Ian Roberts speaks on NRL pride controversy

Ian Roberts speaks on NRL pride controversy

My heart breaks that seven players from my old club of Manly refuse to wear rainbow jerseys to celebrate inclusivity. This is a difficult conversation we have to have and I am here for it. Allow me to work my way towards conversing with those players. I am trying not to be angry.

From my side, I am a proud gay man. It was never a choice I made. I was born gay, I have lived gay, and I am proud to proclaim I am gay. But it was tough, early, and if there is anything that motivates me speaking out in this conversation it is the knowledge that there are still so many young people out there suffering for their own sexuality, and what I really want at the end of this conversation is for them to be stronger, to know they are not alone, they are not abnormal, that they have support.

Ian Roberts during his playing days at Manly in the 1990s and, inset, the club’s pride jersey.Credit:Getty Images, Supplied

So, to the Manly club, thank you for the initiative on the jerseys. Your heart was in the right place, and you operated from a place of love. We need more initiatives exactly like this and it is through such actions that we change the world.

Sport is political, and it can change the world, the way the Olympian Peter Norman did supporting the Black Power salutes, the way Nicky Winmar did, the way Cathy Freeman did. This is our turn.

Yes, Manly, there has been a backlash to your actions on the jersey, but it does not change the fact that your intentions were good.

To Des Hasler, the Manly coach and my old teammate – you couldn’t have done more. You supported me when I came out as gay long ago, though you’d known about it before that, and you have supported me since. This must have been very difficult for you, and I appreciate how you’ve done everything you can to put it right.

To all the people in the gay community who have reached out to me on this issue, thank you, and I understand your outrage. I feel some of it too, but we have to contain it. We have to keep having this conversation. We have come so far, and the only way forward in situations like this is to keep moving without giving way to too much anger. We need to make people like these players understand that we are not a threat, that we are people just like them.

To the NRL, I confess my disappointment. You have been so strong in so many areas, and never more than back in 2017 when you had Macklemore sing Same Love at the grand finale. I will never forget the 80,000 NRL fans singing along. As I said to the NRL CEO Todd Greenberg immediately afterwards: “This will save lives!”

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