6:01AM GMT 05 Jan 2015
It’s been 13 years since John
Leslie waved goodbye to his TV career. Some readers may be
scratching their heads, as they try to remember his original claim to fame
and what led to his downfall. Then they might gradually recall how the
former Blue Peter and This Morning presenter faced rumours of rape and stood
trial accused of indecent assault.
Trivial minded types (yes, me) might harbour lingering memories of how former
girlfriend Abi Titmuss stood bustily by his side, until the judge acquitted
Leslie, saying he could leave court “without a stain on his character”.
However, the subsequent release of a threesome sex tape, along with
accusations of cocaine abuse, meant vats of Daz couldn’t remove all the
grime. In subsequent interviews Leslie admitted he never “learnt how to
treat women with respect”. In short, there wasn’t a hope in hell Leslie
would ever front a family entertainment show again and he quietly took up
property development instead.
Cut to January 2015 and the footballer and
convicted rapist Ched Evans is about to be announced as a player with a
League One team. Evans has apologised to his girlfriend for an “act
of infidelity”, but has yet to offer a single word of apology to his victim.
She was 19 at the time of the assault and has been obliged to repeatedly
move home and change her identity to escape the vitriol of Evans’
supporters. The undisputed facts remain that this young woman had downed a
couple of glasses of wine at home, followed by four vodkas and a sambuca.
The night porter at the Premier Inn where she was taken by Evan’s close pal,
Clayton McDonald, testified she appeared “extremely drunk”. She woke up
confused the next morning around 11.30, having wet the bed and unable to
remember much of the previous night’s events.
Call me old-fashioned, but it’s hard enough to see how there could be true
autonomy in the consent the woman gave to McDonald, who had picked her up
while he was hailing a cab to the hotel. How, though, any human being with a
shred of empathy could believe that this prone woman was then have in a fit
state to consent to sex with Ched Evans (who entered the room unbidden by
the victim), beggars belief. Never mind the fact two of the footballers’
friends smirked outside the bedroom window, trying to film the abuse. Rape
aside, all the men involved in this scenario are surely guilty of the basest
form of misogyny, degradation and exploitation.
So, in what truly civilised society does any unrepentant man progress from
such low-life debauchery and a five-year sentence for rape, to a place back
in public life as a League One player? Like it or not, well-known
footballers exert huge influence on their fans and in the media. Indeed,
Evans himself has talked of his belief that, given a second chance, “I could
be a positive role model”. But how could this be so, when he has repeatedly
cast himself as the innocent party in an incident during which a
near-unconscious woman was used for his gratification? It’s hard to imagine
any credible profession where someone accused, let alone convicted of all
that, could saunter back to their old life.
Yet the wider of culture of football is still so Neanderthal that plenty of
men within the industry support Evans’ comeback. They trot out all the
shameful lines, familiar from Operation Yewtree and the groper’s view of the
celeb scene of the early Seventies: that it’s not the men’s fault if
groupies crawl all over them only to feel used and abused when they’re
discarded like crumpled hand-towels; that any red-blooded male would avail
himself of willing crumpet, never mind their age, or state of inebriation.
The big difference now, however, is that the music, DJ and TV industries have
moved on. The Rolling Stones lyrics from Stray Cat Blues, “It’s no capital
crime/ I can see that you’re fifteen years old/ No, I don’t want your ID”,
are shocking to modern ears. An accusation of statutory rape or
non-consensual sex can’t be batted away like a pesky fly any more.
But the world of sport has long lagged behind other professions in adopting
modern codes of sexual conduct. Mike Tyson resumed his boxing career after a
rape conviction and many cite that precedent as a model for Ched Evans’
reinstatement. However, Tyson was arrested 24 years ago and much has changed
since in our understanding of sexual abuse and the lifelong effect on
You don’t have to be vindictive to believe serious sexual offenders should
start their rehabilitation by showing a little awareness of the damage
caused. If Ched Evans had shown even a modicum of regret, or an iota of
understanding of how it’s despicable to share your pal’s conquest, like a
bag of chips, I might begin to feel he’s capable of change. If he had
volunteered to tour UK schools talking to boys about sexism in sport, he’d
have my ear. John Leslie was acquitted of assault, but still summoned the
remorse to admit his “behaviour was at times inappropriate”. Until Ched
Evans does the same, he should be barred from our football pitches.
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