Only Openly-Gay Professional Rugby League Player Speaks Out On Manly Jersey Controversy
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Manly Sea Eagles legend Ian Roberts has shared his thoughts on the pride jersey controversy which has engulfed the club.
Roberts is the only male professional rugby league star in history to come out as gay and he admits the players' refusal to wear the rainbow-coloured 'Everyone in League' strip could impact the wider LGBTQIA+ community.
“This is very personal to me as an older gay person, because I’ve lost friends to suicide,” Roberts said.
“I wish I could sit around a table with those players and explain that unfortunately there are kids out in the suburbs, out in the regions today, who might not have heard many stories in the last month, but I can promise you they heard this story.
“They are the types of consequences that come when there is pushback with stuff like this, this is what prejudice and discrimination does.
“I was unsurprised that there was going to be pushback, and it kind of saddens me. I think of the far-reaching consequences... this is brutal language to hear, but there are kids in the suburbs killing themselves.
“They are the type of consequences we’re talking about.”
Despite the public's initial reaction to the fallout being mainly anger and disappointment, Roberts is eager to use this time to educate others.
“I totally respect their view, but there needs to be a conversation. We need to sit around and talk civilly to each other,” Roberts said.
“While I’m disappointed I can also see this as a positive, because this is a starting point again for the NRL to have these conversations about what a Pride Round is all about, the essence of what a Pride Round is.
“As an older gay man, this is not unfamiliar. That’s all I can say. We need these Pride Rounds... education is what it’s all about.”
Manly Sea Eagles great, Ian Roberts, is the first and only professional league player in Australia to come out while playing. Ian tells us if he thinks players may have been more willing to wear the pride jersey if they had been consulted first. pic.twitter.com/UAdblQ3aGI— The Project (@theprojecttv) July 26, 2022
When news broke that several Manly players were threatening to boycott their games if they were forced to wear the jerseys, the rugby league community appeared divided.
Some fans praised the players for standing up for their beliefs, while others were quick to condemn them.
On the other hand, the club itself was heavily criticised for not consulting the players prior to the jersey's release as well as decided to drop it during Women in League round.
The uproar resulted in Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler calling a press conference to address the matter.
“The intent of the rainbow colour application of our jersey was to represent diversity and inclusion for all, utilising the symbolic colours of pride to embrace all groups who feel marginalised and faced discrimination and have a suppressed share of voice," he told the media.
“The jersey intent was to support the advocacy and human rights pertaining to gender, race culture, ability and LGBTQ rights. Sadly, the execution of what was intended to be an extremely important and initiative was poor.
“There was little consultation or collaboration with key stakeholders. Both inside and outside the club. Sadly, this poor management and project management has caused significant confusion, discomfort and pain for many people.
“In particular, those groups whose human right we were, in fact, attempting to support. We have even adversely affected our player group, a wonderful group of people comprising of many different racial and cultural backgrounds.”
He added: “We wish to apologise to the minority groups within the community who embraced the rainbow colours as a symbol of pride in who they are, what they stand for and their impassioned advocacy to enhance basic tolerance and acceptance within the diversity and inclusion space.”