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Why is Will Hopoate’s decision so confusing for some?

Why is Will Hopoate’s decision not to play NRL on Sunday’s so confusing for some?

Melanie Riwai-Couch
A response to Peter Fitzsimmon’s article (2/4/2016)

Recent revelation that Bulldogs player Will Hopoate will not be playing matches on Sundays for religious reasons has created an uproar for some NRL fans. While his team management and fellow players have gone on record as having no issue with this and, in fact, support his decision as a mark of the player’s integrity, some folk have taken exception.

Opposition to Hopoate’s decision seems to have fallen in to two camps: 1. That he doesn’t deserve to play the game, or at least should be paid a whole lot less for his decision (let’s make him suffer and then see if he still has integrity), and 2. That churches, or particularly Mormonism must be bad if it is influencing people’s decision making (this sounds crazy to me, therefore all Mormons must be crazy). So why would people react this way?

For every church going lad there are probably a thousand who would happily sell their soul to play football professionally. The thought of not playing, or putting that opportunity at risk is simply not something that the average footy-lover can comprehend. Unfortunately, the people who fall into this camp are missing the big picture: Hopoate doesn’t care about the money, or rather, he does but there is something he cares about more. He has negotiated a financial package reflective of his ability as a player; but he also negotiated up front not playing on Sundays and that was factored in to his contract. Why? Because his faith matters.

Perhaps the thing hardest for people to comprehend is that Hopoate has taken a stand which says there is something that he cares about more than NRL. Perhaps the NRL public believe that means he does not care about them and that hurts. Interestingly, I would wager that if he wasn’t playing because his wife was having a baby on that day most people would accept that. The die-hards, however, would still find a way to spin it as a wrong-doing.

Most people accept that family is important and that life-death decisions might excuse a player from their usual professional obligations. But what many people can’t fathom is that Hopoate, of his own free will and choice, has made a decision to not play because he believes in a God with whom they are unfamiliar.

This is where the second camp of people come in. If people have never had a life changing epiphany about something, it is hard for them to fathom feeling so strongly about something that other important things might be set aside. People do it all the time: those who leave the comforts of home to work in developing countries to help build schools or wells for fresh water, people who give up corporate positions for a simpler life style where they can have more time with their children, or when people decide in twilight years that they no longer want to continue in the path they have followed the previous decades because they want to be what they have determined to be “true to themselves”.

The difference with Hopoate is that he has made the choice to be true to himself in the prime of his life. From 2012 – 2013 Hopoate served as a fulltime voluntary missionary for his Church before returning to the NRL. Did the Mormon church coerce him in to doing so? No. Does he actually have a choice? Absolutely yes, and no. Personal choice is a significant feature of the Mormon church. Would Hopoate still be welcome in the Mormon fold if he did play on Sundays? Yes he would. But, for Hopoate the cost would be his own integrity and his own personal relationship with God. He needs to know that he is doing God’s will. His personal religious observance involves reserving the Sabbath for worship and family. If he is in a position to be able to do that without working on Sundays, then that is the road he will choose to travel. If he chose to compromise this when it was optional, then he would suffer in himself, in the same as any other person who is living a life that they know not to be a true fit for them would. And that, would not make Hopoate play better footy.

Hopoate is not a public good and he is entitled to negotiate his own terms and conditions of employment. It’s the same for any worker, you try and negotiate the conditions that will best support your family commitments and preferences. Yes, there are some Mormons who work on Sundays. Usually that is because they are either not in the fortunate position of being able to negotiate out of it (although I would almost guarantee that they would change if they were given the choice) or their position is a life-death or community need position such as in the fire service, doctor/nurse, police, military where their work is a necessary public service. Will anyone die if Hopoate doesn’t play NRL on Sundays? I don’t think so.

Unfortunately, for some people this creates a logic sequence that puts religion in conflict with sport and all things glorious that go with it. Peel it all back and they are hurt that he has chosen something they don’t believe in, over a game that they love passionately. What they don’t understand is that Hopoate passionately loves footy too. He just has the benefit of believing in something that in his view, is bigger than the game.

© Scoop Media

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