Last weekend, a controversial decision made by referee Grant Atkins and his video referee, Jared Maxwell, potentially denied Manly a win against Newcastle.
We can argue for hours whether the decision was right or wrong and we can all argue whether Manly were truly denied a win or not.
While I believe it was a penalty, there isn’t absolute certainty that Daly Cherry-Evans or Reuben Garrick would have scored if Manly were given the shot at goal.
And if they were truly destined to win, they had approximately 79-and-a-half minutes to make it happen against a Newcastle side that had lost Edrick Lee and Kalyn Ponga.
However, what caused more controversy and debate was not the penalty itself. It was Manly prop Addin Fonua-Blake in the heat of the moment approaching Atkins and saying, “He pushed him in the back you fucking retard.”
Fonua-Blake was sent off after the final whistle.
But the hulking Manly front-rower wasn’t finished here. In the sheds, it has been reported that his tirade continued by saying, “Are your eyes fucking painted on you bunch of spastics?”
Virtually all have stated that Fonua-Blake’s choice of wording is unacceptable.
NRL chairman Peter V’landys has said he believes Fonua-Blake’s two-week suspension is not adequate and will look to involve the prop in work with a school for children with special needs. Andrew Abdo, the current NRL CEO, doubled down by saying, “There is no place for comments like that in our game.”
Fonua-Blake has apologised. I listened to the six minutes of his press conference and I commend him for the comments that he made, admitting that he didn’t know the true meaning behind the words he used.
Let me shed some light on this.
The word “retard” is defined by Cambridge as “a person who has a mental disability (often used as a general term of abuse)” or “a stupid or mentally slow person”.
The word “spastic” is also defined by Cambridge as “suffering from cerebral palsy”. It is defined by Collins as “someone who is born with a disability which makes it difficult for them to control their muscles, especially in their arms and legs”.
However, what is important when words like this are used is intent. And Fonua-Blake’s intent was to cause offence and hurt to another individual.
Nowadays, these words are used in common language to describe someone who is acting in a manner that is silly, stupid or acting in a way that is not deemed as ‘normal’.
I played sport through my younger years and I understand that there is adrenaline involved, that your emotions are heightened while your ability to control your impulse is lowered. But regardless, language of this nature is absolutely unacceptable. Especially when the game of rugby league is trying to promote inclusivity and diversity.
We have seen stances recently against how we act with respect to racism, diversity, inclusivity and gender equality.
Fonua-Blake himself was very vocal about Erin Molan appearing to mock the pronunciation of Islander names on radio and even referred to Erin as a “gronk”.
While what Erin did was unacceptable, but so was what Fonua-Blake did.
There is a lot of pride in our society and a goal among many to become more ‘woke’ promoting social justice, but why are derogatory words that demean an individual with learning disabilities still so prevalent?
I hear the comments stating that I am against freedom of speech. But freedom of speech and hate speech are in no way the same. Fonua-Blake’s comments are of the latter category.
It is just general courtesy, respect, politeness and human decency that you refrain from using such words. Courtesy, respect and human decency are fundamentally different to political correctness or freedom of speech.
We have become more educated on the impact of racism and sexism in society – and rightly so. But now is a fantastic opportunity to bring more education to verbal discrimination and insults involving those with learning difficulties.
Seeing comments on social media stating “he’s not wrong” in reference to the use of words that Addin Fonua-Blake has used, highlights a need for education for all.
I implore all of us to take this opportunity to further our understanding of the impact of words demeaning individuals with mental and learning disabilities, much as we have in recent times with issues such as racism and sexism.