Ex-rugby pro says there’s ‘gayer’ things happening in changing rooms than rainbow-coloured jerseys

Keegan Hirst in a suit side-by-side next to the Manly Pride Jersey

Former rugby league pro Keegan Hirst has ridiculed the seven Manly Warringah Sea Eagles players staging a boycott over an LGBTQ+ Pride jersey.

Seven Manly players decided they would rather forgo a match on Thursday (28 July) rather than play wearing a jersey with the colours of the Pride flag.

The players cited “religious and cultural concerns”, with Manly owner Scott Penn saying that while he was “disappointed”, there would be no repercussions for the seven.

Keegan Hirst, who come out as gay in 2015, was among those to share in Penn’s disappointment.

“I’d be interested to hear what… religious and cultural beliefs stop you wearing a shirt with a rainbow on but not one that promotes gambling etc,” he tweeted on Wednesday (27 July).

He tagged the team in a second tweet, adding: “Hey [Sea Eagles], I’d be honoured to wear your Pride shirt. As should all your players. Shame on the ones who aren’t.

“The ironic thing about the [Sea Eagles] Pride/player boycott saga is that I know what goes on in RL changing rooms,” he continued in a separate tweet. “And a lot of it would be seen as being MUCH ‘gayer’ than a rainbow on a jersey…”

Hirst was one of the first British professional rugby league players to come out as gay in 2015, while he was playing for the Batley Bulldogs. After the indefinite suspension of the 2020 RFL Championship season due to COVID-19, he retired from the games altogether.

After he weighed in on the Manly row, Hirst received a predictable set of anti-LGBTQ+ responses, with some suggesting that the community is “forcing” its beliefs on players.

Hirst emphasised that LGBTQ+ identities aren’t beliefs, and that “if religious beliefs meant someone wouldn’t play with Black players, would we say ‘it’s their religion, it’s OK.’ No, we wouldn’t.”

One troll argued there is no need for LGBTQ+ Pride because everyone is equal and there is “no such person as a gay person”.

Hirst hit back: “I wish that were the case. Unfortunately people are not treated equally. Gay people are frequently ostracised, ridiculed, beaten and even killed simply for being gay.”

To another – who claimed that “forcing” players to wear the jersey was akin to forcing “non-religious people in workplaces to wear veils and kippahs” – he said: “This has nothing to do with the shirt and everything to do with homophobia.”

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles players Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Hamumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofa Sipley boycotted Thursday’s match against the Sydney Roosters. The game went ahead without them.

Kieran Foran of the Sea Eagles runs onto the field before the round 20 NRL match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the Sydney Roosters at 4 Pines Park.

Kieran Foran of the Sea Eagles runs onto the field before the round 20 NRL match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the Sydney Roosters at 4 Pines Park. (Getty/Cameron Spencer)

Head coach Des Hasler confirmed that the seven players and the rest of the team were not aware of the jersey prior to their announcement and apologised for the club’s “mishandling” of the situation.

He confirmed that the club would continue to wear the Pride shirts, which they did on Thursday.

“The intent of the rainbow colour application of our jersey was to represent diversity and inclusion for all, utilising the symbol colours of Pride to embrace all groups who feel marginalised and faced discrimination and have a suppressed share of voice,” Hasler said.

Manly owner Scott Penn confirmed that there would be no obligation for players to play wearing the jersey, but said that the controversy was “disappointing” nonetheless.

He told the Sydney Herald that: “We’re not walking away from our position. And we respect their beliefs. We don’t want those players to be outcasts, but as a club, we celebrate and support everyone.”