‘We’re committed to the jersey’: Manly owner won’t change rainbow jumper

Manly owner Scott Penn has broken his silence on the club’s inclusivity jersey saga, adamant the Sea Eagles won’t walk away from wearing the rainbow-themed jersey and highlighting his desire for the seven players who will boycott wearing it not to be considered “outcasts”.

Just a day after their season descended into chaos with almost half the team telling Manly they won’t play in a crucial clash against the Roosters on Thursday night, Penn said the Sea Eagles wanted to be known as a club where people from all walks of life are welcome.

Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolu Koula and Toafofoa Sipley told Manly officials in emergency talks on Monday night they were opposed to wearing the jersey on religious and cultural beliefs.

None will play at 4 Pines Park against the Roosters, who are currently only ahead of Manly in eighth place – the last finals spot – on points differential.

The players claim they weren’t consulted about wearing the jumper, which was modelled by teammates Kieran Foran, Reuben Garrick and Sean Keppie before its official launch on Monday.

But Penn, who is also chairman of the club, said Manly remained committed to wearing the jersey, which features rainbow trimming on the collar and sleeves as well as across the usual place for white trimming on the front of jumper.

Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Haumole Olakau’atu, Josh Aloiai and Josh Schuster are five of the seven Manly players who have withdrawn from Thursday’s clash with the Roosters.Credit:Getty/NRL Photos

“It was totally an inclusivity and diversity jersey,” Penn told the Herald from New York. “It was never just about pride. It was about saying we want everyone in the game and making them feel they can get involved. Players have been put in a tough position.

“We’re not going to force them to play, but we’re committed to the jersey and we’re committed to inclusion. We’re not walking away from our position. And we respect their beliefs.

“It’s just disappointing we’re here. We don’t want those players to be outcasts, but as a club we celebrate and support everyone. We have only done this from a good-hearted point of view.”

ARLC chairman Peter V’landys backed Penn’s inclusive stance but admitted mistakes were made in the handling of the situation.

Sean Keppie, Kieran Foran and Reuben Garrick model the rainbow jersey.Credit:Manly Media

“It should have been done collaboratively,” he told 2GB. “I’m the first person that doesn’t want sport to be politicised because we go to sport to escape the day-to-day problems. So we don’t want to have politics involved. But this isn’t politics, recognising and respecting fellow human beings and being inclusive, I do not believe is political.

“We respect everyone. It doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is, what your belief in marriage is, what your race is, what your colour is, we respect you as a human being. The game’s policy has been that for many years, and it won’t change.”

Coach Des Hasler has told the players he respects their decision, and will join Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans addressing the media on Tuesday.

The NRL told the club it wouldn’t allow players to wear different versions of the Sea Eagles jersey, meaning the seven objectors needed to pull on the inclusivity jersey or miss the crucial game.

“We own it,” Penn said. “This was to celebrate everyone, that was the whole point of it. We don’t want to put our players in a difficult position, but we’re committed to the team playing in it – and we’re standing strong by that. We’re an inclusive club and continue to be.”

Manly legend Ian Roberts, who came out as gay during his playing days in the 1990s, said the decision by a group of the club’s players “didn’t totally shock him”.

Betting has been suspended on the crucial clash, with bookmakers including the TAB, Sportsbet and Manly sponsors PointsBet all listing Friday’s Warriors-Storm clash as the opening match of the round on Tuesday morning.

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