Trigger warning: mentions of rape and sexual abuse
The event marked only the most recent in a string of similar charges brought against footballers in recent years, and arrived alongside the news of a ninth sexual assault case being brought upon suspended Manchester City player Benjamin Mendy. With cases showing no signs of slowing it is clear that the industry and the justice system must do more to crack down on the emerging epidemic, and even presents the question of whether large football institutions may be complicit in protecting their investments above exposing such criminals.
This mindset became blatantly obvious in the week as Scottish Championship side Raith Rovers announced the signing of David Goodwillie, who was ruled to have raped a woman by a civil judge in 2016. The fallout of the announcement resulted in the resignation of the club’s woman’s team captain Tyler Rattray, as well as shirt sponsor Val McDermid, before the club backtracked and confirmed the player would not feature for them at any point. The debacle brought attention to the mentality of football clubs regarding the importance of such cases in comparison to their performance and laid bare the priorities that appear to be rife in the sport. Notably, Goodwillie has been playing for another Scottish club, Clyde FC, between the time of his ruling and today, prompting questions as to why this outrage only arrived now. It took the response from sponsors and players to bring about any change, and this universal outrage must be the standard for any similar decisions attempted by clubs in the future.
Whilst not attempting quite such a blatant attempt to gloss over such allegations, Manchester United have been criticised for the sluggishness with which they appeared to act as Greenwood’s allegations appeared, releasing a statement in which they said they would “not make any further comment until the facts have been established.” The club has since suspended Greenwood until further notice, but much the same as their original statement, they appear to be hedging their bets and not making any strong commitments at this stage. The approach is indicative of an establishment reluctant to give up on a prize asset and attempting to stall until a time where it would be viable to bring him back on board. As the industry has previously proved, such allegations and even convictions may not be enough to end a career.
In 2014, Ched Evans was visited in prison by representatives of Sheffield United whilst serving a sentence for a rape of which he would be later acquitted.
The protests worked, but the incident provides another clear example of the deeply flawed way in which clubs evaluate such serious crimes. Evans continues to play for Preston in the Championship.
The list of players with similar charges is extensive, even at the top level of the game, and as old events are brought into the spotlight and charges are continuing to be piled upon the likes of Benjamin Mendy, it’s hard to feel as though the issue seen by the public is simply the tip of the iceberg.