They might not break bones, but words can hurt. They do all too frequently.
Addin Fonua-Blake’s choice of them should have been reprimanded far more severely by the NRL than the three-week ban, two with an early guilty plea, which was handed down yesterday.
Abusing a referee is, on its own, worthy of a few weeks on the sideline. There have been less egregious examples than Fonua-Blake’s which led to longer suspensions, and that’s a case of the NRL not doing enough to stand by their whistleblowers. But the main issue here is the words the Manly prop used.
“Fucking retard.” A slur used to disparage people who live with a disability.
Ben Ikin pointed out on NRL 360 last night how offensive the word is, and rightly called out everyone involved for not addressing that.
“I have had people close to me in the last 24 hours remind me that the use of this word is so highly offensive to people living with disabilities,” Ikin said.
“To see the fact that this was not acknowledged, not by the player, not by the club, nor by the NRL, I think is an issue that needs to be addressed in the next couple of days.”
Ray Hadley has since reported that, on top of his pathetic on-field comments, Fonua-Blake gave referee Grant Atkins an after-match spray, saying “Are your eyes fucking painted on you bunch of spastics?”.
Spastic. Another offensive term towards people with a disability. Classy stuff.
ARLC chairman Peter V’landys has made the right noises since that report came out, telling the Sydney Morning Herald “It’s inexcusable”.
“As I’ve said many times, what these players have to understand is they are role models,” he said.
“They have a non-negotiable duty. A young kid would’ve watched that and gone to school and abused a kid who is disadvantaged. To me, that’s intolerable.
“We’re not going lightly on it. If we do, as a commission, we might as well walk away.”
At the time of writing, though, they have been going lightly on it. The two-week suspension is inadequate, but there’s also been a lack of communication from the NRL explaining how those words were so harmful.
Fonua-Blake himself offered a “sincere apology to anyone offended by the regrettable language” but didn’t elaborate any further, while much of the reaction has glossed over his choice of words. It was “emotion and frustration” according to Des Hasler, and a case of a player who had “let his emotions get the better of him” in Phil Gould’s estimation.
Something from NRL HQ or the Sea Eagles outlining why it’s unacceptable to use words that denigrate someone by likening them to someone who has a disability, as if being compared to someone who has a disability is an insult, would have been welcome. So too a suspension for Fonua-Blake which properly reflects how ignorant and offensive his comments were, not just that his general behaviour towards Atkins was unacceptable.
So far, that opportunity to educate the public about that language has been missed. One can only hope it’s taken before it completely passes.