As elephants go, it’s a huge one. And it appears to be entering the room. Ched Evans and Sheffield United, the subject that hardly dare speak its name.
So it is a minefield upon which this column sets foot today. Should Sheffield United re-engage a convicted rapist next season? Should they even be considering it?
I have to say I’m confused, struggling for answers. That might be convenient but it’s also true – and maybe also of many Blades fans. So why should people at the club be any different? I know that senior figures have been wrestling with this for a while. It’s uncomfortable and so it should be.
But there are, of course, strong views either way.
The one plea I’d make here is for tolerance. All of those views, within reason should be respected.
Moral codes are set by societies as a whole and on many the line is blurred. NOBODY is condoning rape.
Some say ‘never, ever’ to an Evans return.
The truth that there would be no way back in other jobs is inescapable.
Others insist the Blades’ jailed former goal ace – due for day release in July pending the end of his sentence – will have done his time and some are also backing his sustained protestation of innocence.
On Twitter I’ve been approached by petitions for and against.
I’ve supported neither, feeling it’s wrong to inflict a personal view.
What is safe to say is that whether United were in the field or not, there is much interest on purely football grounds. Whether that is right or wrong is a wider subject.
Each case is different. I did feel moved to condemn the Blades’ fleeting link-up with Marlon King, now jailed for a third time and a serial miscreant. Evans isn’t, although you could say that is negated by the nature of the crime.
Of course, that would change were he to be cleared.
But right now he is a rapist. You don’t have to be the father of two daughters, as I am, to be appalled by that.
Manager Nigel Clough and other United officials have visited Evans in prison as per “a duty of care to former employees.” I’d say Clough has a stricter moral code than most managers. He will have looked into Evans’ eyes. If Clough were to make him an offer, you would have to trust that his justification would go beyond football.
But it’s surely more about the club. There’s another way to look at this hugely difficult, complex and sensitive issue.
Not “is it morally justifiable to re-sign Evans?” Rather “is it the right thing for Sheffield United?”
Consider the pressure groups. On a recent count, the pro-Evans petition had 3,670 supporters. The anti-vote stood at over 58,460. Let’s not be misled that the latter is actually dominated by football supporters, let alone Blades followers.
But even allowing that the anti-petition reflects a general rallying to a cause, it is fair to think the club’s support would be split if Evans returned.
Is that a risk worth taking when there is so much harmony at the club?
I don’t doubt Evans as a player. I’m not even bringing his character into question in posing that question.
He could come back and score another 35 goals next season.
But it wouldn’t necessarily guarantee promotion and might still not be worth the trouble.
With no disrespect to Evans the player, it could be argued there are plenty more fish in the sea.
Or elephants in the jungle.
But not many as good. It’s a tough call. An enormous gamble.
I can’t pretend I’d be entirely comfortable with it. But then who could? Just glad I’m not the one making the decision.
But I do trust those who are.