Manly apologizes for mishandling Pride shirt initiative as players boycott NRL game | Manly sea eagles

Manly manager Des Hasler has apologized on behalf of the club for the ‘poor’ execution as he unveiled a pride shirt as part of an inclusivity initiative that resulted in a boycott of seven players.

The day after news broke that nearly half of the Sea Eagles squad said they would not play in Thursday night’s clash against the Roosters, Hasler took to the media head and confirmed that religious and cultural differences were behind this position.

In a contrite press conference alongside club captain Daly Cherry-Evans, he said none of the coaching staff or the players were made aware of the shirt’s existence before it was launched and said lamented that, while the unique rainbow design was intended to “represent diversity and inclusion for all”, the decision was made with “little consultation or collaboration with key stakeholders”.

“They [the players] don’t wear the jersey because it goes against their cultural and religious beliefs, and I’m concerned for their well-being,” Hasler said. “Their spirituality is central to their well-being. The club made a mistake from which they will learn. The players will not play on Thursday and we accept their decision.

“These young men are strong in their beliefs and their convictions. We will give them the space and support they need. The playgroup is strong and understands everyone’s points of view.

Despite this, Hasler confirmed that the team would go ahead and wear the “Everyone in the League” jersey, which would have been sold in both men’s and women’s sizes on Monday night, with Cherry-Evans stating that he would “wear proudly wearing the shirt to try to endorse inclusivity and diversity”.

The divisive issue has eclipsed the NRL’s Women in League round, which kicked off in Sydney on Tuesday morning. Over breakfast, ARL committee chairman Peter V’landys made his views clear, stating ‘we don’t live in Russia’ and saying he was open to launching a tour game-wide pride starting in 2023.

Hasler, for his part, read a lengthy statement in which he apologized to all stakeholders in the game, including the LGBTQ community, the ARLC, the NRL and its 15 other clubs, as well as the group of Sea Eagles game and staff.

“The intention of applying the rainbow color to our jersey was to represent diversity and inclusion for all, using the symbolic colors of pride to embrace all groups who feel marginalized and challenged to discrimination and who have a suppressed voice,” he said.

“The intention of the jersey was to support advocacy and human rights relating to gender, racial culture, ability and LGBTQ rights. Unfortunately, the execution of what was supposed to be an extremely important initiative was poor.

“There has been little consultation or collaboration with key stakeholders, both inside and outside the club. Unfortunately, this mismanagement…has caused a great deal of confusion, discomfort and pain for many people, especially those groups whose human rights we were actually trying to support.

“We even hurt our group of players, a wonderful group of people that includes many different racial and cultural backgrounds. We would like to sincerely apologize for the mistakes we made.

Daly Cherry-Evans and Des Hasler on Tuesday. Photography: Matt King/Getty Images

Hasler said he and Cherry-Evans had volunteered to face the press themselves but, asked why he was apologizing instead of the club administration, he replied: “You’ll have to talk about it. At the direction.”

Cherry-Evans was also pressed to know if he had ever heard any “bigoted views” within the gaming group regarding the LGBTQI community. “Things like that aren’t a topic of conversation unless put in the situation,” he replied. “So we’re going through a lot for the first time as a group of players.”

On Tuesday morning, V’landys insisted the game was an inclusive sport, but said he also respects the position of Manly players.

“In my opinion, we are all human beings,” V’landys said. “It doesn’t matter what color we are, what race we are, what religion we are. We may have our differences and we may have different beliefs, but at the end of the day, we are all human beings and we must respect that.

“However, I respect the rights of Manly players [to] freedom. They have every right to withdraw their services if they wish.

V’landys himself was unaware of the move until Monday and he said Manly could have handled the situation better. “They could have been a lot more collaborative with the players,” he told reporters. “They shouldn’t have gone after the players.”

Ian Roberts, the former Manly player who in 1995 as a Sea Eagle became the first NRL player to come out publicly as gay, said he was “heartbroken” by the situation but then went on to say welcomed the club’s apologies.

“I thought the acknowledgment, the sincerity and the authenticity was wonderful,” Roberts told the ABC. “I thought it was exceptional to explain that the first Pride round had been organized with the right intention – a celebration for the community.

“I would also really like to acknowledge that it [Hasler] did the right thing by saying he was wrong about some things – ownership of it and how they would do things differently if given the opportunity again. I think it was very brave and direct.

“But where do we go from here?” This is not how we wanted this conversation to start, but we have the conversation now. I fully respect those players who choose not to play and their right not to play, their religious beliefs. I would love to be able to sit around a table with these guys in the summer and have a chat with them.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who said he counted Roberts as a friend, hoped the situation would be resolved. “It’s a good thing that the sport is more inclusive,” he said. “[Roberts] showed incredible courage. He wasn’t the first gay man to play rugby league – I’ll give you a tip – he was the first to have the courage to come out and pave the way for others to do so. It is important that in Australian society we respect everyone for who they are.

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