Payne Haas vs Marcelo Montoya.

Who wins in a head to head battle between Payne Haas and Marcelo Montoya?

Both NRL players recently earned nominations for The Frownlow Medal for separate incidents and received different punishments.

The Frownlow Medal is awarded to the player whose off-field demeanour epitomises the values of the modern-day footballer and draws attention to the status of footballers as role models to young Australians. It covers Australia’s four major football codes; the National Rugby League (NRL), Australian Football League (AFL), the A-League (Football) and Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition. NRL player Shaun Kenny-Dowall won the inaugural medal in 2015, while NRL star Jarryd Hayne is the most recent recipient.

The Frownlow Medal Hall of Fame honours former players and players who received media attention in previous seasons, for similarly scandalous behaviour, and its inductees include Ben Cousins and Julian O’Neill.

So, who comes out on top, the prop or the winger?

Let’s examine the incidents.

Warriors winger Montoya called Kyle Feldt a ‘fa//ot’ during a recent game against the North Queensland Cowboys and received a four week suspension for a homophobic slur. Feldt is married with children and there is no suspicion that he is gay. In addition, Feldt has been playing in the NRL for many years, and has played State of Origin for Queensland. He has given and taken sledges before, and has no doubt developed a thick skin. Yet, Montoya claims he was simply trying to get under Feldt’s skin and put him off his game when he used the term. Did it work against such an experienced player?

Also, how many members of the public actually heard Montoya use the word?

Furthermore, if Feldt is not gay, as we can rightly assume, is a homophobic slur actually offensive? Yes, it’s offensive to gay men throughout the world, but is it actually offensive to Feldt?

Haas, meanwhile, received a one week suspension for alcohol-fuelled violence. He got drunk and punched his own teammate, Albert Kelly, in the head during a physical altercation. He was also fined $10,000, despite the fact that he has a record. He received two prior Frownlow nominations; for refusing to cooperate with the NRL Integrity Unit in 2019, and for intimidating police in 2021.

Kelly was also suspended for one week, and fined $5000, for his part in the fight, and is also known to The Frownlow Medal.

Four weeks for a homophobic slur. One week for alcohol fuelled violence.

Image: NuNa

Marcelo Montoya challenges Israel Folau.

NRL player Marcelo Montoya has challenged Israel Folau for the title of Australia’s most homophobic footballer after an offensive slur earned him a nomination for The Frownlow Medal.

The Frownlow Medal is awarded to the player whose off-field demeanour epitomises the values of the modern-day footballer and draws attention to the status of footballers as role models to young Australians. It covers Australia’s four major football codes; the National Rugby League (NRL), Australian Football League (AFL), the A-League (Football) and Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition. NRL player Shaun Kenny-Dowall won the inaugural medal in 2015, while NRL star Jarryd Hayne is the most recent recipient.

The Frownlow Medal Hall of Fame honours former players and players who received media attention in previous seasons, for similarly scandalous behaviour, and its inductees include Ben Cousins and Julian O’Neill.

Montoya called opposing winger Kyle Feldt a ‘fa//ot’ during a game against the North Queensland Cowboys, and the New Zealand Warriors winger received a four-match ban from the NRL.

Folau is the country’s most famous homophobe after posting notoriously offensive comments on social media which saw him sacked by Rugby Australia and cast out of professional football in Australia.

Montoya, meanwhile, claims the comment was made in the heat of the moment during a game and that he was simply trying to get under Feldt’s skin. Feldt is married with kids and has played years of NRL football, including State of Origin. Did it get under his skin?

The Warriors club pleaded for a reduced sentence from the NRL judiciary, arguing that Montoya is of good character with an unblemished record. They’re obviously forgetting his earlier Fronwlow nomination in 2018 when he was fined $10,000 for his involvement in the Canterbury Bulldogs Mad Monday celebrations.

Has Montoya done enough to steal the title from Folau, and has he done enough to win The Frownlow Medal in 2022?

Image: Ian Hitchcock

What’s the difference between Haneen Zreika and Israel Folau?

AFLW player Haneen Zreika and former AFL player Israel Folau both attracted criticism for their public stance on same-sex relationships, but what is the difference between the two?

Zreika plays for Folau’s former club Greater Western Sydney Giants, and surrounded herself in controversy after refusing to wear a special rainbow jersey promoting the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community. Folau was eventually kicked out of rugby union, which he played as well as rugby league, because he posted two social media messages which offended the LGBTQIA+ community.

Zreika refused to wear the pride jersey with her Giants teammates due to her strong Muslim faith, and was subsequently left out of the team for the game against Western Bulldogs. Zreika was the first Muslim AFLW player when she debuted in 2019. Folau offended the LGBT+ community due to homophobia grounded in his strong Christian beliefs, and essentially wrote that all homosexuals go to hell.

The role of religion.

Zreika and Folau justified their stance on religious grounds. Zreika said she had a responsibility to represent her faith and community and that she respects people regardless of their sexual orientation.

Does she?

The faith she represents declares homosexuality a sin. The doctrine of the Muslim faith, when applied in society, declares homosexuality a crime which can, in some cases, be punishable by death.

Is Zreika devout?

Zreika chose not to wear the pride jersey due to her devotion. However, she wears the typical AFLW uniform every week and this is far too revealing for a Muslim woman, displaying the limbs and the hair. If Zreika was devout, would she not cover up even when playing sport, as many women from Muslim countries do in many other sports?

Interestingly, she did actually play in the pride round, the week before the jersey was worn, and ran through the traditional AFL banner at the start of the game which celebrated the LGBT+ community, and read:

“Pride round: an inclusive game for all. Everyone is welcome.”

The pride jersey was delayed until the Giants played at home the following week. Thus, did Zreika object to the pride round, or just the jersey? How likely is it that she was criticised by the Muslim community for participating in pride round and felt pressured to make a stance the following week?

To what extent was the decision Zreika’s, and to what extent was the opinion of the Muslim community, and its powerful men, made known to Zreika?

We will probably never know.

Religion also motivated Folau’s comments. The cross-code star posted a message claiming that hell was God’s plan for homosexuals. This attracted enormous criticism from many people, but Folau defended the comments as being true to his strong Christian faith. He was also warned that if he posted another similar message, he would lose his contract with Rugby Australia. He did so, and lost his contract.

Zreika posted a message on social media saying:

“…people are able to respect their right to choose how they live their life as long as they don’t advocate hate and division.”

Folau’s post clearly created hate and division, and this is the major difference between him and Zreika. Throughout the entire ugly process, Folau claimed he should be free to express his views because they are based on his religious beliefs.

Zreika is a Muslim.

Various commentators have suggested that the only difference is that Zreika is a Muslim, and that is why she has not been criticised as strongly as Folau. These commentators suggest that Australians are too scared to criticise Muslims due to political correctness of for fear of being labelled Islamophobic. They also claim these same people have no problems attacking Christians like Folau.

You can’t please all the people all the time…

The governing body has made great efforts to embrace all members of Australian society. They are the first and only major sports code in Australia to host a pride round.

Why?

Out of a genuine respect for the LGBT+ community?

Because they’re chasing the pink dollar?

Because many AFLW players are lesbians? (Are any AFL players gay?)

Political correctness?

For whatever, the AFL is known to include the LGBT+ community. They also embrace the Muslim community, especially in Giants territory. The fact that Zreika plays for the Giants added another complication for the AFL. Western Sydney is home to the majority of Sydney’s Muslim community, and if they are going to support any AFL team, it is the Giants.

The game involving the rainbow jersey, however, was played at Henson Park in Sydney’s inner west, a region famous for embracing gender and sexual diversity.

Was the Zreika case inevitable? Was the AFL bound to find itself in an unwinnable situation by publicly courting two communities which are diametrically opposed? One can only imagine the stressful meetings which must have taken place within the Giants and the AFL who were both desperate to avoid offending either group, while supporting both.

Some AFL fans are Muslim.

Some AFL fans are homosexual.

Some AFL fans don’t like Muslims or homosexuals.

The AFL is trying to appease them all.

It’s not possible to support the LGBT+ community and the Muslim community while Muslims consider homosexuality a sin or a crime. The AFL thinks it can. That said, the AFL could be said to have taken a stand. Zreika was stood down for the game, which punished her and her teammates.

Zreika has the support and respect of her teammates.

Zreika consulted her teammates, spoke to them face to face, and discussed her actions with the Giants and the AFL. Folau posted a spontaneous, offensive and hurtful message on social media, without context. Zreika certainly went about her actions in a far more mature, civilised, intelligent and respectful manner than Folau.

While Zreika reportedly had the support of her teammates, Folau also did, at least after the fact. Many professional footballers, including Gary Ablett Jr, Tim Mannah, Brad Takairangi, Curtis Rona and Taniela Tupou ‘liked’ and endorsed his posts on social media.

It’s only sport

The case also highlights the enormous strain placed on sport in Australia. Sport is so vital to Australian culture that social causes and social conflicts often manifest in sport – which is ultimately supposed to be nothing more than healthy fun. Perhaps Australians are expecting too much of sport as a vehicle for social change.

Haneen Zreika and Israel Folau both offended the LGBTQIA+ community with actions grounded in their strong religious beliefs. Folau was nominated for The Fronwlow Medal, should Zreika also be nominated?

So, what if the difference between them?

Zreika can actually play Aussie Rules.

Image: NuNa