Israel Folau, Unlikely Martyr

Rugby may be unfamiliar to American readers, but the basic dynamics of this narrative are not.

Folau plays at number 15 for the Australian national team and Australia is a country which takes its rugby very seriously. But Folau now finds himself in trouble for a number of “homophobic” tweets and social media posts, some of which are little more than Bible verses. As of this moment, he is appealing termination of his playing contract.

 

Americans, being somewhat exceptional in their sports (as in much else), may be unaware of the controversy currently raging around the Australian rugby player, Israel Folau.

Folau plays at number 15 for the Australian national team and Australia is a country which takes its rugby very seriously. But Folau now finds himself in trouble for a number of “homophobic” tweets and social media posts, some of which are little more than Bible verses. As of this moment, he is appealing termination of his playing contract.

Rugby may be unfamiliar to American readers, but the basic dynamics of this narrative are not. Someone says something on Twitter which defies current social and sexual mores; others protest; corporate sponsors threaten to withdraw support; representatives of sports management make noises about this “not reflecting the values of the sport/business/town, etc.”; and the perpetrator is terminated and consigned to ignominious oblivion. So far so predictable. It has happened before and, call me a pessimist, I fear it is going to happen again. Many, many times.

I myself do not consider Twitter a particularly useful medium for discussing controversial and sensitive topics. It barely provides enough space to adjudicate the respective virtues of hamburgers from McDonald’s or Burger King, let alone allow for significant discussion of the nature of personhood and sexuality. It is really a medium for cultural Marxists—not those who follow Karl, but those with the inimitable gift for one-line witticisms possessed by that greater Marx, Groucho. Deep thought can at best only be transformed into fortune cookie pietism when refracted through the lens of 140 or 280 characters. Indeed, it is surely reasonable to ask whether those who drop these controversial soundbites are really trying to persuade others of a better way of thinking or merely attempting to generate heat and draw attention to themselves.

Now, to be clear: I believe Folau has the right to express his opinions in the public square, using whatever medium is at his disposal. And I would defend his right to do so, as I would defend the right of his critics to respond. It is somewhat puzzling that many of his critics, who presumably do not believe in hell, should be so upset that Folau believes some people may be going there; but they have their right to believe and express their outrage just as he does to express his beliefs.

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