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 One Love at the grand final. 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!”
And it really has.
But where have you been lately? I’ve been at you for the past five years to have a Pride Round and you talked for a bit, and said it was a great proposal of mine, but then the conversation suddenly stopped. Doesn’t this latest episode show that there is still work to be done in our football community on this? We need a Pride Round. It’s about celebration and inclusion and it’s about welcoming people and letting people know that they’re worthy of being a part of this great game.
Other codes have moved on this. Why haven’t we?
And finally, to you players who are refusing to wear the rainbow jersey. I don’t want to take a sword to you. I am trying to understand your position. I ask you to understand mine, and that of the gay community.
There are three things that are most important.
First, and I repeat: we were born gay. We had no choice in the matter. It is your right to pursue whatever faith you like. But if your belief is that we have made the wrong choices in life, because we chose to be gay, then you are simply wrong. There was no choice. We are gay.
The second thing is this, and you need to understand it: Teenagers are dying. Kids are killing themselves in the suburbs. They are taking their lives because they think the world hates them for being gay. Episodes like this don’t help. Do you get that? I implore you to reconsider your position on this. It makes an enormous difference to them.
Thirdly, this is about simple respect. You live lives where you are respected in many ways for the fine football you play. Can you not understand the pain visited upon gay people who, no matter what they do, are disrespected simply for being gay? The simple fact is, your actions have added to that disrespect. We want, and deserve, the same respect we extend to you.
Again, we need to keep talking. I’d love to sit down with all of you. I am available, if you are. Let’s talk.
The Opinion newsletter is a weekly wrap of views that will challenge, champion and inform your own. Sign up here.
Most Viewed in Sport
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article