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Hasler’s hair-raising humility saves Sea Eagles by tiptoeing through cultural war minefield

Des Hasler swept his Farrah Fawcett locks from his forehead and arched his fingers into a steeple like a famous lecturer at Harvard Polytechnic and addressed a mass of media in a tight little room the back of Brookvale Oval.

Then he tiptoed through a minefield in a culture war.

He was impassioned. Into it. There were apologies all round. He was Oprah with the cars. You get an apology. And you get an apology.

He quoted a Harvard political scientist, a mate with autism and Mahatma Gandhi.

It was nutty professor as performance artist. It was odd, on occasion. You wondered did he have a vision of his projected self.

Yet it was real. It was no sterile, corporate, box-ticking exercise. It was heart-felt. It was compelling. It was even a bit cool.

And it was as good as the club could do given circumstances that trumped news of a bunker howler, a gouging allegation and a half-time toilet vape by a tired old Titan.

To recap: on Sunday night, Manly management announced that to commemorate their match against Sydney Roosters in Women In League Round the players would wear a jersey featuring the rainbow colours of inclusion instead of the white hoops of their heritage jumper.

Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler looks on during a Manly Warringah Sea Eagles NRL training session

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

And everyone lost their freaking mind, not least seven of the club’s more religious players who threatened to pull out of the game, and then did, because they didn’t want to promote “gay” stuff because it’s against their religious, cultural and spiritual beliefs though playing in a ground named for a brewery in a jumper sponsored by a corporate bookmaker with teammates accused of domestic violence doesn’t offend sensibilities, it appears.

It’s a culture war that’s been coming. It’s an elephant in the war room. The National Rugby League comprises over 40 per cent Pasifika players, many of whom hold religious beliefs that are – let’s call a spade a bloody shovel – homophobic.

And thus, when they found out on the telly the colours on the jersey they’d be wearing against the Roosters on Thursday night, Jason Saab, Josh Aloiai, Josh Schuster, Christian Tuipulotu, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley were offended and miffed, it seems, that they weren’t consulted and would be forced to wear kit which presumably would see them immediately turn gay, perhaps, or at least celebrate and promote a culture that their Bible, maybe, says … something bad about, I don’t know.

Anyway, for inclusivity’s sake, the opinions and beliefs of these fellows – dubbed “key stakeholders” – needs to be massaged by Manly, even if those beliefs are the antithesis of inclusion, at least when it comes to people who embrace that rainbow flag.

Tricky enough stuff for a corporate spin-master. Yet Hasler owned it.

“We are gathered here today,” he began like a pastor at a teenage wedding where the old folks wished them well, “to apologise for a significant mistake made by the Manly Sea Eagles Football Club.”

The intent of the rainbow jersey, according to Hasler, was “to represent diversity and inclusion”.

The “symbolic colours of pride would represent all groups who feel marginalised and face discrimination”.

The jersey’s intent was to “support the advocacy of human rights pertaining to culture, ability and LGBQT movements”.

All very good, right? Why they did it in Women In League Round, Des did not explain.

And then he apologised to everyone. The Australian Rugby League Commission, the NRL, the other 15 NRL clubs, the fans, the kids, the gays, anyone who embraced the rainbow flag of inclusion.

He apologised to his staff and players, including the seven who don’t want to play because the rainbow flag means something bad.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 26: Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler speaks to the media during a Manly Warringah Sea Eagles NRL media opportunity at 4 Pines Park on July 26, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

“We accept your cultural beliefs and hope you can accept our apology,” Hasler said.

Then those long locks were swept back again, the fingers went into full steeple and Hasler spoke for 10 minutes straight.

He quoted Harvard professor Robert Putnam’s “extensive work about establishing a civil society” and the need to have cooperation and trust.

“If we had suitably cooperated with key stakeholders, both internally and externally, we would have cultivated, hopefully, a more suitable trust that would have ideally led to our action,” Hasler said.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 30: Jason Saab of the Sea Eagles celebrates scoring a try during the round 16 NRL match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the Melbourne Storm at 4 Pines Park, on June 30, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Christian Tuipulotu, Tolu Koula and Daly Cherry-Evans celebrate the winger’s try. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Manly management and Hasler, it appears, believe they should’ve tried to talk the religious types into wearing the rainbow colours because it would be nice, and because Jesus, possibly, and something-something.

There followed a yarn about his Autistic mate who embraces the rainbow flag as a symbol of his neuro diversity and who was angry at the club because it had stuffed up awareness for diversity, inclusion and human rights.

But then this mate reflected on how intolerant people have been towards him. And how he had been marginalised when he communicated poorly. And that he couldn’t stay mad at the club for making a mistake.

Ian Roberts in action for Australia

Ian Roberts (Anton Want/Getty Images)

There was a quote from Gandhi and admiration for “ornament” Ian Roberts, his old Manly teammate from the 1990s.

Then he said thanks, flat-batted journalists’ questions until the media manager called time, and exited stage left: boil excised, pores cleansed, club absolved, culture war in abeyance (for now).

And the Manly Sea Eagles Football Club was carried out of the press room on his robust little shoulders and bandy little legs in better nick than when it went in.

And those rainbow jerseys? They’ve sold out.

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