Sheffield United has finally made a decision on convicted rapist and footballer Ched Evans –he will not be allowed to train with them. Whatever the moral arguments for and against his return, one thing is certain, Sheffield United’s reputation has been tarnished by the saga and the damage has been largely self-inflicted.
By initially allowing him back to train, but choosing to remain silent on the subject, the perception was created that they were trying to sneak Evans back in. This prompted an outcry from fans, the public at large, sponsors and businesses. Jessica Ennis-Hill asked for her name to be removed from one of the club’s stands if Evans was re-signed, Charlie Webster, Paul Heaton, Dave Berry and Lindsay Graham quit as a club patrons and community activists, and several other sponsors threatened to walk away.
What should Sheffield United have done to manage the situation better? The simple answer is they should have acted swiftly and decisively with an official statement about their intentions, whether that was that they were taking the view that Evans has been punished and rehabilitated and should be allowed back to the club, or not. Whatever stance they had taken would have had damaging consequences but in saying nothing it has been far worse. Rightly or wrongly, the impression has been created that Sheffield United were prepared to have him back, largely due to his footballing ability, and have only now changed their minds because of the huge public pressure and potential loss of money for the club.