opinion

Israel Folau has freedom of speech. But he doesn't have freedom from consequences.

We’re witnessing something pretty spectacular in the news this week. An athlete at the top of his game, throwing it all away; the money, the popularity, integrity, the respect of his colleagues… the lot.

Rugby Australia has signalled its intention to sack star player Israel Folau, after the 30-year-old shared a meme to social media that declares “hell awaits” those who “are living in sin”; among those damned souls (according to the meme, that is) are gay people, those who drink alcohol, lie and fu… sorry, ‘fornicate’.

RA’s move is strong, swift, admirable. But it’s also a move that has played right into the centre’s hands, allowing him and his supporters to cry “free speech”, to use the backlash from the public and the sport as another example of what they perceive to be an ongoing attack on conservatism.

Indeed, despite public condemnation from rugby bosses, much of the public, even Wallabies Vice-Captain Will Genia, Folau is reportedly fighting the attempt to tear up his $4 million contract on the grounds that the views expressed in the meme are deeply held and stem from his religious beliefs. The posts also remain live on his Instagram and Twitter accounts.

It seems this is the hill Israel Folau is prepared for his career to die on:

 

 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 

 

Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him. _______________ Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these , adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:19‭-‬21 KJV _______________ Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Acts 2:38 KJV _______________ And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
Acts 17:30 KJV _______________

A post shared by Israel Folau (@izzyfolau) on

ADVERTISEMENT

Of course, Israel Folau absolutely can believe whatever he likes, as deeply as he likes. He can cling to ancient theories about who is and isn’t destined to take post-death trip to the other, much-hotter Down Under.

But the reality is that when he spouts such harmful, bigotry in the public domain, he, too, has consequences to face.

Rugby Australia has an official Code of Conduct to which all professional players are bound. And according to RA, Folau’s comments on social media represent “a high-level breach of his contract”.

“Following the events of last year, Israel was warned formally and repeatedly about the expectations of him as player for the Wallabies and NSW Waratahs with regards to social media use and he has failed to meet those obligations,” Rugby Australia Chief Executive, Raelene Castle said in a statement.

“It was made clear to him that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action.”

By doubling down, Israel Folau clearly feels that his responsibility to his faith trumps any contractual or professional responsibilities. And that’s his choice.

But what about his responsibility as a decent, purportedly loving human being? As a man with the platform to influence?

He could spread his message (or His message, as the case may be) for the benefit of the community, rather than inciting fear, perpetuating shame and tearing down bridges so many have worked so hard to build.

Meanwhile, rugby fans – and sadly, young, gay rugby fans – have had to watch on as the whole grubby, bitter saga unfolds, threatening the name of the sport, which has a reputation far cleaner than other Australian footballing codes. See while they have ‘a culture problem’, or even ‘a woman problem’, Rugby Union has an Israel Folau problem.

And the sooner they’re free of it, the better.

READ MORE:

Light blue and pink butterfly illustration. You click, we help. Shooting star illustration.

Mamamia is funding 100 girls in school, every day.

So just by spending time with Mamamia, you’re helping educate girls, which is the best tool to lift them out of poverty.

Thanks for helping!

Light blue and pink butterfly illustration. Girl with pigtails sitting at desk writing in notebook. Row of four books.
Three hands holding books
00:00 / ???