Sharni Williams received approval last year from the International Olympic Committee to wear special rainbow-colored headgear during the Tokyo Games.
The out Australian rugby star has sported her Pride headgear ever since, including at this year’s Commonwealth Games, where she just won gold in the rugby sevens.
“The rainbow headgear is really important to me. It’s that visibility piece for myself and for my community,” said Williams, via the Sydney Morning Herald. “It’s finally being comfortable with myself, [which] is huge. Me being able to share my story helps others be able to figure out who they are and what stories they have.”
Williams’ visibility is especially important right now, given the recent controversy with an Australia pro rugby club and Pride jerseys. Seven players on the Manly Sea Eagles recently refused to wear uniforms with rainbow stripes and a rainbow collar to support LGBTQ inclusion in sports. As a result, they sat out the match.
The episode was similar to what occurred with the Tampa Bay Rays during their Pride Night, when multiple pitchers refused to wear rainbow insignias on their jerseys.
As a prominent out athlete, Williams, who was the co-captain of Australia’s rugby sevens gold medal team at the 2016 Summer Olympics, says she felt like it was her obligation to speak up about the Manly players.
“It’s a bit of a punch in the face but I also expect it. We’ve been working at it for so long,” she said. “I respect those haters and I understand it but at the same time I respect my views and I stand there by the people to know there are other people out there for them.”
Williams is no stranger to pushing back against bigotry in her sport. Three years ago, rugby union star Israel Folau told gay people they “will go to hell” and said people who support gender-identity inclusion are “blinded” and must “repent.”
When Williams was asked about Folau landing a new contract with a European club, she verbally snubbed him.
“I don’t know who you are talking about,” she told reporters.
Thanks to strong remarks like that, LGBTQ sports fans know Williams, even if they reside outside of the Commonwealth.
As a whole, this year’s Commonwealth Games are a platform for inclusion. There are at least 40 out athletes competing.
Though Tom Daley is not competing, he carried the Queen’s baton into Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium as part of the Opening Ceremony, alongside six other out competitors and public figures from the Commonwealth.
These public demonstrations of Pride far outweigh the actions of a few ignorant players on one Australia rugby club.