Seven Manly Sea Eagles players are refusing to wear a pride jersey. Here's everything we know.

Rugby league team Manly Sea Eagles are currently embroiled in controversy - and it has everything to do with their club's new inclusive pride jersey.

This week, it was announced Manly would become the first club in rugby league history to wear a jersey celebrating inclusivity and LGBTQIA+ pride in an upcoming game on Thursday night.

In a photoshoot with The Daily Telegraph, three of the club's players modelled the one-off jersey which is fitted with rainbow colours instead of the traditional white piping and includes the words ‘Everyone in League’ written on it. 

Since the announcement, seven players have confirmed they will boycott the NRL match on Thursday over the club's decision to wear the pride jersey. 

Here's everything we know.

What happened? 

When news of the jersey was released in The Daily Telegraph profile, several Manly Sea Eagles' players said that it was the first time they had heard about the pride jersey. They were unhappy the decision was made without consultation with the players. 

Manly Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler said the club would still wear the pride jersey in Thursday night's match against the Sydney Roosters. However, on Tuesday, it was confirmed seven players were officially standing down from the game in protest of the club's decision on the basis of religious and personal beliefs. 


As per The Daily Telegraph, the seven players are Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau'atu, Tolutau Koula, Christian Tuipulotu and Toafofoa Sipley. They confirmed their decision in a club meeting on Monday night.

According to reports, the seven players had hoped they could wear Manly's traditional jersey with white piping, but the NRL said they would not allow players to take to the field in an alternative jumper.

The response to the boycott.

Last week, Ian Roberts, a Manly Sea Eagles legend and the first player to come out as gay in 1995, said he would be in the crowd for the game to see the pride jerseys in play. 

In the wake of the news, Robert said: "I try to see it from all perspectives but this breaks my heart. 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. I can promise you every young kid on the Northern Beaches who is dealing with their sexuality would have heard about this."

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who is a friend of Roberts, said it was important for Australian sport as a whole be "more inclusive".

"He [Ian Roberts] showed incredible courage. He wasn't the first gay man to play rugby league, I will give you the big tip. He was the first to have the courage to come out and that paved the way for others to do so. It is important in Australian society that we respect everyone for who they are."

Albanese went on to say he respected people of faith but everyone needed to be respected too. 

Wide World of Sports' Matt Bungard wrote on Twitter: "I don't want to hear one single thing about 'respecting other people's opinions' or using religion as a crutch to hide behind while being homophobic. No issues playing at a stadium covered in alcohol and gambling sponsors, which is also a sin. What a joke."


Listen to Mamamia's daily news podcast, The Quicky, on why so many male athletes are scared to come out. Post continues after audio.

Radio hosts Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O agreed with Bungard, saying there was a level of hypocrisy over the seven players' condemnation of the pride jersey but silence over alcohol and gambling sponsors. 

"The whole excuse of religion doesn't make sense. If they're all playing in a stadium sponsored by alcohol and all the jerseys are sponsored by a gambling company, it makes no sense," they said. 

"I don't like people being forced to do anything they don't like to do but when you're playing for a team, you've got no decision as to who sponsors the team. But you sign a contract and you do as you're told or go off and work somewhere else."

Kyle and Jackie O's newsreader Brooklyn Ross, who is gay, said: "This is just saying these people exist and we support you guys. But they won't even do that. I'm not here to put hate on them. We do an Indigenous round. What if a group of white guys said 'nah, I'm not playing this weekend.' I want those players kicked out of the game. We shouldn't accept this."

In one of the most powerful responses to this news, the pride jersey, which was available to purchase on the Manly Sea Eagles' website, has since sold out. Fans have made their position very clear.


How the club has responded.

On Tuesday, Manly Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler and captain Daly Cherry-Evans held a press conference regarding the saga.

Coach Hasler apologised for the "significant mistake" in the club's handling of the rollout of the rainbow colours on the club jersey, which has shifted focus from the original intent to support the LGBTQIA+ community.

"Sadly, the execution of what was intended to be an extremely important initiative was poor. There was little consultation or collaboration between key stakeholders, both inside and outside the club. Our intent was to be caring and compassionate towards all diverse groups who face inclusion issues daily. However, instead of enhancing tolerance and acceptance, we may have hindered this. This was the opposite of our intent," Hasler said.

Hasler also about his concerns for the welfare of the seven players who have decided to boycott the game. 

"We wish to apologise to our own playing group and staff for any confusion, discomfort and pain that the mistake we have made may have caused them. There are always going to be subsets of society who have cultural and religious views, and they must always be considered. They are not wearing the jersey as it conflicts with their cultural and religious beliefs. Their spirituality is a central part of their wellbeing," he said. 

He also acknowledged that while society has come a long way, Australian sport and more centrally rugby league has a lot more work to do.

"For any person struggling with identity, we acknowledge the challenges and difficulties. My heart goes out to you and your families, and if the club can personally do anything to assist, we will. We are here, we offer our complete support. I apologise to anyone to whom this matter has caused distress."

Cherry-Evans confirmed the gay pride jerseys will be going ahead this Thursday night.

"There are going to be 17 players out there celebrating inclusiveness and diversity, so I think hopefully we can start to shift our attention towards the good intentions that were had."

Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V'landys argued the Manly footballers were "completely within their rights" not to play, telling 2GB the news shouldn't be made into "a political issue".


As many LGBTQIA+ advocates have noted, this boycott has added fuel to the narrative that the queer community is not welcome in sports more broadly.

Mamamia's What Are You Wearing? co-host and activist Deni Todorovič spoke about the issue on their social media

"As a professional athlete, you sign yourself up to become a role model to children especially. Using religious reasons to blatantly mask homophobia is very common in the public forum. Religious faiths, particularly Christian faiths, are anti-gambling and alcoholism. The Eagles have both gambling and alcohol sponsors on their jerseys. The one thing that some 'religious' people always seem to forget is to 'Love Thy Neighbour'. What sort of example are they setting to children? It tells them that gay people are not welcome in sport. That is shameful."


Pride in Sport, the national not-for-profit program that supports Australian sporting organisations and clubs in all aspects of LGBTQ inclusion, has also issued a statement. 

"Visibility is so important. In all sports, including rugby league, participants can heavily censor themselves over fears of being outed, resulting in detrimental impacts on mental and physical health. This is why initiatives like Pride rounds and Pride jerseys matter," Pride in Sport Index Co-Founder Andrew Purchase OAM said.

"They are a statement from an organisation, signalling that a sport wants people to feel safe to be who they are. These initiatives certainly don't fix everything, but they are important symbols. It matters to people who you may never meet = to feel reassured they are included in a society that welcomes and values them."

If you find yourself needing to talk to someone after reading this story, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Feature Image: Getty/Facebook.

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