Ian Roberts, the first Australian NRL player to publicly come out as gay, has issued an emotional plea to Israel Folau as the Wallabies star fights to save his career.
Folau attended a code of conduct hearing on Saturday that will determine whether his Rugby Australia bosses have grounds to sack him after he posted on social media last month that “hell awaits” homosexuals, liars and thieves, among others.
The hearing is reportedly continuing on Sunday with the matter expected to stretch into next week.
Speaking on Nine’s Sports Sunday program this morning, Roberts weighed in on the saga with a powerful message for Folau.
“I feel sorry for Israel but there are consequences to your actions,” Roberts said.
“I don’t say this lightly and what I’m about to say, the language I use, is hard and it’s for a point. It’s to get that message across.
“There are literally kids in the suburbs killing themselves and I say that with the greatest sense of respect… I’m not saying that Israel is responsible solely for that.
“But it’s these types of comments and these types of off-the-cuff remarks when you have young people and vulnerable people who are dealing with their sexuality, confused, not knowing how to deal with it.
“These types of remarks can and do push people over the edge.”
Roberts went to say “freedom of religion” doesn’t extend to the freedom to vilify and using it as an excuse or hiding behind “freedom of expression” was akin to “playing the victim”.
“There can’t be any tolerance of bigotry,” he said.
Ian Roberts' powerful message on the Israel Folau issue.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) May 5, 2019
Folau defends the social media posts
Following worldwide backlash last month against the posts, which also criticised trans people, Folau defended them and said they were “shared with love.”
“I can see the other side of the coin where people’s reactions are the total opposite to how I’m sharing it,” he said.
“That’s the message that I’m trying to share, even though it comes across as harsh. I can’t change what the word of God says.”
Monash University academic Erik Denison, who has extensively researched homophobia in sport, wrote in an op-ed on Friday that he had worked with Israel Folau on anti-homophobia campaigns in the past and could not understand Folau’s stance.
“Folau’s post has broken the spirits of many girls and boys who idolised him, while at the same time emboldened the homophobic bullies who target these young people,” he said.
“It’s hard to understand why Folau says he cares about gay people, and knows their suffering, yet uses his powerful social media platform to compare gay people to thieves and adulterers.”
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