'OK to be who you are': Female footy stars on kiss controversy

Karina Brown and Vanessa Foliaki have opened up on the furore surrounding their kiss after the women’s State of Origin match.

The footy-playing couple were snapped in a passionate embrace after Foliaki’s NSW side beat Brown’s Maroons in June.

The NRL posted the touching photo on social media, commenting “Welcome to 2018 … can’t wait for you to join us!” in response to a number of negative responses from fans.

The positive comments were plentiful, but one user said the NRL was “already sexualising the women’s league” and that it was “one step forward, three steps back”.

“If we can post a photo of Cooper Cronk and his wife Tara kissing, then we can share a photo of Karina Brown and Ness Foliaki sharing a moment too,” the NRL said.

The image immediately went viral. Image: NRL Facebook

Brown and Foliaki have now broken their silence on the controversy, revealing the emotional few days that led to the public kiss.

“I live with Vanessa, so I see her every single day and kiss her every single day,” Brown wrote for Players Voice on Wednesday.

“Seven days without her — me in Queensland camp, her with NSW — was a long time.

“It’s funny, because that’s just a normal moment for Ness and I, and for our friends and family. I feel really fortunate to have been born in a time where I could do that; be myself and not have to worry about who was watching me. I just felt comfortable kissing my girlfriend.

“Origin is a tough, emotional time for us. We’re both passionate about our states and we take it very seriously. I was Queensland captain this year.


“To barely speak for a whole week, to have nearly a hatred for each other — purely in terms of the state we’re playing for — it takes a toll.

“So, to finally see her afterwards was very emotional. I was really proud of her achievement, winning the first official women’s State of Origin game, even though it came at my side’s expense. It’s a funny set of feelings to process.”

Brown said the global publicity the kiss sparked is only a good thing, despite the backlash.

“I think it was good for the world to see, to show how far we’ve come as a society. Yet also to show that we’ve still got some way to go. Not all the feedback was positive,” she wrote.

“For some people, it’s still a shock. I guess the more we can get it out there, that it’s OK to be who you are, it won’t be a shock anymore. It’ll just be normal. It is normal.

“I look forward to the day where my moment with Vanessa is just a regular post-match photo. And I don’t think we’re far off it.”


Foliaki revealed how her family has received some negative treatment from parts of the Tongan community, in which same-sex relationships aren’t accepted.

“My family copped some backlash from the Tongan community. I didn’t like that. But I think things have calmed down a lot now,” she wrote.

“Mum and dad just said that they needed time to take it all in. It was hard for them, when no one was expecting the photo and then suddenly it was just out there for everyone to see.

“They were a bit overwhelmed. So was I.”

Foliaki said she’d receive a number of messages of support from people who were inspired by the photo.

“We were getting messages from random people who wrote to us and said, ‘We’ve been going through the same thing and it’s nice to see athletes at your level come out and say that it’s OK’. It’s helped a lot of people, which is good. That’s what we want to do,” she wrote.


“If a photo can help you be yourself and come out to your parents, then we’ve done our job.

“I didn’t realise how many people it had touched, and how many people there are out there who are still unable to come out to their parents — or anybody.

“It was nice to hear from them and to give them hope.”