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Manly’s good gesture gone wrong

In case you missed it, the Manly Sea Eagles NRL team made headlines this week following the release of their new Pride Jersey, which features a rainbow strip in support of the LGBTQIA+ community. The jersey was met with backlash shortly after its announcement, with seven team players refusing to wear it due to their religious beliefs, boycotting their next match against the Sydney Roosters.


Influencers, celebrities and fellow NRL players flooded social media sharing their disdain and calling out the players’ decision, with their followers agreeing it was a discriminatory action. 


Abbie Chatfield, queer influencer and media personality, has been very vocal about the decision on both her radio show and podcast. She used the platforms to call out the players, accusing them of being weak, fragile and homophobic.


“It’s just embarrassing for them, sorry you are so weak and fragile that you can’t handle having a strip of rainbow across your chest and on your neck, to support communities who aren’t included most of the time,” Chatfield said, “if you’re going to be outwardly homophobic in 2022, and be so scared of a rainbow stripe on a jersey, maybe you’re not brave enough to play sport.” 


Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson shared his views too saying, “for us in 2022 to not be inclusive and not say it is ok to be who you are is unacceptable…We need to move towards a better place…I want to say that we are inclusive, we do accept you for who you are and we care about you, and we need to move forward in that way.”


Manly Sea Eagles great  Ian Roberts raised concerns about the consequences this could have on the greater LGBTQIA+ community. “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,” Roberts said. “They are the types of consequences that come when there is pushback with stuff like this, this is what prejudice and discrimination does.”


Following the outcry from both the NRL and wider community, Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys stated the NRL would consider holding a pride round in the future.


Cronulla Sharks player Toby Rudolf shared his support for this idea, stating he is against any kind of discrimination when it comes to the game. Revealing his own sexuality to The Sydney Morning Herald, Rudolf said, “sexuality is very fluid. I’ve been out and kissed many gay men, kissed many straight women and kissed many gay women, I’m not a one-stop shop. Love is love, and I love to share it with everyone.”


In an unexpected yet favourable outcome, Manly Sea Eagles owner Scott Penn announced today the jersey would be back again next year, and that all players, including the seven making headlines, would be wearing it. Penn claimed the players were, “somewhat frustrated that it went as far as it did without consultation.” Going on to say that, “we’re all about inclusiveness, so we will continue this theme.” 


As PR professionals and crisis management experts, it seems there were some steps missed ahead of the original announcement. Whether that be written contracts requiring players to support initiatives such as this, or a simple consultation with players prior to implementing, they seem to have straightened it all out now.


Communication is always key, and it could have saved the PR headache Manly is dealing with as a result.

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