IN a summer in which things appeared to be going pretty smoothly for Rangers, they have this week attracted the media spotlight for somewhat less positive reasons.

Yesterday, the Glasgow club signed Jon Flanagan. It is not the Englishman’s footballing credentials that have made headlines though, rather, it is the fact that the 25-year-old is convicted of having assaulted his girlfriend that has garnered most attention. And so, yet again, the discussion is sparked as to whether men who have committed violent crimes against women should be welcomed with open arms at football clubs.

Flanagan is not, of course, the first athlete to be embroiled in issues of this sort. The National Football League in the USA has been flooded with stories of players assaulting women, including Joe Mixon, who punched Amelia Molitor, breaking bones in her face. He is back playing in the NFL.

Closer to home, former Blackburn and Dundee United striker David Goodwillie and his team-mate David Robertson were charged with rape in 2011. Although the case never made it to a criminal court, the pair were ruled as rapists by a civil court last January. Despite this, Goodwillie has spent the past two seasons playing for Clyde in League 2, with the line being repeated by his supporters that everyone deserves a second chance in life.

Following Rangers’ signing of Flanagan, assistant manager Gary McAllister echoed this rhetoric, insisting the defender deserved a fresh start, despite pleading guilty in January to assaulting his girlfriend the previous month. Flanagan was sentenced to 40 hours of unpaid work as well as a 12-month community order but Rangers’ signing of him once again opens the wider debate of whether or not men convicted of crimes such as rape and domestic violence should be invited back into the fold in the wholehearted manner in which they are.

The argument that athletes are role models has always been somewhat tenuous; should being good at sport in itself qualify an individual to be a role model? Arguably not. But there is an important balance to be found between expecting athletes to live entirely flawless lives and arguing that certain behaviours should have limited consequences.

Men’s sport has a tendency, when it suits it, to minimalise the seriousness of assaulting or even raping women. While McAllister admitted Flanagan’s conduct was “unacceptable”, he also said: “But he deserves a second chance. He showed remorse, put his hand up and has taken his punishment. He wants to get on with his life and his football life.”

This is mild however, in comparison to Clyde chairman Norrie Innes’ abhorrent justification of his club signing Goodwillie. “David is the first guy to admit he made mistakes that night,” Innes said.

“But he does not regard himself as a predator or a rapist. He made mistakes, recognises that and is sorry for that.”

To argue second chances are never justified would be militant in the extreme, as well as grossly unfair. Athletes are human beings who make mistakes. But there has to be a line drawn, and I believe it should not include those who have assaulted and raped women.

As an athlete, I had a clause in my contract which stated that bringing my sport into disrepute would result in that contract being cancelled. That was, I believe, entirely justified and is surely fair whatever the sport.

Professional footballers are paid to win football matches, but also to attract children, women and the rest of society into the stands. Should we be comfortable having domestic violence convicts being lauded and cheered? Who is comfortable having their young son or daughter, many of whom will treat select professional footballers as idols, worshipping someone convicted of domestic violence? Or having their name printed on a replica shirt?

For any club to sign players with such crimes on their record gives the distinct impression that almost anything will be swept under the carpet if you can kick a ball well. If that’s the mentality, there’s something wrong. Sport has the power to shape society, at least in small part. And we should encourage those in power to set the standards higher than opening their doors to someone convicted of domestic violence for the sake of winning a few football matches.