A firestorm has raged among the rugby league community and its fans after several players from the Manly Sea Eagles chose to boycott the wearing of a pride jersey designed to celebrate inclusivity.
The ‘Everyone in League’ jersey was unveiled in collaboration with Dynasty Sport and will be worn in Round 20 against the Roosters at 4 Pines Park on Thursday, July 28.
Founder and Director of Dynasty Sport, Tyler Rakich said “sport is one of those great things where people come together from all walks of life and participate in something without exclusion” and that the jersey “is a celebration of that and the first of its kind in the NRL”.
“The ‘Everyone in League’ Jersey is something we’ve wanted to do for a number of years now. As soon as we got the concept locked in, all parties have contributed to make it what it is and it’s something we’re all really proud of,” Rakich said.
“The design itself maintains the iconic Manly DNA with the striped design and maroon but with the subtle inclusion of the rainbow colours which are a nod to inclusivity for Everyone in League.”
— Dynasty Sport (@dynasty_sport) July 24, 2022
However, not “everyone in league” shared the same sentiments with several Manly players reportedly opposed to wearing the jersey citing religious grounds for their objections.
The players who objected to wearing the jersey are Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley.
Manly coach Des Hasler confirmed to reporters on Tuesday, July 26 that the seven players who stand in opposition to wearing the jersey will not be playing in Thursday night’s match.
Hasler stated that “the execution of what was intended to be an extremely important initiative was poor” following the pride jersey controversy.
“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, faced discrimination and have a suppressed share of voice,” he said.
“The jersey’s intent was to support the advocacy and human rights pertaining to gender, race culture, ability and LGBTQ movements.
“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 rights that 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.
“We wish to sincerely apologise for the mistakes we have made.”
— Manly Warringah Sea Eagles (@SeaEagles) July 26, 2022
Following the boycott of the jersey, debate raged among commentators and fans alike with some arguing the players are “behind the times”. Others chose a different stance, supporting the players who chose to boycott, many praising the players for choosing to “stick to their principles”.
Former Sea Eagles legend Ian Roberts, who was the first NRL player to come out as gay during his time with the club in 1995, said the objection to the jersey was heartbreaking.
“I try to see it from all perspectives but this breaks my heart,” Roberts said to The Daily Telegraph.
“It’s sad and uncomfortable. As an older gay man, 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.”
NRL 360 host Paul Kent said the fault lay with the club, citing a failure to consult the players properly as the problem.
“Major dramas at the club. The players only became aware they were wearing this jersey this morning when they read it in the newspaper,” Kent said on the programme.
“Because of their own cultural and religious beliefs they have an issue with it and it’s to be dealt with and has to be dealt with fairly quickly.
“The Manly club did this without any consultation of the players, they did it without board approval, it didn’t get raised at board level. It’s basically a marketing decision and they just assumed that everything was ok.”
The debate was not only limited to the confines of the rugby league community with the argument for and against the boycott spilling out into the stands where fans rigorously argued the matter.
A number of fans condemned the players for their refusal to wear the jersey and forgo playing the Round 20 match.
Poor form by the players who won’t wear them. They are meant to be role models. All they really are is single minded and behind the times.
— jimmyca (@jimmyackland) July 25, 2022
How sad to read that a number of players from the Manly Sea Eagles would rather refuse to play than wear the clubs pride jersey this week. 2022 and this still happens ????
— Gareth Olver 〓〓 ???? (@GBO26) July 25, 2022
Get over it Manly Sea eagles ! What a bunch of losers . Put on you rainbow and play the game. pic.twitter.com/CyNiSbvstj
— Pamela Spence (@starppael) July 26, 2022
They have no problem advertising gambling and alcohol….
— ATK (@warrentr) July 25, 2022
Manly should honestly suspend the 7 players for not playing this week, how can you have a problem with the jersey displaying pride colours but not with the jersey being sponsored by a gambling company, they’re both a sin according to the bible
— Kyle (@kyle_waller2) July 26, 2022
Despite the condemnation levelled at the seven Manly players for their decision just as many supported the decision, claiming “players should NOT be forced to wear political statements”.
The Pride jersey PR disaster at Manly could have been easily avoided had they just consulted with the players in the first place.
— Laurence Pratt (@laurence_pratt) July 26, 2022
The Manly ‘pride jersey’ is a political statement and players should NOT be forced to wear political statements.
Apart from the fact that it goes against some players religious beliefs.
Good on those players who will stick to their principles and boycott.#auspol #ManlySeaEagles
— Davo (@davohuggins) July 26, 2022
— Tristan ???????????????? (@AussieTristan1) July 25, 2022
— Holden88805 Photography ???? (@NasserHomsi) July 25, 2022
Why are the Manly Club trying to make Rugby league Political Football ???
Just keep it as Sport
— The BlackHolePanther (@BlackHolePanthe) July 25, 2022
Despite the controversy and heated debate that resulted, the remaining Sea Eagles will wear the inclusivity jersey when they take the field on Thursday night, making history as the first NRL club to wear an LGBTQIA-themed kit.