Seven Manly players said they were withdrawing from Thursday’s game against the Sydney Roosters over the Sea Eagles’ decision to wear the gay Pride jersey to promote diversity and inclusivity.
The players cited cultural and religious beliefs for their decision to sit out of the match. Since then, three players have reportedly changed their minds and will now play in the game.
Sydney Morning Herald reported that players Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley had stood down from selection because of the club’s inclusive jersey.
Club Unveils Gay Pride Jersey
The Sea Eagles club unveiled their rainbow-themed jersey in celebration of diversity and inclusivity on Monday. A meeting with Sea Eagles management that evening requested all players to wear the “Everyone in League” design.
However, there were multiple complaints from the seven players who did not want to wear the jersey based on cultural and religious grounds. The club had not consulted the group about plans to wear the jersey.
Sports reporter Michelle Bishop spoke on Channel 7’s Sunrise on Tuesday explaining that “at least” three of the seven were now re-considering their actions.
“Of the seven players who are refusing to wear the jersey, at least three now have had a bit of a change of heart and are considering wearing the pride jersey for this upcoming round,” Bishop said.
Breaks My Heart, Says Ian Roberts
Former Manly Sea Eagles club great Ian Roberts, who became the first rugby league player to come out as gay while playing for Manly in 1995, said that this news “breaks my heart.”
The former Kangaroo star described his disappointment at the players refusal to wear the jerseys, stating that he felt “sad and uncomfortable.” As an older gay man, Roberts said “this isn’t unfamiliar. I did wonder whether there would be any religious pushback. That’s why I think the NRL have never had a Pride round.”
Manly is set to become the first club in rugby league’s 134-year history to wear a jersey celebrating inclusivity, with rainbow colours replacing the traditional white piping on the maroon background.
Manly Fans Buy Pride Jersey
Manly fans responded to the controversial news swiftly by purchasing the pride jersey, with the ‘Everyone in League’ design having sold out in the men’s section online within hours of the seven players officially standing down.
“LGBTIQA people have always been a part of sport but haven’t always been allowed the visibility,” Roberts said.
“I have been trying to get the NRL to have a pride round for the past three years and it still hasn’t got the traction it deserves. It saddens me because they think having a float at the Mardi gras is enough and it’s not.”
The Sea Eagles club must name a 22-man squad for the game by Tuesday afternoon. Coach Des Hasler and Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans are due to front the media at midday on Tuesday to address the team’s divide over the pride jerseys.
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