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What would Manly seven think if a teammate refused to wear a Pasifika themed jersey?

Trent Robinson hit the nail on the head when he said “if someone had said they wouldn’t wear the Indigenous jersey there’d be an outcry”.

The Roosters coach spoke passionately and sensibly on Wednesday afternoon when he fronted the media to speak about the build-up to Thursday night’s game at 4 Pines Park against a Manly club that’s been thrown into turmoil by the furore created by their inclusivity rainbow jersey.

Seven players from the Sea Eagles – Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley – are boycotting the game because they refuse to wear a jersey that does not align with their beliefs, based on cultural and religious grounds.

These players from Pacific Islander backgrounds need to ask themselves: What if Manly had launched a Pasifika themed jersey and one of their teammates refused to wear it?

The seven players are being portrayed in some quarters as victims in the Manly pride jersey debacle because they were not consulted beforehand.

What would have changed if the players had been told about the rainbow themed jersey? If they’d been given the heads-up, they would have played? Of course not.

They are unhappy they didn’t get the chance to refuse to wear it before it was publicly announced, thus depriving them of the chance to force the club to pull the idea before it saw the light of day.

Whether they’re basing their decisions on religious reasons or not, the rationale is still homophobic and should not be applauded in any way shape or form. 

Just like Israel Folau hiding behind religion as the reason for his homohophobic social media rants a few years ago, these players have the freedom of speech. And through that right, they have exposed themselves for what they are. 

Trent Robinson

Trent Robinson (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Robinson said this was not just about rugby league. “This was a snapshot that highlighted a wider rugby league issue. 

“This is a societal issue that’s been highlighted by our sport and other sports around the world. And it’s still an issue. 

“If someone had said they wouldn’t wear the Indigenous jersey there’d be an outcry – 40 years ago, that would have been the case, 80 years ago we wouldn’t have had Women In League Round. We’ve moved on those fronts, we haven’t moved on this. We need to move towards it at some point.

“We need to be inclusive as a human race. No one is better than anyone else.”

Robinson said it was a complex issue and applauded Manly coach Des Hasler and captain Daly Cherry-Evans for the way they fronted the media on Tuesday to address the matter.

He highlighted that in the youth gay community, suicide is five times the rate of the rest of the population and lamented the fact that this match was intended to be a vehicle to promote the Gotcha 4 Life mental health charity.

Ian Roberts in action for Australia

Ian Roberts (Anton Want/Getty Images)

“That’s because they don’t feel included,” he said in reference to the higher rates of death. “And for us in 2022 to say not be inclusive and not say it’s OK to be who you are is unacceptable and we need to move towards a better place. 

“And for rugby league, I want to say that we are inclusive, we do accept you for who you are, we care about you and we need to move forward in that way. That’s my personal view, I’ve talked to my players about it, we’ve talked about it openly.” 

The head of the charity, radio presenter Gus Worland earlier on Wednesday announced a significant portion of proceeds raised from the game will now go towards the LGBTQI community.

Manly legend Ian Roberts, who became the first openly game professional sportsman in Australia in the 1990s, is adamant that high-profile athletes coming out saves lives.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 04: Jason Saab of the Sea Eagles celebrates scoring a try with team mates during the round 13 NRL match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the New Zealand Warriors at 4 Pines Park, on June 04, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Jason Saab celebrates scoring a try with teammates. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to hear him speak, he does so from the heart as someone who has seen the tragic consequences that homophobia can have.

“I’ve lost friends to suicide and I’ve seen the consequences of what homophobia, transphobia, and all the phobias can do to people,” he said on Tuesday.

“I don’t want to start quoting the terrible statistics that we know about the LGBTQIA+ community and self-harm. But those are the types of consequences that come when there is pushback against stuff like (the inclusion jersey). This is what discrimination can do.”

Unlike Manly, the Roosters have an NRLW club and the women’s competition has many openly gay players and the issue of sexuality barely rates a mention.  

Jillaroos veteran Karina Brown received widespread attention and praise after she kissed her partner at the time, Vanessa Foliaki, after they had played against each other in 2018.

The 33-year-old Titans winger told the On Her Game podcast that she was “enraged and frustrated” at the actions of the seven Manly NRL players.

“It did trigger me, if I’m honest,” she said.

“I felt a bit enraged and frustrated and then I decided to dig a bit deeper and try and get the whole story … it’s actually not even a pride jersey which makes it even worse.

“This jersey is a Women in League round jersey and it’s ‘everyone in league’ … whether you love someone of the same sex or whether you love Jesus Christ, there’s a place for you here in rugby league.”

Robinson would have much preferred to be talking about on-field matters the day before a crucial clash against a team that is level with them on 20 competition points as part of a four-way tie for eighth spot.

However, he went on the front foot and spoke at length, showing why he is revered in rugby league as not just a coach, but a leader.

“It’s unfortunate in 2022 we’re still having this conversation. It’s unfortunate it’s panned out this way because everyone’s equal, no matter what race, gender, sexual preference. Let people make their choice and let’s not discriminate against those doing that,” he said.

“I’m about equality and I want people to feel like they’re cared for and loved and have a place no matter their sexual preference in the world.”

Amen to that.

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