After serving three years in prison, former Sunderland and England winger Adam Johnson has been released. Still only 31, Johnson may still be able to return to play football but the moral argument remains over whether he should be allowed to.
We’ve seen Premier League stars like Troy Deeney and Jamie Vardy return to English football following criminal convictions but given the seriousness of Johnson’s crime, any club in England would be mad to go near him. There would be an inevitable media circus and supporter backlash for any football club that attempted to sign the disgraced star.
Opportunities abroad, where his name, appearance and conviction would not be so well known, would be severely limited. He would be unable to gain a visa in a number of countries ruling out moves to China’s Super League, the A League in Australia and MLS in America. Any move away would also take him away from his four-year-old daughter who now lives his ex-fiance.
We are constantly reminded of the fact that footballers are role models to younger fans and how they should act as such, but this is a time when the clubs that must take action and start setting the example.
Following football’s sexual abuse scandal, Manchester City, one of Johnson’s former clubs, has launched a “survivors’ scheme” for the victims of Barry Bennell.If Johnson was allowed to return to football, either in England or abroad, what message would this send to these victims or any sufferer of abuse, that a convicted sex offender is back in the game?
Crewe Alexandra are still in court trying to clear their name and their role in the Bennell case. It is alleged that Crewe even allowed Bennell to have young boys stay at his house. Former Chelsea coach Graham Rix, served six months in prison for underage sex with a girl in 1999 and incredibly was allowed to return to his job in Chelsea’s youth team when he was released. No duty of care was taken in either those cases and monsters like Bennell and Rix were allowed to return to football and even work with children.
Football is still hanging its head in shame over the decades of abuse suffered by youth team players. Even today, abuse and bully allegations to continue to disgrace the game. This season alone, Craig Belllamy has stepped down at Cardiff City over his alleged treatment of youth team players, Watford suspended academy head Darren Sarll whilst the FA have charged former Newcastle Under-23 coach Peter Beardsley with using racist language. Football needs to better protect young people in the game whether they are fans or players themselves.
Without doubt, Adam Johnson deserves to get on and rebuild his life but that shouldn’t be in football. He cannot return to same environment which gave him power to abuse and an employer to help him cover it up.
With all the brave victims coming forward, football finally needs to send the right message to the public. Football is finally tackling abuse and the game is changing. With that, Johnson should never be allowed back.