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It can often seem with frequent suspended drunk driving sentences, acquittals for various incidents of pub violence, and other high-profile arrests that footballers are above the law. Just recently Brazilian player Brandao, under the cloud of a sexual assault allegation stemming from last March that seems to be floating in the middle of an “on-going investigation” ether, scored Marseille’s League Cup-winning goal. This was the player of whom club president president Jean-Claude Dassier once said, “Until the investigation is complete, we are all agreed that Brandão should no longer wear the Marseille shirt.” Now, he’s a hero of the club while the case seems to have gone nowhere…

Today however, Sheffield United’s Welsh striker Ched Evans received a five year sentence for rape (co-accused Port Vale player Clayton McDonald was acquitted). Evans is not a bit player for the team; he’s the top scorer with the Blades at 29 goals, more than twice the number of the second highest goal-scorer in the team, Lee Williamson. And Sheffield—currently six points off top spot in League One—is a tight derby battle for promotion with rivals Wednesday. This seems to be one of the rare occasions where a footballer’s actions off the pitch have real-world consequences.

Sheffield United have released a short statement, including Evans own brief reaction to the ruling. Meanwhile ESPN Soccernet has the most detailed report available on the incident in question.

As with any criminal justice trial, there will be different interpretations of the circumstances of the crime, the appropriateness of the verdict, and so on. To that end, and because I am a blogger sitting in an office in Canada and not intimately involved with the trial details, I’m not going to comment beyond the fact that rape is a serious crime and deserving of the fullest punishment legally afforded to the courts.

What I will say is this—the verdict should send the message out to clubs, managers, players and parents of players that elite footballers are not above the rule of law. The laissez-faire attitude among some clubs to the laddish football culture (often backed by tame sentences and suspended investigations) that leads young men to think it perfectly okay to film sex with blind drunk women needs to be thoroughly examined by everyone involved in the football league.