Israel Folau is one of the best Australian rugby players in the world, however he might now be the most controversial after making an anti-gay remark on an Instagram post last month. Folau, a back for the Waratahs and for the Wallabies, has always made it known that he is anti-gay marriage as he is a firm believer in Christianity. In 2017, in the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, he put down that he did not support same-sex marriage, but that’s not what made him controversial. On April 4, an Instagram user commented and asked Folau what God’s plans were for gays and Folau responded with “HELL.. Unless they repent their sins and turn to God.” Folau would later write a column titled “I’m A Sinner Too” for PlayersVoice.com.au (a website similar to Players’ Tribune here in the United States) explaining his reasons as to why he said what he said on that Instagram post. Rugby Australia will not sanction Folau.
I come from a country where free speech is protected, but not of consequences. If I was to make an anti-gay remark, I would not be imprisoned by the feds, but I would be likely fired from my job. Last year in Major League Baseball, an outfielder named Kevin Pillar for the Toronto Blue Jays, used an anti-gay remark towards an opposing player, and was suspended for two games by his own team. He wasn’t imprisoned, he simply faced consequences.
Players in any sports are role models for kids. Plain and simple. When anyone makes remarks like that, kids will think that it’s okay to say such things. Not everyone is a Christian and not everyone has the same views as Folau does as some parents who don’t agree with Folau will genuinely be upset with what he said. Folau should have kept that to himself. Another big problem is sponsorships. If Folau has any sponsorships that don’t share the same values as Folau, he could risk them pulling their sponsorships. Not only could it affect Folau, it could also affect Rugby Australia and their sponsorships like Qantas.
There hasn’t just been some public outcry by rugby fans, even some other players have called him out. TJ Perenara, a halfback for the Hurricanes and All-Blacks, said in a Twitter thread criticizing Folau:
“I’d like to add my voice to the conversation currently taking place. As professional rugby players, whether we like it or not, we are role models for a lot of young people. Notably, young Māori and Pasifika people. You don’t need to look far to know that young Māori/PI are overrepresented in youth suicide statistics and, as I understand it, even more so when you look to those who are part of the Rainbow community. Comments that cause further harm cannot be tolerated. Let it go on record that I am 100% against the comments that were made by Israel. It was not ok to say that. It’s not an attitude I want to see in the game I love. There is no justification for such harmful comments. To anyone, young Māori/Pasifika people especially, who may be struggling with their identity – please know that it is ok to be you. You are perfect as you are. Do not let these comments keep you from being yourself. Polynesia has been sexually diverse since forever.In the mean time, I have donated to the #NZFalcons campaign to support their involvement in the @BinghamCup2018 in June, the world championship of gay and inclusive men’s and women’s rugby.”
Here is another one by Brad Weber, a half back for the Chiefs and has one cap for the All-Blacks, said this about Folau’s comments:
“Kinda sick of us players staying quiet on some of this stuff. I can’t stand that I have to play this game that I love with people, like Folau, who say what he’s saying. My cousin and her partner, and my Aunty and her partner are some of the most kind, caring & loving people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. To think that I play against someone that says they’ll go to Hell for being gay disgusts me.”
In a meeting with Rugby Australia, Folau expressed that he did not intend to upset anyone or hurt the game. Well, guess what Folau? You did hurt some people with your comments. You should’ve thought of that before you said what you said. Folau has also expressed that he would walk away from the sport before he betrayed his faith. That’s fine, but no one was telling him he should.
I don’t agree with Folau’s comments and views, but I think that’s mostly because I believe in inclusion of any individual. I whole heartedly support the LGBTQ community and when I was last playing rugby, we played against a team that was a gay club, so when I hear people say something like that, it makes my blood boil. I respect that he doesn’t agree with it and sees it as a sin, but making an inflammatory remark on a group of people publicly is what gets me.
Also as someone who has worked in sports public relations, the best thing he could’ve done is just not to respond to a comment like that. The individual may have genuinely been asking what Folau thought, but when I see that I think that it could be someone luring him into a trap hoping that he would say something controversial. If that was the case, the person succeeded.
What I also think is wrong here is that Rugby Australia did not do anything to punish him for it. I would be a lot harsher than a lot of people and would have terminated his contract despite how talented he is. However, there needed to be something done about it and I think doing something like having him do some community work with the LGBTQ community would be a good start.
Ultimately, I really think Rugby Australia messed up here with a huge PR mess. Folau also should have kept those comments to himself as it not only hurts himself, but also the sport and the people who sponsored him. It may be his opinion, but sometimes opinions should not be made public as nightmares like this could arise.