The Manly Pride jersey saga hurts and shows how far we have to go

When the Manly Sea Eagles show up to take on the Sydney Roosters on Thursday night, they will do so wearing the pride shirt, depicting subtle rainbow colors in the team’s traditional maroon, to present a more broad inclusiveness.

But it’s a message that has unfortunately already caused a lot of controversy and harm, with the portrayal of inclusivity in this case deemed so offensive that seven players will sit out the game rather than wear the shirt.

These seven players pulled out for religious and cultural reasons – and we can get what we want from that in terms of them being willing to wear a shirt advertising a gambling company and play on a pitch. sponsored by the local brewery. company, 4 Pines, but not behind that message of pride.

But the wider reaction to that stance is also hurtful – the multiple front pages of the Murdoch Press in particular, including today’s showing a photo of Hugh Jackman wearing the Pride jersey alongside the headline ‘Hugh Knew In’ . As well as a column published today that asks, “Is this the hill Manly wants to die?”

The fallout from what should have been a simple message became a distraction from the game. It raised questions about the NRL’s efforts to make progress on inclusivity – including Macklemore’s live performance celebrating the same-sex love and marriage just before the vote on marriage equality. It’s taken away from the women of this weekend in the league round.

And the fallout hurts people who yearn to feel included in the games they love.

Ian Roberts, the first openly gay professional rugby player, has written how he once wore his manly shirt, as well as his sexuality, with pride – but is now heartbroken. He thanked the club for taking the initiative and said his heart was in the right place and he had “operated from a place of love”.

He added, generously, that while trying not to feel angry at the position taken by the seven players, he would like the opportunity to discuss with them the broader need for the message.

“Sport is political and it can change the world, like Olympian Peter Norman backed Black Power salutes, like Nicky Winmar did, like Cathy Freeman did,” he wrote. “It’s our turn.”

Visibility in sport is essential. Role models matter – in many ways, that’s a big part of the point behind professional sports in the first place.

As Pride in Sport noted in its statement on the issue, for LGBTQ+ people, statements from key organizations and role models can make a huge difference in breaking down barriers to participation and helping people feel empowered. safe and included in these sports.

The advocacy group notes that in sport, including rugby league, participants can often feel the need to self-censor, which can have a significant impact on their mental and physical sport.

“That’s why initiatives like Pride Rounds and Pride Shirts are important. This is a statement from an organization, signaling that a sport wants people to feel safe to be who they are. These initiatives certainly do not solve everything, but they are important symbols.

Clearly Manly could have handled this better. Sea Eagles manager Des Hasler has apologized for the club’s handling of the shirt, telling a press conference on Wednesday it was a “significant mistake”. He said he felt for the players and admitted they weren’t included in the discussion and should be consulted.

“The intention of the jersey was to support advocacy and human rights relating to gender, race, culture, ability and LGBTQ movements,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the execution of what was supposed to be a hugely important insider was poor.” But ultimately, gamers sitting on the game should think about where they stand and reconsider what else they’re willing to put up with: gambling ads in particular. »

What we know now is that 17 players will take to the pitch in tomorrow night’s game. They will wear the shirt.

Seven players will be absent. Their position is known. The damage in many ways is already done. They may be looking to have that conversation with Roberts, or maybe Pride In Sport. They might then want to reconsider their stance on other things that are promoted on their shirts, like the game.

Pride jerseys ultimately signal a core value: that everyone feels safe to play, says Pride in sport.

This value should not be controversial. The fact that it is still controversial shows how much work we still have to do.

James C. Tibbs