Gay NRL legend Ian Roberts wants to meet with the seven players from his former club who’ve boycotted a match over an inclusive pride jersey.
Ian Roberts was playing for Manly Sea Eagles when he came out as gay in 1995. The gay rugby icon, 56, remains the only male Australian pro rugby league player to do so.
Roberts said he’s lobbied the NRL to hold a Pride Round for years. He thanked his former club for being the first in the code to take up such an initiative.
“I fully respect those players who are choosing not to play and their right not to play, with their religious beliefs,” he said.
“I would love, given the opportunity, to be able to sit down at a table with those guys and just have an open conversation with them.
“And to try to explain what a Pride Round means, particularly for the LGBTQIA+ community, what it means to us individually.”
‘Making people feel worthy of being here’
Ian Roberts said making those with religious beliefs feel isolated is not what a game celebrating inclusion does.
“Pride Rounds should be about welcoming and making people feel worthy of being here,” he said.
“It isn’t a thing of exclusivity. It’s just about welcoming and saying to the LGBTQIA+ community, you’re part of the greater community and you’re welcome here.”
Roberts went on, “I’ve lost friends to suicide and I’ve seen the consequences of what homophobia, transphobia, and all the phobias can do to people.
“I wish I could sit around that table with those players and explain to them.
“There are kids out in the suburbs, out in the regions, who may not have heard many stories lately. But I promise you, they’ve heard this story.
“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 this. This is what discrimination can do.”
Manly Sea Eagles coach backs inclusion message but apologises for ‘error’
Ian Roberts thanked Manly Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler and captain Daly Cherry-Evans for their “sincerity and authenticity” at a press conference on Tuesday.
Hasler and Cherry-Evans said the team would still wear the jersey in the Thursday night match, and backed its message.
But Hasler apologised for a “significant mistake” in not consulting the players about the move.
“The jersey’s intent was to support the advocacy and human rights pertaining to gender, race, culture, ability and LGBTQ movements,” he said.
“Sadly, the execution of what was intended to be an extremely important initiative was poor.
“There was little consultation or collaboration between key stakeholders, both inside and outside the club.
“Our intent was to be caring and compassionate towards all diverse groups who face inclusion issues daily.
“However, instead of enhancing tolerance and acceptance, we may have hindered this. This was the opposite of our intent.
“This poor mismanagement has caused significant confusion, discomfort and pain for many people.”
Hasler apologised to the LGBTQ community, the Manly players and the NRL.
He said the club accepted the seven players’ decision not to play in the Thursday night match.
“These young men are strong in their beliefs and convictions. We will give them the space and the support they require,” he said.
And Hasler went on, “For any person struggling with identity, we acknowledge the challenges and difficulties.
“My heart goes out to you and your families, and if the club can personally do anything to assist, we will. We are here, we offer our complete support.
“I apologise to anyone to whom this matter has caused distress.”
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