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Speech scrum

Israel Folau (Adam Davy/Press Association via AP)


Speech scrum

Rugby star risks career by espousing Biblical views

Australian rugby star Israel Folau is to rugby what Michael Jordan once was to basketball. “Put simply, no one else in Australian rugby can do what Folau does,” sportswriter Bret Harris wrote in Sydney’s newspaper, The Guardian.

But Folau is facing the termination of his four-year, $4 million contract with Rugby Australia (RA) because of a post on social media. In April he posted that “hell awaits” homosexuals, along with other types of sinners, unless they repent. The post was essentially a condensed version of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.

It wasn’t the first time Folau ran afoul of RA’s desire to remain LGBTQ-friendly: He’d made similar comments on Instagram roughly a year earlier. “It was made clear to him [afterward] that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action,” RA’s chief executive, Raelene Castle, told CNN.

A hearing to determine whether Folau may continue to play for Australia’s national team, as well as his local pro club, will take place on May 4. Should RA terminate his contract, Folau won’t represent his country at the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this summer.

Folau, for his part, is willing to sacrifice his career for the sake of spreading the gospel: “Whatever [God] wants me to do, I believe His plans for me are better than whatever I can think,” he said. “If that’s not to continue on playing, so be it.

“In saying that, obviously I love playing footy, and if it goes down that path, I’ll definitely miss it. But my faith in Jesus Christ is what comes first.”

Folau isn’t the first sports figure silenced over controversial comments that angered the LGBTQ movement: ESPN dropped former major league pitcher Curt Schilling as a baseball analyst in 2016 after he posted on social media that men who identify as women didn’t belong in women’s bathrooms or locker rooms.

Colorado Rockies second baseman Daniel Murphy came under fire in 2015, when he was with the Mets: Asked about Billy Bean, Major League Baseball’s openly gay Ambassador for Inclusion, Murphy said he disagreed with Bean’s lifestyle but also said, “That doesn’t mean I can’t still invest in him and still get to know him.” Though Murphy said nothing disparaging about Bean, he later vowed—presumably at the behest of Mets management—to avoid talking about his Christian faith and to “stick to baseball.” Murphy has stuck to that promise.

Professional sports teams and the media that cover them, obviously, have no desire to alienate LGBTQ fans and their allies in today’s political climate. However, they presumably don’t want to alienate religious fans, either, which raises the question: Can teams strike a balance to be truly inclusive?

At least one pro sports owner believes they can: Steve Malik owns the North Carolina Courage, the women’s soccer team that employs defender Jaelene Hinkle, who famously turned down an opportunity to play for the U.S. Women’s National Team in 2017 because she’d have to wear a Pride-themed jersey (see “Faith and Courage,” June 26, 2018).

In the wake of Hinkle’s interview last year with The 700 Club concerning her decision, Malik expressed support for Hinkle in a tweet: “Faith acted on in personal conviction harming no one deserves respect just as much as creating a welcoming environment for all.”


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  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sun, 04/28/2019 06:18 pm

    For the record, Folau's post is here.  He calls out all sinners that Paul lists, not just homosexuals.  He also cites several other passages:  Galatians 5:19-21, Acts 2:38, and Acts 17:30.  Instagram is not my cup of tea, but Folau does not deserve to be fired.

  •  klpowers's picture
    Posted: Tue, 04/30/2019 08:59 pm

    I live in Australia and the noose is tightening on religious freedom.  We would do well to quote scripture rather than using our own words.  That way any complaints can be directed to the One who wrote them.