The first openly gay rugby league player has shared his gut-wrenching reaction after seven Manly Sea Eagles stars refused to wear the rainbow-coloured Pride jersey.
Retired Manly Sea Eagles great Ian Roberts has revealed his devastation ahead of Tuesday’s clash with the Sydney Roosters.
Seven players are said to have stood down for the decisive clash citing religious beliefs for not wearing LGBTQI-inclusive jerseys.
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Roberts, who played for the Mali Sea Eagles, said he was surprised the reaction to the decision didn’t spread sooner.
Roberts, who was asked a month before the game about being involved in publicity, said there didn’t seem to be any initial hesitation.
“I was approached about a month ago to see if I was interested in doing any commercials and I was completely on board and it was a great experience,” he told reporters.
“When I was asked a month ago, I was surprised that there was no pushback. A few days ago I was surprised it took so long to push back.
While Roberts respects the players’ right to play, he said he wants an opportunity to sit down and explain what the game means to the LGBTQIA community.
“It’s kind of a conversation – maybe not the way we want it to start – but now we’re having this conversation so I’m looking at it positively,” he said.
“I fully respect players who choose to play and their right not to play based on their religious beliefs. I would love to have the opportunity to sit around the table with those people and have a conversation with them.
“Pride rounds need to be something that people feel and deserve to be here,” he explained.
“That’s what pride is. It’s not about exclusion… The LGBTQIA community is part of the larger community and we’re here to welcome them.
“All of you, no matter who you are, no color, no gender, no identity, are welcome here. I mean it sincerely.
A longtime member of the LGBTQIA community, Roberts said the controversy is deep for him because he “lost friends to suicide.” [seen] The effects that homophobia and transphobia – all phobias – can have on people.
The most difficult thing, he said, is the impact the players’ push will have on young people across the country.
“I wish I could sit around the table with those players and explain to them that unfortunately there are kids in the suburbs, in the states, today who haven’t heard many stories in the last month, but I promise you. They have heard this story,” he said.
Manly Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler apologized for the execution of plans for the Pride Round on Tuesday and confirmed his side will be without seven players for the game at 4 Pines Park in Brookvale later this week.
“We are here today to apologize for the significant mistake made by the Manly Sea Eagles Football Club,” he said.
“The purpose of the jersey was to support advocacy and human rights around gender, race, culture, ability and LGBTQ activities.
“Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a much-needed initiative was underperforming. There was little consultation or collaboration between key stakeholders both inside and outside the club.
“Our goal was to be caring and compassionate to diverse groups who face issues of inclusion every day. However, instead of promoting tolerance and acceptance, we may have created a barrier. This was the opposite of our goal.”
“This poor governance has caused great confusion, discomfort and pain for many people.
“We apologize to the LGBTQ community who embrace the colors of the rainbow for pride and advocacy and human rights issues. We accept your cultural beliefs and hope you accept your apology.”
Before the jersey was officially announced, “none of the coaches or players knew about it,” he said, adding that the players would not wear it “because it goes against their cultural and religious beliefs.”
“Their spirituality is an integral part of their security. The club has made a mistake from which to learn.”