If you think Latrell Mitchell’s manager is having a tough time finding his client a new contract, then imagine how hard it would be to spruik for Israel Folau’s next job.
Following his settlement with Rugby Australia on Wednesday over his unfair dismissal case, Folau stated that the governing body’s “acknowledgment and apology” meant he had been vindicated.
“(We) can now move on with our lives to focus on our faith and our family,” he said.
People will make up their own minds whether Folau’s provocative posts were a justifiable expression of freedom of religion, or a sackable offence. Some might be caught in the middle.
Either way, the court of public opinion – which is powered by the social media beast – means feedback on such sensitive issues is fast and often brutal.
But it’s worth pondering whether there’s a CEO of a professional club or boss of a sporting body that would be willing to take on Folau. What would their opinions be? Folau thinks he’s been vindicated, but could he find a home in the professional sporting sphere?
Of course, Izzy might decide that he’s had enough of rugby union and rugby league and at the age of 30 call it quits. He might choose to devote himself to his religious work. Maybe his wife Maria will be working while Izzy counts his settlement dollars.
But let’s suppose that he’s keen to play on. Would anyone take him if he wants to continue his religious crusade during his playing career?
Rugby in Australia? Ludicrous, right? After all that’s just happened.
RA boss Raelene Castle was asked on Thursday whether Folau would play rugby in Australia again. She replied with a “never say never” before qualifying it by saying she assumed he would not sign a contract with the same Code of Conduct that resulted in his sacking in April. If it did happen, the Rebels in Melbourne would suit him best. Or the Crusaders?
What about a return to the NRL? They’ve previously said Folau wouldn’t be welcome back in the 13-man code he played at the start of his career. At the very least, you’d expect them to insist on tight restrictions regarding social media use.
The NRL’s relatively recent call to institute the “no-fault stand down” for players, like Jack de Belin, who are charged with serious criminal offences is another example of their eagerness to make the game easily marketable and appealing to sponsors and fans.
Izzy might garner interest from rugby clubs in Europe and Japan, or rugby league clubs in England – or Canada – but similarly, there’s unlikely to be a club boss or association willing to give Folau carte blanche to communicate his more controversial religious beliefs.
Sponsors and fans are the stakeholders that hold plenty of power and clubs and governing bodies aren’t willing to risk taking a hit to their brand. They need to be in control.
Folau’s next step is likely to include some involvement in lobbying for legislation changes to give him and others more scope to express their religious freedom.
“We started this journey on behalf of all people of faith, to protect their rights of freedom of speech and religion,” he said after reaching the settlement with his former employer.
“We now look forward to the federal government enacting the legislation necessary to further protect and strengthen these rights for all Australians.”
Maybe Folau needs to find an individual sport so he can appreciate how hard it is to find sponsors when you’re moralising away from the sporting arena. You take the responsibility on yourself and avoid the pesky demand to adhere to team-first principles. But even then, governing bodies demand a level of courtesy and discretion that may be difficult for Izzy to reconcile with his religious work.
What’s my Folau forecast? Legislation won’t move fast enough – if at all – to help him.
Izzy will need to compromise if he wants to land his next contract, even though he says “I only share passages from the Bible as a gesture of love”.
He will want to play as he’s got four or so solid years in front of him. He will be forced to agree to temper his preaching. Why? Because like any preacher, Izzy wants to be spreading his message to as many people as possible and he can only do that while he’s playing.
His potential audience is much greater when he’s a sportsman. Fewer people listen when you’re not in the spotlight. He will need to share religious messages and judgements that are more digestible for the public and more obviously delivered “as a gesture of love”.
Think he won’t back down? His convictions are too strong? He’s come too far now? Hell no, he’ll be back; he will tone it down. He will just have to save the controversial and extreme messages – the tough love – for post-playing.