Israel Folau saga: Can we only allow atheists to play football?

Picture: AAP Image/Paul Barkley
Picture: AAP Image/Paul Barkley

I'M sure you've all heard about the Israel Folau social media debacle by now. In fact, you are probably sick of hearing about it. Well, strap in kids, this is gonna be a bumpy ride.

In all honesty, I'm really torn about this issue. Let me be clear: I don't share or condone his view about the need for members of our LGBTQI community to repent or face going to hell. However, having read so many articles and watched so many videos on this subject, I am left wondering when we became so soft that we can't hear opinions that don't align with our own values.

At what point does one need to completely quash one's own beliefs in the public forum? Is the cost of earning $1.5 million a year to represent the country on the rugby field, the loss of personal beliefs, individuality and religious freedom?

Since the story broke, I've been in a quandary. On one hand, I naturally rebel against the idea of a corporation dictating the thoughts and beliefs of others. But on the other, I understand the representation complication; that he is playing in representation of a nation, the majority of whom don't share his views and find them damaging.

It seems to me that we, as a nation, can't deal with the fact that just because Folau plays rugby for Rugby Australia, his values don't necessarily align with those of the organisation. Is he perpetually required to represent his employer?

Are we really incapable of separating the player from the organisation? Was anyone confused about Rugby Australia's commitment to diversity because of Folau's post?

The social media response has generally been one of outrage. And yet, Tim Wilson, an Australian MP and newly married to his husband, has put it in perspective. Appearing on The Project, he said the fallout regarding Folau's comments was ridiculous. He said Folau was speaking from a faith-based position that he has a right to express.

On one hand, I naturally rebel against the idea of a corporation dictating the thoughts and beliefs of others. But on the other, I understand the representation complication; that he is playing in representation of a nation, the majority of whom don't share his views and find them damaging.

I am reminded of our former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, saying: "A man is not a woman just because he wants to be, and a same-sex relationship should not be able to become a marriage just because activists demand it." And yet, he wasn't immediately "fired" for voicing his faith-based views.

Last year, when Scott Morrison was treasurer, he supported Folau's anti-gay comments. Yet here we are, 12 months later, with him the leader of our country. Is the Prime Minister not a greater example (at least in theory) of national representation? Where is our outrage here?

Were Folau's comments offensive? Absolutely. Does he have the right to make an idiot of himself on an international platform? I rather think he does. He said he was willing to face the consequences for his actions. But I'm not sure firing him is going to achieve anything but grandstand the idea we can't face ideas that challenge our traditional, national concepts and will instead stick our fingers in our ears and shout "lalala" until the big, scary words go away.

I hesitate to mention that controlling people's expression is how fascism got as far as it did. People thought is was OK to silence others because they didn't agree with them.

Folau IS a role model His opinions CAN influence the thoughts of others, but that's not the point, despite popular belief. Ask yourself, would you rather idolise a man not realising his personal beliefs on subjects that matter to you, or would you rather have your eyes open to his perspective?

Telling employees they have the right to their opinion, just not the right to share it, is like telling someone they have the right to freedom of religion but only if they don't practice it.

Can we not recognise that he is a bloody good player and hero his field skills without heroing his ideology?

If the majority of Australians decry his views, where is the damage? If we can't separate the two, then does this mean that we can only allow atheists to play football?

At the end of the day, those who will benefit the most from all this will be the All Blacks in September. Dammit.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers writer and coach at impressability.com.au