The Israel Folau gay-marriage flap shows how far sport has come in Australasia

by Paul Thomas / 23 September, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Sport

Israel Folau: against gay marriage and homophobia. Photo/Getty Images

High-profile sports stars take a stand against racism and homophobia.

If the Respect and Responsibility Review was a timely reminder that rugby has promises to keep and miles to go before it sleeps, to paraphrase American poet Robert Frost, the Israel Folau gay-marriage flap shows how far sport in this part of the world has come in a relatively short time.

The biggest star in Australian rugby tweeted that he wouldn’t be supporting gay marriage in the postal plebiscite now under way across the Tasman. He did so in conciliatory terms – “I love and respect all people for who they are and their opinions but personally I will not support gay marriage” – and he is on record as standing up for the gay community and against homophobia.

But his stance raised eyebrows because it bucked the trend of professional sport and sportspeople championing tolerance and diversity rather than acting as a roadblock to it. Virtually every major sporting body in Australia has declared its support for marriage equality. Folau’s Wallabies teammate David Pocock, who is on sabbatical, has vowed not to marry his partner until his gay friends have the same right.

It won’t come as a surprise to many readers to learn that tolerance is in somewhat shorter supply in American sport. Last year, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to sit or kneel during pre-game renditions of the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality against people of colour. He received death threats, was called a “traitor” by an anonymous NFL executive and voted the most disliked player in American football.

As a Yahoo Sports columnist noted, Kaepernick was recently denounced by Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who, in 2013, offered a five-year contract to wide receiver Riley Cooper days after the latter was caught on video uttering a racial slur at a country music concert. (Cooper was, however, required to do four days of “sensitivity training”). Lurie also hired quarterback Michael Vick upon his release from jail after serving 21 months for his part in a dog-fighting ring.

Colin Kaepernick. Photo/Getty Images

Now Kaepernick is a quarterback without a team, as the result of an apparent, albeit unofficial, blacklisting. In the view of statistics website FiveThirtyEight, he’s obviously “being frozen out for his political opinions”.

Coincidentally, ESPN sports anchor Jemele Hill, an African-American woman, is under fire for tweeting that President Donald Trump is “the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime” and a “white supremacist”. ESPN has publicly rebuked Hill, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders has called for her dismissal and Trump is demanding an apology.

Given that Hill was born the year after Richard Nixon was forced out of the White House, her first assertion is hardly outlandish. The second is more contentious, but neither unprecedented – during the campaign, a number of commentators, including former George W Bush speech-writer David Frum, argued that Trump was running as the candidate of white America – nor, post-Charlottesville, indefensible.

Kaepernick’s fellow players are rallying to his defence. In the first week of the season, they voted him Most Valuable Player of the week for his charity work – he has given almost US$1 million to various charities in the past year – and more players and teams are following his lead of protesting by refusing to stand during the national anthem.

If recent history is any guide, they’ll have plenty to protest about. Last week, a white former St Louis policeman was acquitted of murder despite being recorded on the squad-car dashcam saying, “We’re going to kill this motherf---er”, during a high-speed pursuit. Within minutes he’d shot the black suspect five times. The judge described the apparently self-incriminating statement as “ambiguous”.

This article was first published in the September 30, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


The art and soul of Te Papa
88235 2018-03-17 00:00:00Z Arts

The art and soul of Te Papa

by Sally Blundell

Twenty years ago, Te Papa opened with little space to exhibit its national art collection. Now, it is showing off its new dedicated art space.

Read more
Does chewing more help curb your appetite?
87918 2018-03-17 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Does chewing more help curb your appetite?

by Jennifer Bowden

Our appetite-control hormones are affected by chewing, according to some studies, whereas others show no change.

Read more
How Auckland rapper JessB went from face in the crowd to queen of the stage
88396 2018-03-16 09:42:00Z Music

How Auckland rapper JessB went from face in the cr…

by Vomle Springford

Auckland rapper JessB is making her mark in the male-dominated hip-hop scene with the release of her much-anticipated debut EP Bloom.

Read more
Defence Minister Ron Mark defends his use of military aircraft
88389 2018-03-16 07:02:40Z Politics

Defence Minister Ron Mark defends his use of milit…

by Craig McCulloch

Defence Minister Ron Mark is denying any inappropriate use of military aircraft after revelations he has used them to fly to and from home.

Read more
Corrections moves sex offenders from lodge close to school
88387 2018-03-16 06:55:59Z Crime

Corrections moves sex offenders from lodge close t…

by Eva Corlett and Sally Murphy

Corrections says it will review its processes after it was discovered 11 sex offenders were living less than a kilometre away from an Auckland school.

Read more
Rodney Walshe: One of Ireland's best-known exports to New Zealand
88222 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z Profiles

Rodney Walshe: One of Ireland's best-known exports…

by Clare de Lore

When he arrived here from Ireland in 1960, Rodney Walshe had nothing but a suit and the gift of the gab. They took him a long way.

Read more
Derek Handley talks Trump, business and coming home
88378 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z Profiles

Derek Handley talks Trump, business and coming hom…

by Clare de Lore

The nomadic New Zealander who’s set his sights on space travel is no longer an alien.

Read more
How Lisa Walker went from teenage Wellington punk to celebrated jeweller
88263 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z What's on

How Lisa Walker went from teenage Wellington punk …

by Mike White

The Anarchist jeweller has a remarkable show at new Te Papa gallery, Toi Art.

Read more