Daily Telegraph and Fox League journalist Paul Kent has criticized Manly for making a ‘marketing decision’ and not consulting the players before deciding to unveil a pride jersey.
The club unveiled the jersey, called Everyone in League, on Monday to celebrate diversity and inclusivity in the NRL, making the Sea Eagles the first team in the 134-year history of the rugby league to wear a pride jersey.
Male players were ready to don the jersey, with rainbow colors replacing the traditional white piping on the maroon background, at Brookvale Oval against the Sydney Roosters on Thursday night.
Male players Sean Keppie (left), Kieran Foran (center) and Reuben Garrick posed with the club’s Everyone in League shirt, which was unveiled Monday
However, the move sparked a major PR storm. The Daily Telegraph reported that up to seven Sea Eagles players reportedly considered withdrawing from the game rather than wearing the jersey.
According to the Sydney Morning HeraldJosh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley have resigned themselves to the pride jersey.
All seven players are said to be against wearing the jersey on religious grounds. Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler reportedly told the players that he understood they were faced with a difficult decision and supported their decision not to play.
It is clear that the players were angry at not being consulted by the club, a move Kent described as a “marketing decision” by Manly.
Daily Telegraph and Fox League journalist Paul Kent reprimand Manly for making ‘marketing decision’ and not consulting the players
The sweater has rainbow colors that replace the traditional white piping
“The players only found out this morning that they were wearing this shirt when they read it in the paper,” he told Fox League’s NRL 360 on Monday.
“Because of their own cultural and religious beliefs, they have a problem with it and that should and should be resolved fairly quickly.
“Manly did this without any consultation with the players, they did it without board approval, it wasn’t raised at the board level. It’s basically a marketing decision and they just assumed everything was fine.’
Manly will reportedly hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday to try and resolve the situation, which leaves them in a precarious position. Kent added that the fallout from the jersey’s reveal was an “embarrassing look” for Manly, suggesting the problem was their own.
The Daily Telegraph reported that Manly wingers Jason Saab and Christian Tuipulotu are among the players who oppose wearing the jersey on religious grounds
“This talk about inclusion – wearing the Manly jersey is inclusion for me,” he said.
“Forcing their own political views on players who may not share them and now being forced to feel the consequences is a real mistake on the part of the Manly club and something they should be ashamed of.”
Former Wallabies star Israel Folau was famous for having his contract torn with Australia in 2019 after he posted a meme on social media saying that gays and other groups “hell” awaits.
Folau, an evangelical Christian, returned to the rugby league in France in 2020 and tried to revive his career in the sport in Australia but was blocked by local officials.
Israel Folau was banned from Australia three years ago for his homophobic comments
But Kent insisted that conditions at Manly were vastly different from the predicament of the former Wallaby.
“Unlike Israel Folau, who has caused all sorts of controversy with his own views, what has happened is that the club has imposed their own policies on these players,” he said.
“These players have been accidentally caught up in this scandal and hopefully they will be protected, but they will now be under pressure through no fault of their own.”
Manly interim director Gary Wolman said the club is proud of the initiative and the message it has sent to the community.
The Sea Eagles wore a vintage kit during their loss to St George Illawarra on Friday, but the NRL has ruled out allowing players to wear an alternative jersey
“The Sea Eagles have such a rich and diverse history in rugby league and in the community,” he said at the unveiling of the jersey.
“It is a fantastic achievement to bring this concept to life with Dynasty Sport and we are delighted to be able to share such an important message that means so much to many people in the community.”
The jersey also received the endorsement of former Sea Eagles great Ian Roberts, who in 1995 became the first rugby league player to come out as gay.
“LGBTIQA people have always been part of the sport, but they haven’t always gotten the visibility,” Roberts said. “I’ve been trying for the last three years to get the NRL to have a pride round and it still doesn’t have the traction it deserves.”