LONDON (AP) — He's young, experienced and wants to play — but Ched Evans is also a convicted rapist and it looks like public opinion may prevent the forward from ever resuming his professional soccer career.
Evans, 26, is out of prison after serving time for raping a 19-year-old woman in his hotel room in 2011. Yet the reaction in Britain to his possible return to the nation's favorite sport is becoming more and more vehement.
The high-profile case raises questions about the role of rehabilitation and challenges conventional wisdom that a convicted criminal who has paid for his offense should be given a chance to work. The situation is complicated by Evans' lack of remorse — he insists he is innocent and has never apologized.
Oldham, an English team that plays in the country's third-tier League One, is considering signing Evans but major sponsors Verlin and Mecca Bingo said Monday they will drop the team if he joins. Thousands have signed an online petition opposing his return.
"I agree he's served his time but it's a very serious crime," said Kath Woodward, a professor of sociology at Britain's Open University who deals extensively with sports issues. "Remorse would go some way toward ameliorating the situation. It's very disappointing that clubs like Oldham are trying to get a reasonable player cheap. It shows the management of football (soccer) doesn't understand the changing times."
She said society's attitudes toward rape and sexual harassment have hardened considerably since the days when former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson was able to resume his boxing career after serving time in prison for a 1992 rape.
"I can remember the idea you just have to put up with it, it's part of life, but women now are not prepared to do that," she said. "There's a lot of public feeling against him coming back, a lot of public protests. The fans genuinely don't want it."
Oldham's chief executive, Neil Joy, said Monday that discussions were continuing with soccer authorities on the topic but the club was not ready to make "any official announcement" concerning a possible pact with Evans.
There have not been any high-profile cases of convicted rapists returning to professional team sports in the United States. However, some professional athletes in the U.S. have been able to resume their careers after prison sentences, including NFL quarterback Michael Vick, who served time for his role in a dogfighting ring.
Evans was jailed for five years in 2012 but was released in October after serving half his sentence. The former Wales national team player said he would work to clear his name and that he wanted to return to soccer.
Sheffield United said in November that Evans would train with the club, sparking almost immediate opposition. Prominent Britons, including Olympic gold medalist Jessica Ennis, said they would drop their association with the club if they signed Evans.
The pressure worked — the club changed course after 10 days and said Evans would not be training there after all.
After that, the prospect that Evans could play overseas was raised when a Maltese team said it would offer him a contract. But British officials said since Evans was a convicted sex offender this would likely be impossible. A Ministry of Justice statement said probation officers would have to approve any new job and would have to be assured of regular, face-to-face meetings, which "effectively rules out working abroad."
Then Oldham entered the picture. But resistance has been fierce, with some 20,000 people signing an online petition opposing his addition.
Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd even took the unusual step of wading into the controversy. He said Evans' "lack of remorse" and "failure to acknowledge" his crime should keep him out of the game.
"Ched Evans is a convicted rapist and, whilst I strongly believe in the principle of rehabilitation, it will send out entirely the wrong message if they offer him a contract," Lloyd said.
Professor Simon Chadwick, who specializes in sports marketing at Coventry University, said Evans has become "a toxic player that nobody wants to touch."
Chadwick said Evans made the situation worse by presenting his case to the public in an arrogant way that does not reflect the severity of his crime.
"Nobody wants to see somebody who has perpetrated violent crime against women be so easily allowed back in," he said. "Normally you'd say, if he served his time, he should have the opportunity to re-enter the workplace and continue his work. But this is not a legal issue, it's a socio-cultural issue. What this man has done is deemed by many to be unacceptable."