Seven players for the Manly Sea Eagles will not play in their rugby match Thursday because they refuse to wear their club’s inclusion jersey, the Daily Telegraph reports.
The Australia club, which plays in the National Rugby League, plans to wear a jersey with rainbow stripes and a rainbow collar to support LGBTQ inclusion in sports. But management didn’t consult with the players, many of whom object to the uniform.
“The players will not play on Thursday and we accept their decision,” said Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler, via the Associated Press. “These young men are strong in their beliefs and convictions and we will give them the space and support they require.”
This is the second time in two months multiple players have declined to wear special Pride jerseys or patches. Sadly, both incidents could’ve been avoided with better planning and communication.
At least five pitchers on the Tampa Bay Rays refused to wear rainbow insignias on their jerseys for Pride Night last month. One of the hurlers, Jalen Adam, invoked religion in his condescending explanation for the slight.
“A lot of it comes down to faith, to like a faith-based decision,” he said. “So it’s a hard decision. Because ultimately we all said what we want is them to know that all are welcome and loved here.”
The seven ruggers who won’t wear the Sea Eagles’ inclusion uniform — Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolu Koula and Toafofoa Sipley — have not publicly commented on their offensive decision.
Hasler, who admitted the club didn’t consult with its players before deciding to wear the jersey, apologized to the LGBTQ community for this embarrassing episode.
“Our intent was to be caring towards all diverse groups who face inclusion issues daily,” Hasler said, per the AP. “Sadly this poor management has caused significant confusion, discomfort and pain for many people, in particular those groups whose human rights we in fact attempting to support.”
Bingo. The NRL doesn’t have a designated Pride round, and Manly was the only club planning to wear a Pride uniform. While the gesture is appreciated, surprising players with the jersey, and then having seven of them protest the attire, is not a very inclusive message — to say the least.
Manly management should’ve spoken to its players before making this decision, just like the Rays should’ve checked in with their players about wearing the rainbow patch.
It would’ve been better for them to scrap the idea if everybody wasn’t on board.
That doesn’t mean the players are excused. By refusing to wear Pride jerseys, they’re making strong statements against LGBTQ inclusion. That’s awful.
“It hasn’t totally shocked me like it’s shocking everyone else,” said former Manly forward Ian Roberts, who was the first high-profile rugby player to publicly come out as gay in the 1990s.
At least three rugby players — U.S. Olympian Nicole Heavirland, English pro player Jack Dunne and Irish pro player Nick McCarthy — have publicly come out this year and reported widespread acceptance from teammates and fans. Their stories show how rugby, like every sport, is becoming more open.
That’s the story about LGBTQ inclusion in rugby we should be telling. Instead, we’re stuck with this mess.