NRL world divided over 'disgraceful' Manly pride jersey furore

·5-min read
Seen here, Manly's specially designed pride jersey that has caused an enormous stir.
Up to seven players are expected to boycott Manly's next game in protest about wearing their specially designed pride jersey. Pic: Sea Eagles

Manly's decision to become the first club in NRL history to compete in a pride jersey has left the club in turmoil, with up to seven players set to boycott their next match in protest.

The Sea Eagles are expected to confirm on Tuesday that up to seven players will miss Thursday's match with the Sydney Roosters, after refusing to play in the jersey due to their cultural or religious beliefs.

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Manly announced on Sunday night they would wear a rainbow design for the match, generally known for representing the LGBTQIA community.

By Monday night the jersey had sold out on the club's online store in all men's and women's sizes, with only junior versions of the strip available.

While it's proven a hit with many supporters, the decision to wear the jersey has caused unrest among several players, who also claim they only learned of the strip on social media on Sunday night and were not previously consulted.

Among the concerns for select players is uneasy questions that will arise within their culture or religion from wearing the jersey.

The issue prompted a lengthy meeting of Sea Eagles management on Monday night, where it was again requested that players wear the "Everyone in League" design.

However players have not agreed to do so, with up to seven set to sit out the match against the Roosters.

Ian Roberts, who became the first rugby league player to come out as gay while playing for Manly in 1995, said the player revolt 'breaks my heart.'

The former Kangeroo and Sea Eagles star told Sydney's 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."

"I can promise you every young kid on the northern beaches who is dealing with their sexuality would have heard about this."

Pictured here, openly gay Manly legend Ian Roberts at a pride rally in Sydney.
Openly gay Manly legend Ian Roberts says it breaks his heart that players at the club are refusing to wear the pride jersey. Pic: AAP

The issue could not have come at a worse time for Manly or coach Des Hasler, with the two teams either side of the top-eight dividing line.

Manly were already missing players ahead of the critical match against eighth-placed Roosters, who only head the Sea Eagles by for-and-against.

Pride jersey furore leaves NRL world divided

The drama has caused an enormous stir throughout the footy world, but NRL 360 co-host Paul Kent said it was the Manly club's fault for not consulting players first, before making the decision to wear the pride jerseys.

“The Manly club did this without any consultation of the players, they did it without board approval. It’s basically a marketing decision and they’ve just assumed everything was ok," Kent said on Monday night.

“The club has imposed its own politics on these players and these players have inadvertently been embroiled in this scandal and they will be, hopefully, protected. But they will be under pressure now through no fault of their own.

“It’s an embarrassing look for the club and it’s a difficult one. This talk about inclusion, wearing the Manly jersey for me is inclusion.

“To inflict their own political views on the players who may not share that and are now being forced to deal with the consequences of that is a real oversight by the club and it’s something they should be embarrassed about.”

The issue has also left the NRL community fiercely divided, with some calling Manly's move "woke" and insisting social politics should play no part in sport.

While some fans have praised the players for standing up for their beliefs, others have brandished them "disgraceful" and hypocritical.

with AAP

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