Before we get to the meat of this discussion, it is worth asking a preliminary question: Why are we all talking about Israel Folau? It’s a painfully boring subject. We have serious political issues happening right on our doorstep and yet our media is obsessed with whether or not a sports celebrity is allowed to say homophobic things. Australians are poorly served by our journalists.
The problem with the Israel Folau story is that it’s taken on a level of abstraction that it doesn’t need. If you ask the average person on the street ‘Do you reckon that a footy player should be permitted to make homophobic remarks?’ the answer would be ‘Uhhhh… I dunno. I just watch them for the footy, really.’
Australians seem obsessed with the idea of presenting sportsball players as public intellectuals. Ian Thorpe was the white, middle class face of the ‘Yes’ campaign during the marriage equality vote. Back when I watched ordinary TV, I vaguely remember people I didn’t recognise holding sports gear telling me various obvious things, like depression is bad, don’t do drugs, and don’t hit women. I also remember Andrew Gaze came to my primary school at one point to tell us that basketball exists.
The point is: most people do not treat sports celebrities as topics that warrant higher level thought.
This comes with costs. Homophobia, drug abuse, and sexism (particularly sexual assault) is rife within the sporting elite. Given the vast amount of money involved in sport, sports teams are better seen as PR companies, trying to capture a sort of image that is palatable to the wider community. In a sense, sports elites are being told to play their sport extremely well and, for the love of all that is good and holy, keep their idiot views to themselves. Israel Folau could not keep his idiot views to himself and so he was sacked.