A minor press flap in the UK last week was around the minor football player Ched Evans. Evans was convicted of rape in 2012, and, on his release from prison, he was expected to start playing again, for Oldham Athletic.
There was huge public outcry about this, and eventually Oldham backed out.
In the shadow of the Charlie Hebdo murders, there were voices that presented the outcry against Oldham employing Evans as an example of the kind of hysterical intolerance that shuts down speech in the West. “Who needs the Islamic State of Sharia Law when mainstream British politics has become so poisonous and illiberal?”, writes Duleep Allirajah in Spiked
There is truth in this argument, but in the end Ched Evans is not a tenable subject for making a case against the mob. The reason is not what he did (rape), but what he does (football). The existence of professional football is down to the whim of the mob, and there is no way to remove the mob from professional sport.
Essentially, Ched Evans is in the same boat as female tennis players who claim they should be paid the same prize money as men.
A road sweeper who has served a sentence to a crime can claim he has the same moral right to be employed as any other road sweeper. Similarly, a female doctor can claim she has the moral right to be paid the same £100,000 a year as a male doctor. Those claims are debatable, but there is certainly a framework in which they make sense.
However, nobody has a moral right to be paid to play football, any more than Stan Wawrinka has a moral right to be paid millions for playing tennis. The only justification for any of them is that they are paid what the market will bear: that people are willing to spend that much of their own money on them voluntarily. And, people are not prepared to spend as much money on female tennis players (even with extra incentive). Also, people are not prepared to spend the money on Ched Evans. The public’s willingness to prefer mens tennis over women’s tennis, or non-rapist footballers over Ched Evans might be right or wrong, but if the choice is to be taken from the public, it seems inevitable that it would take away professional sport entirely. The whim of the public is the only justification for professional sport, so participants must accept its judgement.