is fueled by a willingness to turn a blind eye in order to ‘focus on the football’.

Multiple accusations were levelled at the complainant (or “some fat bird” as she was referred to on that night). The most popular stated either that she was money-grabbing, or that her intoxication and sexual liberation undermined her status as a victim. Many agreed with Evans’ then Sheffield United compatriot Connor Brown’s assertion that: “If ur a slag ur a slag don’t try get money from being a slag [sic] … Stupid girls… I feel sick.”

When Evans was released from prison after serving half of his sentence Sheffield United announced that Evans would train with them. Ennis-Hill requested that her name be removed from a Bramall Lane stand if he was offered a new contract. She stated that United should “respect [the role] […] [footballers] play in young people’s lives and set a good example.”

A month later, Carola Binney asserted in The Spectator that allowing Evans to play football provided a role model for young offenders facing difficulties entering employment. She stated that whereas “Law-abiding teenage boys have no shortage of role models […] young offenders […] have few examples to give them hope.”

Following the uproar that Evans’ attempt to return to football created, United reviewed their decision and refused to allow Evans to train with them. Oldham and Hartlepool released statements distancing themselves from Evans after being linked with signing him. Oldham’s sponsors declared they would sever ties with the club if the signing was made.

For some, this issue becomes more complex given Evans’ recent ‘not guilty’ verdict at a retrial. The inclusion of the complainant’s sexual history has been widely criticised. Does the outcome of Evans’ second trial provide even more reason as to why Evans is such a bad example to all young people, ‘law abiding’ or otherwise?

Ennis-Hill received abuse following her ultimatum, including tweets demanding her rape. The heptathlete has been particularly targeted recently as the news of her retirement broke in the same week as the results of Evans’ retrial were released.

Despite the fact that it was new evidence that caused the verdict to be reversed there is a not insignificant number of people, keen to defend Evans from the start, who gloat and goad Hill for being “judgemental and self-righteous […] without the full facts”. It is conveniently forgotten that that said group continued to support Evans (as shown by the controversial website set up in his defence) despite intentionally ignoring facts that supported an alternative judgement.

As chants of: “He fucks who he wants/ He fucks who he waaaants/Oh Cheddy Evans/He fucks who he wants” echoed around the terraces there seemed to be a belief that the trappings of Evans’ fame could absolve his responsibility. This is particularly worrying with regards to gender-based crimes, perhaps stemming from the belief that women, apparently physically inferior in a world where physical prowess demands the upmost veneration, naturally deserve less respect.

Are some fans willing to forgive the actions of a ‘troubled genius’ if they garner respect on the pitch? There is a tranche of the footballing community who dismiss social issues reflected on the pitch as a distraction from the beautiful game. “We can now all move forward and focus on football”, said Chesterfield chief executive Chris Turner. However, governing bodies, whether the FA, PFA or club management, must see that football does not exist within a microcosm and that they have a moral responsibility because of the social capital that they possess.

 

Image courtesy of Jon Candy

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