Should convicted criminals be locked out of football forever? (Photographer: Groundhopping Merseyberg via Flickr).
Unsafe Space

Brazilian goalkeeper who had his girlfriend strangled and then fed to dogs says that ‘mistakes happen’.

No, really.

By Helena Hanson

Sometimes, headlines are so ridiculous that you can only laugh. This should be one of those headlines. A Brazilian footballer didn’t REALLY conspire to murder his girlfriend and then feed her to dogs! Of course he didn’t! Oh, but he did. He really, really did.

Bruno Fernandes de Souza was a goalkeeper in Brazil, who was sentenced to 22 years in prison in 2013 for his involvement in the murder of former model, Eliza Samudio. Having been involved in a paternity battle while he was still married to his wife, he conspired with his friends to have his baby-mommy kidnapped, tortured, strangled and then fed to Rottweilers.

Confessing to the crime, he was released last month after his lawyers applied for a writ of habeas corpus because the Brazilian courts were too slow to hear his appeal. He served six years and seven months. Almost immediately, there was interest in him as a player one again, with second division club Boa Esporte recently signing him on a two-year deal.

As if this was not bizarre enough, speaking this week to The Guardian, Bruno sought to defend his decision to continue to play football, and said:

“Dude, what happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

A mistake Bruno? A mistake? A mistake is smashing your dad’s favourite mug, kissing your ex boyfriend when you’re drunk, or forgetting to feed the dog. This is not a minor fluff up. I could be wrong, but I think we could all generally agree that conspiring with your friends to kidnap your girlfriend, those friends torturing her, murdering her, dismembering her and then feeding her remains to Rottweilers is a little bit, you know…exessive. Beyond mistakes-ville, this is past regrets-island and on through sin city, this ‘mistake’ is right in the middle of sociopathic ocean.

Bruno is not the first footballer to be criticised for attempting to return to sport following a criminal conviction. In 2012, Ched Evans was found guilty and sentenced for the rape of a then-nineteen year old woman in a hotel room. Although he was released in 2014 after serving half his sentence, and his conviction was appealed based on his submission of previously unavailable evidence, the Ched Evans saga divided opinion in Britain.

The court of law and the court of opinion unfortunately don’t necessarily align, and as Evans has maintained his innocence from the outset, so too has a number of his supporters. Framing himself as the victim, he understands his own narrative to be that of a ‘young player with a bright future, who had his dreams cruelly and unfairly snatched from him’.

The understanding of Evans as a victim and the resulting anger and frustration from his followers led to the real victim of his assult being named on social media, and becoming victim to some horrific online trolling and abuse. Police later had to put her into hiding.

If this mess was not already enough of a shitshow, Ched Evans went on to comment that there should be more education for football players on issues surrounding alcohol and consent. His advice? “When they are drunk, think twice about it”.

Yes, because we all need sex tips from the guy who had sex with a drunk woman but, by his own admission, lied to get her room key and then failed to speak with her before, during, or after sex. Evans speaking to young players about alcohol, sex and consent is about as appropriate as Jimmy Saville running an after school club.

Fortunately, despite having a serious group of fans in the UK, Evans wasn’t dealt such a kind hand as Bruno Fernandes. When Sheffield United had initially considered re-signing him, they came under massive pressure from fans, sportsmen, celebrity ambassadors and sponsors (rapist players don’t sell much aftershave apparently) alike not to do so. Realising that Evans probably had a little too much, ahem, baggage, they decided not to go ahead with the signing.

The potential signing divided the country, and it is not often the Prime Minister gets his two pence worth with his opinions on a League One team’s transfer policy, but that’s exactly what David Cameron did when Evans appeared to be offered a contract with Oldham Athletic.

Whilst the majority of the UK agreed that Evans was an absolutely massive c-word, ultimately, the focus of the debate is social atonement vs legal atonement. Legally, both players have done their time behind bars, but the jury is out on whether justice has yet been served.

Although supporters argue that they have served their time, and should be allowed to continue to work and reintegrate into the world as many other criminals do, the other side argues that professional sportsmen occupy a very particular position within society and their return to a position of celebrity and veneration is extremely dangerous.

What kind of message does this send to young men, and young girls, following the treatment of both of the women within these narratives? What does it say about the seriousness of sexual assault, and of murder even? This is particularly prevalent in Brazil, known for being one of deadliest places in the world to be a woman or a girl. What message would be sent to young people about how society treats women and the seriousness of sexual assault?

Those in positions of influence have to be considered differently to those who have ordinary jobs, in offices or shops or banks, these people should not be put back in positions where they can be idolised or admired, especially by young people.

The biggest issue in hand here is that sportsmen, footballers in particular, seem to feel invincible. They don’t seem to follow the same societal rules that we do. Incredible wealth, teamed with an incredible sense of entitlement, particularly from a young age, can have terrifying implications. Evans himself said, “we could have any girl we wanted, we’re footballers”.

This cult of celebrity and power makes it easy to see how young, powerful, rich men can see themselves and indomitable, it is not a new notion, the concept of powerful men being able to get away with whatever they want. As these men have the money, power and therefore access to almost anything they want, without question, it is perhaps unsurprising they feel this power extends to other peoples bodies. It’s hard to argue otherwise, when you consider that the president of the United States is a man who has accusations of sexual assault within double digits.

I wish I could conclude that things are changing, and that we are increasingly holding these men accountable for their actions, but as yet this is not the case. It seems that all it takes right now to ‘right’ these ‘wrongs’ is a little sorry note and box of celebrations, but are we that forgiving? Really? Dude, everyone makes mistakes, right?

It seems however, that if you’re a man, and you’re rich, powerful, talented and a celebrity, then your mistakes are a lot more easily forgiven than everyone else’s.

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