OPINION: Andrew Bogut is now a King, but he's not a leader

Contributor to The Feed, Brittney Rigby, says sporting organisations must "act in line with the cultural values they claim define them."

NBA championship-winner Andrew Bogut will return home to Australia after this week signing a two-year deal with the Sydney Kings. Other NBA players voted him the league’s third dirtiest player, but he’s also made a name for himself off the court with his controversial tweets.

But why does Bogut’s social media presence matter, and what does it say about the standard to which we (and sporting organisations) should hold players to account?

Andrew Bogut is critical of many things: SJWssafe spaces, political correctness, people protesting police brutality. That’s where his feud with Opals star, Liz Cambage, began. In 2016, Cambage attended a rally against police brutality in Melbourne. Bogut took issue with it.

After he “did some research” on the number of police shootings in Melbourne, Bogut apologised.

In 2015, he denied that AFL spectators who booed Adam Goodes were being racist.

Given the NBA is dominated by African American men who consistently call out police violence, such as when the Boston Celtics and Sacramento Kings spoke up over the recent police shooting of Stephon Clark, Bogut’s views seem even more concerning.

Bogut has mocked sexism and responded sarcastically when AFLW player Katie Brennan filed proceedings with the Australian Human Rights Commission (arguing that a man with an identical disciplinary record would be fined instead of suspended). The AFL has since overturned Brennan’s suspension.

Bogut also tweeted that anyone with “half a melon” would agree with firebrand commentator Emma Freedman’s assertion that a woman’s nude photo, taken and distributed by AFL player Nathan Broad, wouldn’t have been shared if you “don’t take your clothes off”. 

This is just scratching the surface of Bogut’s Twitter feed. He says that “my opinion is not right or wrong – it’s what I believe”. While that may be true, he’s an internationally successful basketball player. And that means those opinions have enormous reach and impact.

Bogut has said, “I’ll have a conversation with the NBL. I doubt they will want to tone me back too much because it helps the NBL in a way.” No doubt the addition of Bogut will significantly boost ticket sales to Kings games. The real test for the NBL and the Kings will come if (or rather, when) Bogut next causes drama online. Will these organisations act in line with the cultural values they claim define them?

Folau, Lodge, Bryant: Clubs enabling bad men to be good sports stars

Bogut’s views are concerning, but he’s only the very tip of the Problematic Athletes Iceberg. Wallabies star Israel Folau’s recent Instagram comment that God’s plan for gay people is “HELL”, attracted widespread criticism, including from New Zealand All Blacks players TJ Perenara and Brad Weber.

Folau’s comments are harmful and discriminatory. And they’re also against the rules. The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) Inclusion Policy specifically addresses homophobia across four clauses. Clause 1.6 states that “There is no place for homophobia … in our game and our actions and words both on and off the field must reflect this.”

The Wallabies expressed support for last year’s same sex marriage campaign. And the team’s key sponsor, Qantas, labeled the comments “very disappointing”. Yet Rugby Australia didn’t sanction Folau, and its chief executive, Raelene Castle, said he is still a “strong role model in the Pacific Islander community”.

Bogut himself weighed in this week, claiming that most people who disagree with Folau “don’t believe in God anyway, so who gives a shit? God’s fictitious [to them] … so why is it offensive to anyone? Get on with it.”

Then there’s Matt Lodge, who violently invaded a home in New York in what NRL general adviser Catharine Lumby described as “among the most disturbing of cases I’ve ever reviewed”. Or the litany of NFL players accused of domestic violence. Or NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, who won an Oscar this year despite being accused of rape (he’s admitted that the victim “feels that she did not consent to this encounter”).

The ARU has an inclusion policy. The NRL has a code of conduct. The NFL and NBA have domestic violence policies. But these documents mean very little if management doesn’t enforce them, or if players, coaches and organisations don’t call out, and act upon, offending behaviour.

Instead of denouncing homophobia, or police violence, or athletes who share intimate images without consent, Andrew Bogut mocks those who do. Bogut might not be a dangerous sportsperson, but he fans the flames for those who are. As spectators, we can’t accept that. And as institutions of power, sports organisations cannot allow athletes like Folau and Lodge to play on.

Brittney Rigby is a freelance writer and editor.