Manly pride jersey saga has NRL walking a fine line to prove it really ‘is for everyone’

Amid the Ghandi quotes and the careful language, Manly coach Des Hasler said “the NRL is for everyone”.

Hasler was walking a fine line at high noon on Tuesday. He did what he could to prove his club stands by its values of diversity, while trying to avoid alienating the seven players who will not take the field in the Sea Eagles’ inclusivity jersey.

But the key phrase, the whole point of the jersey in the first place, is there in those five words. The NRL is for everyone.

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Des Hasler apologises to LGBTQ community

“Our intent was to be caring and passionate towards all diverse groups who face inclusion issues daily. But, however, instead of enhancing tolerance and acceptance we may have hindered this,” Hasler said.

“I truly hope that the communities, the NRL, our staff and our players and staff for who we have caused confusion and pain can accept our apology.

“Personally I share the views that are inclusiveness across the game and society. It is an important matter and the NRL is for everyone.”

The club has committed to wearing the strip. Just wearing it was an important move in the right direction for the club and the game, and now it has become even more powerful.

But this week we’ve seen the difficulty changes to the status quo can bring.

Of the seven players who have stood down for Thursday night’s game, six of them are of Pasifika background, as is close to half the league. In many of those communities, religion is more than just a faith or an hour they spend at mass on a Sunday, it’s a binding force for culture and family to rally around in good times and bad, and it reaches back into their past to the point they cannot imagine their lives without it, and nor would they want to.

Four male football players
Josh Schuster, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Aloiai and Jason Saab are four of the players who have refused to wear the jersey.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts and James Gourley )

Of course, it would be wrong to stereotype all Pasifika players at all clubs as being from conservative religious backgrounds, because there are plenty who would not share those beliefs or who would not be religious at all. But there are undoubtedly some who will agree with the boycotters.

Likewise, there will be other players who object to supporting LGBTQI+ inclusivity on other cultural or political grounds, and that will come to the forefront when steps like this are being taken. That is a certainty.

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