Read the room, Izzy

Opinion – In a time when Australian sport is under an intense microscope, this week we found out that Israel Folau clearly hasn‘t learned anything about how to use social media.

Israel Folau of the Wallabies. Photo: Getty

The Waratahs and Wallabies fullback once again found himself in hot water over his ultra-conservative views on homosexuality, saying that gay people are headed for eternal damnation. Which, of course, went down about as predictably as expected.

For us sportswriters, the biggest challenge since this came to light was not plagiarizing our own work from last September. Back then, Folau made his opinion on the Australian marriage equality plebiscite known in a tweet that sparked off a debate all its own around free speech.

There are a couple of key differences between then and now, though.

His September tweet was the result of his employers, Rugby Australia, publicly backing the ‘yes‘ vote. It clearly conflicted his own personal stance on the matter – which, while not exactly confirmed, clearly tied into his religious beliefs.

His clunky, paradoxical message of simultaneous support and opposition met exactly the response you‘d expect in this day and age. However, when you read between the lines, it was hard not to see it as incredibly naive first and foremost.

No matter what his intentions were, it was always going to offend a great deal of people, but you got the feeling that just maybe he‘d received some incredibly bad advice from someone who doesn‘t understand the social spectrum of Twitter.

Fast forward six months, and Folau‘s latest proclamation of the biblical wrath that he believes awaits gay people somewhat strips back the benefit of the doubt. While the September tweet left his bosses a bit of room to say ‘well, that‘s what he thinks‘, the Instagram conversation is a little different.

Now they‘re under pressure to come up with some sort of response, because it‘s completely at odds with RA‘s official stance of being an inclusive and tolerant sporting body.

That‘s not just potential gay players or spectators, either. Right now, RA are desperate for anyone to pick up rugby union given the competition it faces from the NRL and AFL.

This wouldn‘t be so tricky if Folau was just another player. His former Waratahs teammate Jacques Potgeiter was heavily fined and made to publicly apologise for calling an opponent a ‘faggot‘ in 2015. But the authorities managed to turn that into a PR win when it became clear that Potgeiter was truly sorry and offered to help out at a gay Sydney rugby team‘s training.

However, it‘s clear that Folau probably isn‘t sorry at all for the mess that his latest outburst has caused – even if he‘s deleted the comment.

There‘s also the not-so-insignificant matter that he is the Wallabies‘ best and most marketable player. Then add on the fact that he could jump ship back to rugby league at any given opportunity, not to mention the absolute fortune he could command if he joined a French Top 14 club.

It‘s hard to think RA won‘t let that tie their hands when it comes to how they deal with Folau‘s old testament outburst. At the very least, they can assign him some sort of social media minder or strongly advise him to keep his politically incorrect views to himself until his rugby career is over.

What‘s happened this week is just another reminder of the power of social media, as well as the peek it gives us into the way people really tick.

Remember, the ‘HELL‘ quote wasn‘t a post, tweet or picture. It was a reply to a comment – about the most innocuous level on the social media totem pole – but everyone is hanging on every single thing he says now.

So while free speech is Folau‘s right, he should continue to be prepared for the free speech of others to respond.

And therein lies the lesson, which Israel Folau is getting for the second time: You have the right to say whatever you like. But that doesn‘t mean it‘s always a good idea.