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Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Sackcloth and ashes

What were the people in charge of Oldham Athletic thinking when they thought to recruit the convicted rapist Ched Evans? Did they think that they could sneak this one under the radar? When someone at the club raised the idea of signing the disgraced footballer, surely it must have occurred to them that there might just be a bit of a backlash? They must have considered the probability of some awkward outcomes if they went through with this deal; the likelihood is that, at some point in the process, they probably believed that they could just tough it out.  

Evans is a convicted rapist and, we may assume, not a very nice man. On a personal level, we may be entitled to our misgivings about this deal, but the law has already exacted its penance and there is no compelling moral obligation for us to go above and beyond that; any judgement we make will be entirely subjective. If company A thinks it unacceptable to recruit a convicted rapist, it will act accordingly. But company B is entitled to come to a different conclusion and may believe it appropriate and fair to offer this offender a chance to earn a living and to rebuild his reputation. Accordingly, Oldham Athletic should sign Ched Evans, or decide against signing him, based on what they think is the right thing to do, not on how the notion goes down on twitter, which is what appears to be happening. After news of the deal was leaked, the club appeared to take cold feet. The official statement on their website states that: “Whilst acknowledging the considerable media attention, we continue to have conversations with representative bodies such as the PFA and will conduct due diligence with regard to any decision we make on this matter.”

If the Oldham officials arrived at their decision after some serious discussion, they might at least have tried to ensure that they had arguments robust enough to stand up to scrutiny. If you’re going to make a decision that some folk will regard as controversial, you should be prepared to take a little flak from social media. Some people might think it rather dismissive to describe an online petition signed (so far) by 45,000 people as ‘a little flak’, but I chose those words deliberately. There are many wonderful things about social media, but there are also some significant downsides. Twitter, in particular, provides perfect conditions for two of the most tiresome species known to humankind: those who seek to offend and those who seek to be offended. At times, it seems little more than an echo chamber wherein the like-minded can get their righteous kicks by acting like a 21st century equivalent of the lynch mob. It is interesting to note that the anti-Evans petition was started by a blogger whose commitment to justice is so principled that he or she writes under the pseudonym ‘Jean Hatchet’.     
What are the special conditions about this case that make Mr. or Ms. Hatchet (and those who signed the petition) believe that the law is inadequate and that Ched Evans deserves additional punishment? Are there any other professions to which these special conditions should apply? Are there any other crimes to which these special conditions should apply?  

We either believe in the principle of the rehabilitation of offenders, or we don’t. If we wish to make exceptions, we should perhaps vote for people who will put these exceptions on the statute book. But if we’d rather let subjective morality usurp objective law, if we’d rather label for life those we would disdain, we might as well go the whole hog. 

We could make all convicted offenders wear sackcloth and ashes. Or better still, we could tattoo the word ‘criminal’ on their foreheads. 

Here’s another idea: why not chop off the hands of anyone who steals?

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