Should Israel Folau be allowed to play league again?



By Tim Blair

Let's go back to where the main trouble began - Israel Folau's Instagram post of April 2019.

"WARNING," it began, before listing everyone Folau believed was destined for hell unless they turned to Jesus: drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters.

"Those are very broad categories," US commentator Mark Steyn subsequently noted, "encompassing (from my personal observation) almost everyone in Australia."

Former Australian rugby star Israel Folau, now signed with French league team Catalan.
Former Australian rugby star Israel Folau, now signed with French league team Catalan.

Indeed, I'm in a few of those categories myself.

But we among the adulterous drunken fornicator community didn't worry too much.

Some of us are so frequently told we're going to hell that nowadays it barely registers.

Michael E. Mann, inventor of the hockey stick temperature graph and a devout follower of the climate alarmist faith, told his followers in 2018 that "Tim Blair is one of the worst people in the world", and that my "indecent, bilious assaults on humanity" meant I'd "better hope there isn't a hell".

And my Daily Telegraph colleague Jonathan Moran isn't off the hook, either.

No less a spiritual authority than ex-PM Kevin Rudd last year declared all News Corp staff were bound for a "special place in hell", presumably where the 2020 Summit is held every day for eternity.

Or maybe hell will be a little like what we're creating in Australia - a fearful, fretful place of endless agonising over even the most vanilla negative observations.

A place where citing a Biblical interpretation can get you thrown out of your job and the prospect of a person playing rugby league 17,000km away in France is an apparent cause of distress.

And we mostly go along with it because, as Steyn points out, "it's easier to cave on this stuff than to suggest that, if 'diversity' really were 'our strength', then we would simply shrug and suggest that a recognition of the sheer variety of mankind's opinions is part of what it means to be a free society."

He's right on the money. Speaking of which, as Jonathan points out, late basketball great Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 in 2011 after directing what basketball commissioner David Stern called an "offensive and inexcusable" homophobic slur at a referee.

"Bennie," Bryant had yelled to referee Bennie Adams during a match against the San Antonio Spurs. Bryant then called Adams a "f…ing faggot".

That was over a mere technical foul.

Lord only knows how Bryant might have reacted if the Lakers had torn up his contract and thrown him out of the NBA.



By Jonathon Moran

What would Kobe do?

He probably wouldn't post hateful messages on Instagram or preach hurtful sermons in church.

At a time when the world is mourning one of the greatest sports people ever, this is a time for Israel Folau to think about how he would like to be remembered.

Kobe Bryant was a devout Catholic. He went to church on the morning before his chopper crashed and tragically killed him and eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna.

But Kobe was not a homophobe. And he didn't use his religious beliefs to hurt others.

That is what Folau has done countless times and why I don't see a redemption story for him. News of his signing to French rugby league team Catalan Dragons cut deep, not that it wasn't expected.

Folau absolutely deserves the right to a second chance. And he deserves the right to earn a living.

Interestingly, Kobe was issued a $100,000 fine in 2011 by the NBA after using a homophobic slur against a referee.

Learning from his mistake, two years later he told a fan on Twitter not to use the word "gay" as an insult.

Noting the perceived hypocrisy of the situation, one user called out Kobe for his previous slur, to which he responded: "Exactly! That wasn't cool and was ignorant on my part. I own it and learn from it and expect the same from others."

What hurts about the Folau situation is that, to me, it shows we live in a world that clearly values winning a sports game over doing what is right.

Sports men and women are public figures and when they share their opinions publicly, they have an impact.

I'm told by my learned sports colleagues Folau's Catalan contract stipulates he not make any controversial comments or statements.

Time will tell if he sticks to that although I have little faith he will.

A lot has been said about Rugby Australia's stance on Folau, good and bad.

For me, what RA boss Raelene Castle and her team did by standing by their convictions to push for inclusion showed hope.

It represented a stand we haven't seen before in Australian sport.

The organisation copped massive criticism as a result, not to mention the prospect of huge financial loss, but it was the right thing to do.

That gave me hope for the future.

While all this played out, Folau continued to spurt his hateful messages against homosexuals and other "sinners".

He is absolutely entitled to his opinions, I've been very vocal about my feelings on this.

It is the fact he shared them so publicly that got him in trouble. I don't hate Folau but feel sorry for him. Mostly though, I am sad by the damage his words have caused.

Freedom of speech has its limits. And the question to me has been, at what point does that freedom overrule the fact that what someone is saying is actually harmful? This, to me, is what Folau will be remembered for, not being an exceptional sportsman.