It’s a question worth thinking about due at least one story in the news. Ched Evans was convicted of rape, sentenced to five years in jail and released after serving half of it. He is a football player who is once again training with Sheffield United and that has caused a certain amount of drama. A television presenter resigned as a patron of the club, followed by two others, as well as a sponsor threatening to leave, and an Olympic medallist says she will want her name removed from the stadium if he is re-signed. Is that the right course of action?
The sponsors that are leaving have argued that he should not be going back to a position where he is a role-model after committing such a terrible crime and point out that he hasn’t apologised for what happened. However, he has always maintained his innocence and apologising for something you haven’t done would be problematic in itself. It might placate some opponents but it wouldn’t be a true apology if done for those reasons, it would look like admitting guilt and would be a lie, an ethically dubious proposition at best.
Let’s go with the court though and assume he did commit rape. From what I understand the victim was intoxicated and so would’ve had reduced ability to consent. That leaves us with the question of whether, now that he is out of jail, it is appropriate for him to become a highly-paid sports star and role model. Those opposed say, because he’s a criminal, he’s not a suitable role model and shouldn’t be earning huge sums of money. I think that view is missing out on the big picture and makes a few bad assumptions along the way.
We would agree that young people should certainly not take the view that rape isn’t a serious offence. However, I think that that fear is overblown. It implies that people can not distinguish between right and wrong if someone famous is involved and I’m not sure that that’s the case. More troubling, is the frightening naive view, implicit in the argument, that role models have to be perfect. Role models are people too and people are not perfect. We all make mistakes and it is unrealistic, and unhelpful, to pretend otherwise.
There are people that I admire and look up to but I also recognise that they are flawed. Do I agree with everything that they do or say? No. But I also accept that they are flawed and focus on their good qualities and positive attributes and try to emulate those.
In fact, Ched Evans could be, though I’m certainly not saying he will be, an excellent role model because we know that he’s flawed. He would offer a more realistic view of people. You can hold him up and say, “Look he’s done some amazing things but he’s also done some terrible things. Remember that no one is perfect. You have to think about what people do, not just copy their actions without thinking.” That is a better message to send to children than setting them an impossible standard.
And if, through his future actions, he becomes a good role model just think how useful that will be. Young people are not all perfect either; some will have dropped out of school, some may have turned to crime and perhaps even joined gangs. Do you really think they can relate to someone who’s “perfect”? Maybe they can relate to someone who made bad decisions, went to jail but who learned from their mistakes and went on to achieve something with their life. That is more inspirational than someone who never made a mistake.
The justice system should not be about punishment and making an offender’s life a misery afterwards. It should be about guiding them and helping society. Ideally, they should rejoin society as productive citizens. If you’re going to prevent them from getting a job in their field or make it harder for them to find a place to live, are you going to accomplish that? What you’ll accomplish is to keep those people down where they might as well turn back to crime because you won’t give them a chance. If living a normal life is no longer an option, why should they even make the effort?
To look at another fallen sports star (and there are many to choose from) Oscar Pistorious was an role model and inspiration to many people before the events of Valentine’s Day 2013. But even today, are his actions from before then any less inspirational? If one says yes, they are no longer inspirational because of what he did, then what does that say about role models? In that case, the only role models worth having are dead, where it is impossible for them to make a mistake. But I would say no, he made a huge mistake but what he did before that mistake is no less inspirational than it was before.
As for Ched Evans, he is 25 years old. He could live three or even four times longer. Are we really going to believe that it’s impossible for him to change over that time? Can anyone say that they don’t have regrets, things in their past that they wish they’d done differently? Why should one bad thing, however terrible, outweigh all the good things that a person has done?