The Manly Warringah Sea Eagles pride jersey (Image: AAP/Supplied by Manly Warringah Sea Eagles)
The Manly Warringah Sea Eagles pride jersey (Image: AAP/Supplied by Manly Warringah Sea Eagles)

The Manly Sea Eagles jersey controversy began as another one of those silly and unnecessary culture skirmishes that sports clubs get us into. But it has very rapidly become a major example of an expression of prejudice alive in our society today. Trouble is, the prejudice is the implicit and explicit condescending racism directed towards the seven players (six being Islanders and one of Nigerian and Indigenous Australian descent) who have refused to play in a “pride” jersey tonight.

The initial impetus seemed to be to construct the seven as severe and persecutory, in the Israel Folau mould. That was clearly over the top. So the line changed — and became worse. Now, in op-eds and comments they were treated, mainly by progressives, as grinning idiots, too simple to know their own minds and led astray by either a sinister mind-cult or by colonialism or both.

How on earth did an exercise in tolerance and inclusivity come to this?

The root cause is surely the contradictory ways in which the notion of “pride” is understood. The geniuses at Manly-Warringah came up with the “pride” thing and didn’t tell the players before announcing it. Had they done so, they might have got an education.

The “pride” and “rainbow” themes have been so overused, now largely in corporate settings, that their original assertive content has been lost. That was that the message was one not merely of social tolerance but also of radical equality. It was the proposition that all sexualities were to be equally welcomed and regarded as legitimate.

Many Christians of a certain type don’t believe that, but the idea is now so generalised as a social belief — falsely seen as identical with mere “tolerance” — that many find it hard to distinguish. A distinct, secular, content-rich idea about sexuality came to be regarded as something no one could reasonably object to supporting.

When Folau arked up at this, it was with a fire-breathing ad warning homosexuals of hellfire. He was hit by such a fusillade of hate, mainly from white people, that some POC writers became concerned at a pretty basic racism being generated. The response was not to defend Folau as an independent conscience capable of saying hateful things, but as someone whose Islander heritage had been distorted by the extensive spread of missionary Christianity through the Pacific. Folau himself wasn’t hateful; in a new version of the “noble savage” idea, his true pre-colonial self had been distorted.

In this iteration, the colonialist argument seems to have been resorted to early, mostly by those seemingly trying to defend it. In The Sydney Morning Herald, academic Jioji Ravulo simultaneously described the players’ actions as attributable to “conservative family values and a deep commitment to the Christian faith”, but then dismissed it as “fear for the queer” — and recounted a more than usually simplistic “noble savage” account of pre-colonial life. Alas, poor corrupted boy-babies. In Michael West Media, Mark Sawyer suggested that the players’ beliefs were implanted:

The Methodist missionaries that led the colonists in the 19th century embedded a belief system that has, in the 21st century, engendered communal solidarity. Christianity is a crucial part of the Islander identity…

Here, Michael Bradley made the infantilisation of players explicit:

We’d be wiser to take a long view on this. We know where the arc of progress goes. Let the players sit the game out; they can wear their prejudice with pride. Ultimately, what no doubt feels to them to be a stand, will prove to have been merely a footnote.

Bless the little children.

Can these people hear themselves? Why is it so impossible to simply admit that a group of people have a consistent and well-formed belief system, which has certain necessary moral consequences for them? The “colonialism” argument, trying to square the circle — dealing with people who don’t fit into the notion of a progressive coalition — fundamentally dehumanises the players themselves, reinscribing the very logic that powered colonialism in the first place.

There are several things going on here. The first is that there’s a hierarchy of oppression within progressivism, in which LGBTIQA+ is at the apex. If there’s a contradiction between two groups, the other must be constructed as an object, not a subject, to resolve any conflict of beliefs. They know not what they think.

The second is that constructing the seven players as brainwashed, backward or children means we don’t have to confront what their actual act was in resistance of. They have made no statement opposing tolerance or legality of same-sex acts; what they have explicitly rejected is the “pride” notion: that everyone should see all sexualities or identities as equally to be preferred.

That is very confronting for some, not least because one suspects that many people still hold some form of that value, usually expressed in regards to their children — that they love them whatever, but would prefer they turned out straight, had babies, etc. Many people who voted yes in the plebiscite would hold that view, with varying degrees of intensity.

There is no reason to suppose that view has disappeared, or will any time soon, since it is bound up with family, continuity, and the way in which marriage and childbirth are the points at which nature meets culture, in any culture. Really, quite likely radical equivalence, the rainbow notion, will only ever spread fully among the knowledge class as an expression of their class position.

So the inclusivists, the diversivists, in sport or wherever, have got it all wrong. By turning an issue of moral choice into contractual compliance and ideological campaigning, they have produced an enormous amount of hurt, anger and unnecessary conflict.

When are such people going to learn that there is only one way in which a complex, multicultural society can get along: with a “values pluralism” that demands tolerance of others in your public actions, and leaves your beliefs, affiliations and affirmations, within a sphere of privacy in all but some rare cases. There is no other possible way to run complex societies, except explicit monocultural assimilation from birth. You commit to pluralism once you renounce such totalitarian social forms. And the “pride” push, in this case, has an edge of totalitarianism about it.

The independent-minded people in this whole mess are the seven players. They’re earning good money, under contract to obey directions — and they consulted their conscience and found they couldn’t do it, though knowing what uproar it would create.

The very murky nature of sports, race and “ownership” is at play here; Manly-Warringah has basically run this like some 19th-century plantation whose owners are Fabians, reading Bernard Shaw, teaching the peons badminton. They annihilate native culture for Christianity, then annihilate native Christian culture for “diversity”. Every new missionary damns the last. And the truly brainwashed are the progressives who have fallen into lockstep against them, and fallen short of the independence of thought and courage that modernity demands.