This article was first written for and published for The Roar.
Last year at the NRL grand final, Macklemore performed his smash hit ‘Same Love’ in front of 79,722 people.
While he sang that song, on the big screens at ANZ Stadium the following words played on loop – ‘we stand for diversity’, ‘we stand for inclusiveness’ and ‘we stand for courage’.
It was one of my proudest moments as an NRL fan; to see our sport stand up and say that it is one that welcomes everyone no matter their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or beliefs.
It’s because of this that we cannot have Israel Folau back in the NRL if he continues to share particular views in the manner he has been sharing them over the last month.
I can pre-empt some of the responses to that comment.
‘You can’t discriminate against someone because of their beliefs’
Israel is free to believe whatever he wants. There are many deeply religious men and women who are an integral part of our game that may share Israel’s views. My question is, why are they not commenting in a similar way?
Is it because their faith is not as strong as his? Are they not as brave as he is? No. It is because they understand that being an adult in civilised society means you have responsibilities in how you speak to others and how you express yourself.
David Pocock is another player that shares controversial views and is very passionate about particular causes. We have never seen him cause a media stir quite like this.
Similarly if the head of a large organisation, as a representative of that organisation made similar comments, they would be subject to sanction as well. If I made hurtful or hateful comments while representing the company I work for, I would also be subject to sanctions.
It’s not about what Israel believes, it’s about the way he is choosing to express those beliefs.
Some have suggested that Israel is expressing himself in a manner similar to those who advocate for the LGBTIQ community using rainbows and colours and photos and that those posts cause similar levels of discomfort and distress.
That is ridiculous.
The facts tell us that LGBTIQ youth experience poorer mental health outcomes and specifically, have higher rates of depression and youth suicide and that this is directly related to stigma, prejudice, discrimination and abuse.
Israel has a large following and his comments have the potential to be exceptionally damaging. I would argue that seeing a rainbow on Twitter does not have the same impact.
I knew what Israel’s position on the LGBTIQ community was before he decided to use his Instagram account to suggest that gay people would go to hell unless they repented their sins. But after he shared that post, despite my sadness and disappointment I perhaps thought that he didn’t understand how much hurt he was causing.
He had it very clearly explained to him after that post with a response that was loud and clear. He has now chosen to post again, warning against ‘tolerance’ of same-sex marriage.
It’s clear to me that Israel has no concern for the potential damage that he is causing, particularly among the LGBTI community. This is dangerous and inappropriate.
Israel is free to believe whatever he likes. But he is not free from consequence for sharing those beliefs.
As a Qantas Wallaby and NSW Waratah, Israel is a representative of rugby union. Let’s face reality – rugby is in some real trouble in Australia at the moment and doesn’t need its highest-paid player causing global controversy. Instead of using his platform to talk up the game, he is instead using it to share hurtful views targeting a particular segment of the community.
I wonder how Alan Joyce, CEO at Qantas, feels about Israel wearing a jersey with his company’s name across it – a company which have been staunch advocates and supporters of the LGBTIQ community?
Earlier this week Mal Meninga came out and said ‘I would love to see [Israel] back playing rugby league… he would be welcome back in our sport with open arms’.
As a proud Indigenous man, I wonder if Mal would feel the same way about a player who continued to use their social media platform to share racist views, which could cause tremendous hurt to a community which he loves very much. What if that player genuinely held those views? Would that be okay?
And would we even be having this conversation were Israel not such a great player?
I can pre-empt another response to this article.
‘There are players that have done much worse than Israel playing in the NRL right now’.
To that I say a couple of things. Firstly, that each situation must be judged individually on its merits. Secondly, we must accept the reality of our game. That reality is that for many of the players, were they not playing footy, their lives would be radically different.
Some could potentially be in jail. Some would not be working. Some would be struggling to make ends meet. Not all of our players have had the benefit of an easy childhood and plenty have fought very hard to chase their dream to play footy.
Our game genuinely changes the lives of so many.
Many men in our game have made mistakes, but it is one of my favourite things about the game that we give these men a second chance and give them another opportunity – if they demonstrate that they really want it.
Good examples of men who have used their second change include players like Manu Ma’u and Russell Packer – these are men who have made mistakes, fulfilled their legal obligations and then come back to our game stronger.
The only way I could possibly welcome Israel back into the code is after having a frank conversation with him and asking him to not harden his heart and think very carefully about the way he chooses to share those views he is so passionate about.
Two of the most fundamental tenets of Christianity are treating others the way you wish to be treated and loving your neighbour as yourself. I ask Israel to consider the people around him, understand the power of acceptance and the joy in living in a world where people are welcomed with arms open no matter their beliefs, race, gender or sexual orientation.
Our game is one which welcomes everyone who shares our simple and beautiful values of excellence, inclusiveness, courage and teamwork. And I want it to stay that way.