This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…
As a one-eyed All Black fan and rugby tragic, I don’t generally like Australian Rugby players.
It’s not personal. In fact I’m sure many of them are decent people. David Pocock stands out as an exception, not so much for his on the ground work at the breakdown but his outspoken stands on same sex marriage and environmental issues in Australia.
I’ve also really admired Israel Folau as a player; a fullback that plays the game like an All Black (that most egocentric Kiwi compliment) and a naturally gifted, multi-code athlete.
For such a modern player, though, it’s a shame his views belong in the 1950s.
Earlier this week, Folau, known as a devout Christian, tweeted that gay people were destined for hell “unless they repent of their sins and turn to God”.
Predictably – and appropriately – many were outraged. However a subsequent “conversation” with the Australian Rugby Union has lead the ARU to back Folau’s right to his views, framing it as a matter of free speech.
It isn’t: it’s hate speech.
Look at it this way: if he’d spoken out about Aboriginal Australians, framed their spiritual views as heresy, and exclaimed that they would all go to hell unless they repented and converted to Christianity, would we still be having the same conversation?
Free speech isn’t a get out of jail free card to say harmful things. Even less so if you’re a role model, as international sportsmen are. It doesn’t mean he can’t hold those views – he can think what ever he likes – but expressing them in ways that can lead to harm is the very definition of hate speech, and he should be censured, not encouraged.
At the root of the problem, of course, is the acceptance by some that being “against” homosexuality is still a reasonable view.
And if you’re wondering what harm such views can do, look no further than the disproportionally high suicide, self harm and mental health rates of young LGBTI people.
READ MORE: • Rainbow suicide rates five times higher than mainstream
Imagine yourself a young gay man who loves rugby, is struggling to come out and come to terms with your sexuality and then hearing one of your idols proclaim your very existence is an offence to his God.
Because underlying this abhorrent and ignorant view is the dangerous idea that sexuality is somehow a choice. When we understand that it isn’t, we see that to attack someone’s sexual orientation is to attack the whole person: it is the same as attacking their gender, their skin colour or their culture.
As a regular attendee of All Blacks versus Wallabies games at Eden Park, I’m not ashamed to say I’ve given Quade Cooper a fair raspberry along with everyone else, and that was just for having the temerity to high tackle Richie once. Although being a Kiwi playing for the Wallabies didn’t help.
So, I wonder what kind of reception Folau will get this year? Should we boo him, or as someone suggested to me on Twitter perhaps we should shed the usual black garb and make Eden Park a rainbow test. I like this, because meeting hate with love – not more hate – seems like a good idea. Even in a Bledisloe game.
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Interestingly Jacinda Adern does not agree that Israel Folau’s comments were “Hate speech”, perhaps her religious upbringing has given her a bit more of an open minded perspective than the critics of Christianity. ie. from Folau’s point of view he was not “hating”, simply stating the facts of what he believes. News flash: Christianity 101 states that those who have repented for their sins and accepted Christ shall be saved, that’s the gift and “Grace” that Michael Jones talked about, and those who refuse to accept Christ will die in their sins as a just punishment (whether they are homosexuals or not), don’t be surprised that Christians believe in Hell. It is loving to warn others of this, it is each individual’s choice whether they chose to heed the warning or not.