Israel Folau has, throughout his already long and distinguished career (can you believe he’s only 23?), always maintained a likability, primarily due to the large portions of his salary which ended up in the coffers of his church and the pockets of his family.
Folau is no longer a Mormon, now assembling with the AOG Church. He is of Tongan descent, a culture where the importance of looking after one’s family is paramount.
Consequently, Izzy’s moves from Melbourne Storm to the Brisbane Broncos, then cross code to AFL’s Greater Western Sydney Giants, have seldom been viewed negatively.
The kid was simply looking for the biggest bucks to share with his family and fellow followers of the prophet Joseph Smith.
Yet Sonny Bill Williams’ constant moves – cross cities, countries and codes – have rarely been treated as positively as Izzy’s, even if both were acknowledged as motivated by money.
It’s worth asking whether where a person’s money goes determines if they can be construed as greedy or not.
Sure, giving large portions of one’s hard-earned away to those less fortunate makes for a compelling argument that one isn’t greedy.
But do we know where Sonny Bill’s money goes?
What percentage of Sonny Bill’s wage going toward his religion or family would convince us his financially-motivated career moves weren’t greedy?
Mormons are asked to give 10% of their incomes to the church. And Folau’s Tongan culture sees individuals not only share their income with their immediate family but often also send money back to relatives in Tonga. It’s impossible to put a fair number on what one man may share with his family, but let’s say 25%.
This leaves Izzy with 65% of his post-tax and management-deducted income. For a young, single guy on a high-six-to-seven figure a year contract, that’s enough to still live a pretty awesome lifestyle. Most would live well on substantially less.
We all know Sonny Bill leads a pretty awesome lifestyle. But, as a Muslim, it would be expected of Sonny Bill to give a portion of his income to the less fortunate, as doing so is the third of Islam’s five pillars. Furthermore, Sonny Bill is also of Polynesian descent and close to his family.
Therefore, it’s not ridiculous to assume he also donates 35% of his net Dollars, Euros or Yen to friends, family and faith.
But we don’t know.
We don’t know whether most football players – or even our own colleagues – spend their money on worthy causes, sound business investments or recreational drugs.
Because unless that person is asking you for a loan, you don’t really care what they drop their coin on.
What we do care about is the way these people earn paycheque, because that is far more likely to affect us.
A big reason people don’t like Sonny Bill isn’t because he is perhaps the best financially compensated sportsman in the NRL, AFL or Super Rugby, it’s the way he left the Bulldogs.
For many it was a statement, “I am most concerned with making as much money as I can.”
Folau will also be painted as the villain in the immediate future.
His recent decision to reportedly renege on a $3 million handshake deal with Parramatta for a larger purse elsewhere has seen his integrity questioned for the first time.
But it’s hard to think Izzy will be painted as anything less than a humble, talented, tee-totalling nice guy for the rest of his career.
His unimpeachable behavioural record off the field obviously has a part to play in this reputation but so does the fact his hard-earned is shared with others.
Knowing this certainly colours our opinions of Izzy, and means very few people would be willing to call him greedy, or out for himself.
Yet almost every other footballer who has ever turned their back on a club – or code – in circumstances which suggest money was the motivating factor was, and will continue to be, seen as someone who simply has dollar signs in their eyes.
So forget for a minute what Israel Folau spends his money on, and focus on how he’s earned it.
First he left the Melbourne Storm, the club which took a chance on him as a 17-year-old and turned him in to a Test player, for a deal in Brisbane which would have made him perhaps the highest paid winger in the code.
Then he left the NRL altogether to become the face of AFL in Western Sydney – a sport in which he had zero history or previous interest – for money no NRL club could have hoped to match.
He left AFL two seasons in to a four year deal on compassionate grounds, yet appeared to have already done a deal with the Eels well before he phoned Andrew Demetriou to inform him of his decision to leave GWS.
Most recently, following two weeks of the Eels negotiating with the NRL to fit Folau under their salary cap, he turned his back on Parramatta, apparently for a deal in rugby union.
If there had never been any talk of Mormons or family back in Tonga, would you still think Folau a nice young man?
Or just a bloke who was purely motivated by money?
Joe is the editor of Disaffected Middle Class