Disgraced Wallabies star Israel Folau is still making headlines across the country seven months after the showdown with Rugby Australia (RA) started. It was arguably the most divisive issue in Australian sport when Folau was issued with a “high-level” breach notice back in April for taking to Instagram to make a series of homophobic remarks.
The three-times John Eales medallist received a warning from RA last year following a similar homophobic social post, before signing a lucrative contract extension to remain in Australian rugby until the end of 2022 — but his $4 million deal was terminated in May after Folau was fired by Rugby Australia.
Regardless of where you stand on the LGBTQ community and their rights, it’s important to acknowledge that considering Folau’s profile and status in Australian sport, he is his own brand and he has a lot of influence.
Freedom of expression is one thing but when you are as famous and as high profile as Folau, this position also comes with a lot of responsibility.
Folau’s crisis moment started back in April, and it’s now turned into a crisis train wreck. It’s like watching a man trapped in quicksand. And unfortunately his values and his convictions are the driving forces behind his ongoing downfall as he continues to make offensive comments publicly, because, well, this is what he genuinely believes in.
I don’t know if Folau has a PR representative, but whatever his strategy is in the midst of this crisis, it’s not doing him any favours in terms of managing or rebuilding his brand and his reputation. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but when your opinion spreads hate and violence, and offends other people’s values and beliefs, then it becomes a huge problem that needs to be dealt with.
Through his actions and his words, Folau is demonstrating a complete lack of awareness and emotional intelligence, two vital ingredients when dealing with crisis. To makes matters even worse, Folau linked his most recent offensive comments to the Australian deadly bushfires, which is a very sore point for the entire nation.
In a nutshell, Israel Folau is an ongoing masterclass on how not to do PR in times of crisis. And it’s making all PR professionals twitch!
Many brands have successfully dealt with crisis in the past by sticking to their deeply entrenched corporate values, but as we can see in the case of Folau, it can also be a double-edged sword.
Where do you draw the line? What are “good” values versus “bad” values? And when is the right time to keep a low profile when faced with crisis?
Join Hotwire Australia's free event, Branding on the Brink on the 3rd of December, where industry leaders will be discussing the value of purpose when dealing with crisis and how it can also potentially backfire.
Speaking at the Australian Christian Lobby’s national conference, Folau admitted he would “absolutely” send his now-infamous social media posts if he had his time again.