Ian Roberts on Manly Sea Eagles pride jersey fiasco, annual pride round plans

Gay rugby league icon Ian Roberts fears the furore around Manly’s pride jersey will contribute to the suicide of young LGBTQ people.

Roberts’ serious warning followed the decision of several Sea Eagles players to refuse to wear a jersey which features a rainbow to celebrate the club’s inaugural Everyone In League initiative.

In what turned into an embarrassing saga for the club, head coach Des Hasler and captain Daly Cherry-Evans were forced to front a large media pack on Tuesday where Hasler apologized for “mistakes” made in not properly consulting players.

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The unfortunate impact is the negative attention that has now been placed on an event that was designed to embrace marginalized LGBTQ communities.

Roberts came out in 1995, and to this day is the only male professional rugby league player in the world to do so.

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“This is very personal to me as an older gay person, because I’ve lost friends to suicide,” an emotional Roberts told media on Tuesday.

“I wish I could sit around a table with those players and explain that unfortunately there are kids out in the suburbs, out in the regions today, who might not have heard many stories in the last month, but I can promise you they heard this story.

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“They are the types of consequences that come when there is pushback with stuff like this, this is what prejudice and discrimination do.

“I was unsurprised that there was going to be pushback, and it kind of saddens me. I think of the far-reaching consequences… this is brutal language to hear, but there are kids in the suburbs killing themselves.

“They are the type of consequences we’re talking about.”

Roberts has been lobbying the NRL for a number of years to introduce an annual Pride Round, in the same vain as the existing Indigenous Round and Women In League Round.

ARLC chairman Peter V’landys on Tuesday confirmed a Pride Round will be initiated as early as next season.

But this week’s saga shows there will be resistance from a faction of NRL players when that time comes.

Roberts wants to help educate all people on the importance of such initiatives, and work together to reach a happy medium.

“I totally respect their view, but there needs to be a conversation. We need to sit around and talk civilly to each other,” he said.

“While I’m disappointed I can also see this as a positive, because this is a starting point again for the NRL to have these conversations about what a Pride Round is all about, the essence of what a Pride Round is.

“As an older gay man, this is not unfamiliar. That’s all I can say. We need these Pride Rounds… education is what it’s all about.”

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