Oh rugby league, you just never fail to deliver.
In a week where you thought a ridiculous refereeing blunder, and a captain’s challenge that should have never been allowed no matter what weak explanation the NRL tries to provide, would dominate the week’s discussions, along comes Manly.
On a road paved with good intentions, the Sea Eagles caused a pile-up of epic proportions.
There is plenty of blame to go around as far as the Sea Eagles’ pride jersey debacle is concerned, and much of it lies with the club itself and the farcical way it has handled this whole process.
But feeling sorry for the seven players at the centre of the saga is a place I’m struggling to get to.
I certainly believe they should have been consulted weeks and weeks ago about the club’s plan for them to wear the pride jersey against the Roosters on Thursday night.
That consultation should have been a given because you’d think that the club’s management would have identified the potential issue if they were any kind of real leaders that understood their people.
That consultation could have included education around exactly why the club thought the jersey was important.
Unfortunately that consultation could have also resulted in Manly pulling the concept altogether, which would have been very sad.
The players hiding behind ‘religious and cultural beliefs’ as the reason for not running out on the field and doing their job on Thursday night just doesn’t wash.
Nobody is asking the players to be gay.
Nobody is suggesting wearing a jersey with a rainbow stripe on it makes them gay.
Nobody is even suggesting that wearing the jersey indicates their support for the LGBTQI+ community; because most people are smarter than that and they realise that when it comes to sponsors and marketing initiatives, which this jersey largely was, that players tend to toe-the-line.
The players in question are, in the most simplistic way to frame the argument, being asked to wear their uniform to work.
That uniform is provided by their employer, which wants to show its respect to a community that, whether those seven players like it or not, includes people who support the game of rugby league, or are employed in the game of rugby league, or indeed who play the game of rugby league.
They now know what those seven players think of them.
These players are completely unimpacted by the struggles and challenges that people in the gay community face.
They likely haven’t done an ounce of research, or even tried to understand the plight of the LGBTQI+ community.
They certainly wouldn’t understand why a rugby league club showing that it respects that community can be so important, as insignificant as it may be to them.
Maybe that’s on them, maybe that’s on the club.
But as far as us being asked to feel sorry for them? I just can’t get there.
If we’re being asked to respect their religious and cultural beliefs, then we’re being asked to respect beliefs that people should be excluded, or treated as lesser people, because of their sexual orientation. I just can’t bring myself to accept that it’s a line of thinking we should be accepting, and not pushing to change.
The fact that the Manly seven would rather sit out the game than wear a piece of material with a rainbow on it for 80 minutes says more about them and the so-called peace and inclusion they like to promote than anything else.
It is a hell of a hill to die on.
And rugby league fans deserve more of an explanation than just the old ‘cultural and religious beliefs’, which is too darn easy to hide behind.
I’d love to hear from the seven players. I’d love them to explain their views, and why this single issue is so important.
As many have pointed out this week, the players are part of a team that boasts a gambling website as its major sponsor, and plays out of a ground named after a beer.
For that matter, they play in a sport awash with gambling and alcohol advertising. People bet on their team, and them as individuals, every single week.
Why has there not been a peep from them on these issues, yet this jersey became such a problem?
Have these players previously spoken out about the sins of some of their colleagues, who have dealt with all sorts of criminal and legal matters over the years?
Even if you can’t see that you’re on the wrong side of history, and even if you can’t bring yourself to pull the jersey over your thick melons, and even if you can’t see the contradiction in your stance, surely there is part of you that at least wants to suck it up and do it for the club that you would bleed for, right?
Surely those fans in the stand mean something. Surely your coach means something, and your teammates. Even if for selfish reasons and nothing else, surely you want to run out onto 4 Pines Park and give your all for Manly.
Much has been said this week about why rugby league needed to take a “political” approach in the first place; why Manly even needed to go down this path.
It’s an argument worth having but it’s largely led by straight white men who, just like the seven Manly players, have no real understanding of the LGBTQI+ community and why it can be important for organisations and sporting clubs to go down this path.
Manly’s execution here was very poor, but in the end it was trying to open its arms with a positive message and seven players folded theirs and threw their toys out of the cot.
Many of them, and others, will form prayer circles post their games and while many watching on may not understand it, they certainly respect it. Nobody would ever suggest they shouldn’t do it.
Because as a society, respecting each other is the very fabric that holds us together. It helps us learn and grow.
Presumably those seven players want us to respect their cultural and religious beliefs, yet they also want us to accept their total disrespect of an entire community.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Breaking News Reporter. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations. In 2023, he was named Editor of the Year at the Mumbrella Publish Awards.