Sunderland's Adam Johnson has been charged with sexual and grooming offences against a 15 year-old girl, but will not be banned from playing.
Despite being charged with three counts of sexual activity with an underage girl, Sunderland’s Adam Johnson is going to be allowed to continue to play football.
27 year-old Johnson, who has previously won 12 caps for England, has also been charged with one offence of grooming, but Sunderland have not suspended the midfielder. The club released a statement saying “The club recognises that the formal legal process must take its course and whilst our position remains unchanged, we will keep the matter under review.” Johnson is due to appear in court on May 20.
Allowed to play or not, this is all news that Sunderland could have done without, with the club fighting to stay in the Premier League, and with a cloud hanging over one of their key players, who has scored five goals for the club this season.
The news is also unlikely to do much good for the image of football and players either, especially in the wake of the controversy surrounding Ched Evans and his right to return to football after a rape conviction.
Without any evidence being made public as of now, it would be imprudent to put Johnson’s charges in the same category as that of Evans, and the Sunderland man has not been found guilty of anything yet. Accusations of sexual activity with a 15 year-old girl however will not do him or the sport a huge amount of good, although it is worth stressing that only a small minority of footballers have engaged in criminal acts.
Although Johnson has been cleared to play, it is far from certain that he will play. Sunderland had initially suspended the player after his arrest on March 2, and he hasn’t played for the club since, even though they initially lifted that suspension on March 18. He may hence be lacking match fitness, and playing him would likely attract a lot of unwanted attention on him and the club, who will do all they can to keep everyone’s attention firmly on the football as they look to avoid relegation.
Having said that, Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat may feel he needs all his best players available if they are to stay in the Premier League, in which case Johnson may well be selected, given that he is Sunderland’s joint-top scorer this season. Sunderland are at Stoke tomorrow, but the attention may not be so much on whether Sunderland will get three points as much as it may be on whether Johnson plays, and what reception he gets.