Openly gay rugby league great Ian Roberts says the Manly rainbow jersey controversy has exposed a devastating truth around the LGBTQIA community.
The issue has dominated the sporting headlines this week and threatened to derail the Sea Eagles' NRL season, after the club confirmed seven players would sit out Thursday night's match against the Roosters, in protest against wearing the rainbow designed jerseys.
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Manly was slammed for failing to consult with its playing group before unveiling the jerseys this week, which were supposed to represent inclusivity for everyone, during the NRL's Women in League round.
The jersey features rainbow colours taking up the normal white space on Manly's strip, in recognition of minority groups such as the LGBTQI community pushing for more acceptance and basic human rights.
But ultimately, not all players were on board, citing religious, cultural and family concerns over the rainbow strip.
Manly coach Des Hasler and captain Daly Cherry-Evans fronted media on Tuesday to apologise for the debacle it has caused, while reaffirming the club's commitment to inclusivity.
Roberts is a Manly club legend and remains the only professional rugby league player in Australian history, to come out as gay.
He said it broke his heart to hear about the player protests against the rainbow jersey, and warned the controversy could have larger ramifications for members of the LGBTQIA community.
Ian Roberts exposes devastating truth
“This is very personal to me as an older gay person, because I’ve lost friends to suicide,” Roberts said.
“I wish I could sit around a table with those players and explain that unfortunately there are kids out in the suburbs, out in the regions today, who might not have heard many stories in the last month, but I can promise you they heard this story.
“They are the types of consequences that come when there is pushback with stuff like this, this is what prejudice and discrimination do[es].
“I was unsurprised that there was going to be pushback, and it kind of saddens me. I think of the far-reaching consequences... this is brutal language to hear, but there are kids in the suburbs killing themselves.
“They are the type of consequences we’re talking about.”
Roberts says he has been campaigning for a Pride Round in the NRL for years, with ARLC chairman Peter V’landys revealing that the NRL could look to introduce something as early as 2023.
However, the Manly great says this latest drama suggests there is a long way to go and many more conversations to be had, before the NRL could entertain such a concept.
“I totally respect their view, but there needs to be a conversation. We need to sit around and talk civilly to each other,” Roberts added.
“While I’m disappointed I can also see this as a positive, because this is a starting point again for the NRL to have these conversations about what a Pride Round is all about, the essence of what a Pride Round is.
“As an older gay man, this is not unfamiliar. That’s all I can say. We need these Pride Rounds... education is what it’s all about.”
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