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NRL Grand Final: NRL & Macklemore deliver a timely stance on Same Sex Marriage

There is a growing furore about the NRL's stance on SSM, with detractors saying that sport is no place for politics. Bo Nicholson explains why the NRL is right.


Australia is currently in the middle of a debate that is starting to become so hateful that it is literally tearing relationships, friendships and families apart.  The debate is about whether the law should be changed so that Same-Sex couples can have Marriage Equality and enjoy the benefits of marriage that heterosexual couples can have.  The ‘yes’ camp have grown in number significantly in recent years, with many taking what they see as the moral high ground and fighting for the human rights of people that they already see as equals.  The ‘no’ Camp are sticking to religious traditions of what they see marriage as and are citing issues (such as the controversial Safe Schools Program and the upbringing of children, that have nothing to do with the debate) to justify their views.  There are good people on both sides of the argument, and from this writer’s point of view, education on the issue at hand is the key to ensuring that yes Protesters are not attacked, or that former Prime Ministers don’t have slight bumps on their lips.  

You might know me personally and you might be able to work out which way I voted in the voluntary public survey, but it is not my intention to tell readers how to vote.  I trust that everybody understands that they have the right to vote yes or no, or to not vote at all.  I also trust that people are intelligent enough to listen to arguments from both sides of the debate before making their informed decisions, which includes acknowledging what the plebiscite is or isn’t about.  Also, perhaps I should not be so trusting.  But, as written above, you’ll make your own minds up before casting your vote.  I’m here to tell you that Tony Abbott is wrong when he tweeted that ‘sport is sport’ and should not be politicised.  I’m also here to tell you that however you feel about Marriage Equality, the NRL has made the correct call in stating that they support it.

Sport is not “just sport”

We love sport and we love our Rugby League.  Nothing should take away from the efforts of the Melbourne Storm or the North Queensland Cowboys in getting to the Grand Final.  Nor should they take away from the PNG Hunters making the Intrust Super Grand Final against the Penrith Panthers, or the Sea Eagles and Eels Under 20s sides.  There is no denying that.  But some things are just bigger than sport and this is certainly not the first time that political statements are made to great effect on a sporting stage.

My mind immediately goes to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, which Jesse Owens dominated with 4 gold medals.  The only person that may have been more successful at those Olympics was Adolf Hitler, who pretty much used the Olympics as a giant propaganda piece to display how successful the Nazi-led Germany was, which was followed by the highly successful documentary Olympia by Leni Riefenstahl.  This is an example of sport and politics intertwining for evil.

My mind then goes back to 2003 Cricket World Cup, where Henry Olonga and Andrew Flower, while representing Zimbabwe, wore black armbands to ‘mourn the death of Zimbabwean democracy’, in protest of Robert Mugabe’s regime.  Andy Flower was able to land on his feet in England, while it essentially ended Olonga’s life as he knew it, receiving death threats and forced into exile.  Olonga and Flower have since been applauded for their stance because Mugabe is widely known as a dictator who committed crimes against humanity, among a string of other crimes.

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My mind also goes back to the 1968 Olympic Games held in Mexico City, where 200 Metre sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two African-American athletes who won Gold and Bronze gave a Black Power Salute during the National anthem, while Peter Norman, a White athlete from Australia, stood with them and wore a Civil Rights badge in solidarity, making him a pariah and an outcast upon his return to Australia, where he was to never run again.  Tommie Smith would later say that it wasn’t a Black Power Salute, as much as it was a Human Rights protest.

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My mind wanders back to the present day, where we see entire teams of NFL footballers ‘taking a knee’ in protest of Police killings of unarmed Black citizens of the United States.  

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color… There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder” – Colin Kaepernick

As debate rages on about whether taking a knee is the right thing to do in front of the American flag while their National Anthem is playing, the rhetoric continues to become more churlish, particularly from President Trump, while others take it as a personal insult to those that have fought in wars to defend that Nation and its flag.  One thing is clear, though; a significant portion of the population feels that there is a Human Rights violation in their country and they refuse to accept it without bringing attention to it.

Why the NRL’s ‘yes’ stance matters

You’ll notice that the above examples are rooted in racial matters and not ones that deal with sexuality.  You’ll also notice that most of the examples, particularly the ones from well in the past, are pretty easy to work out who was on the right side of history and who was on the wrong side of history.  To this writer, it is also quite predictable how the current situation in the NFL will play out, as well.

As the LGBTIQ+ community gains more strength and more of a voice, their opposition becomes louder and more cunning in their approach.  Instead of the wave of people that called Ian Roberts offensive names like ‘faggot’ or a ‘fairy’ after he became the first Rugby League star to publicly identify as gay in 1995, today detractors will object to the term ‘homophobe’ or ‘bigot’, and spin the narrative that they “do see the LGBTIQ+ as equals, BUT”….  Sadly, there’s always a ‘but’. 

When the NRL answered Ian Roberts’ pleas to announce that they support Same Sex Marriage, they immediately came under fire from the conservative right-wing, saying that sport was no place for politics.  Well, we’ve already shown that to be false.  Sport is a brilliant avenue for political statements in the same way that sports stars are excellent people to endorse products, people take notice of what they’re saying.  But it’s important to separate the political from the partisan; the NRL is not telling you how to vote, they are merely showing support to a cause.

A Positive Message

“When I was in the third grade I thought that I was gay
‘Cause I could draw, my uncle was and I kept my room straight
I told my mom, tears rushing down my face
She’s like, “Ben, you’ve loved girls since before Pre-K!”
Trippin’, yeah, I guess she had a point, didn’t she?
A bunch of stereotypes all in my head
I remember doing the math
Like, “Yeah, I’m good at little league”
A pre-conceived idea of what it all meant
For those that like the same sex had the characteristics
The right-wing conservatives think it’s a decision
And you can be cured with some treatment and religion
Man-made, rewiring of a pre-disposition” – ‘Same Love’, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

These are lyrics to ‘Same Love’, a song that topped the ARIA charts in 2012 by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the same Macklemore that will be performing at the NRL Grand Final.  When Macklemore was announced, a whole bunch of 40 or 50-somethings said “who?”.  Those same people living under a rock decided that it would be better to ignore an artist who appeals to a younger audience in favour of bringing out an old favourite rocker like Jimmy Barnes for the umpteenth time.  But, it’s happening, and it might be coincidence, but Macklemore is going to perform a song that was used as an unofficial anthem for Marriage Equality in the USA in 2015.  But, again, let’s separate the political and the partisan.  The NRL and Macklemore are not telling you how to vote, they are supporting a cause and the people affected by it.

I’m a Cowboys fan, and at the 2015 Grand Final there was another Cowboys fan about 4 rows back from me.  He’s a Townsville bloke who loves his Cowboys and can tell you more obscure facts about V8 Supercars than anyone cares to ask him.  Oh, and he’s also gay.  As that Field Goal from Thurston went over, I screamed so loud and still couldn’t hear myself, and turned around to see him doing the exact same thing, before heading up to join him for a huge hug with his other mates.  The NRL supporting the ‘yes’ campaign is not to convince ‘No Voters’ to change their minds or to alienate them; it is to show people like my friend that the game that they love supports them.  That they see them as just as important as a young boy that plays the game at under 7’s or the woman that does the tuckshop at the local footy ground or the 80-year-old grandfather who has been a Sharks member since 1967.  It also shows that the game has their back.  That they don’t support bullying of people, not just because of sexuality or gender, but for any reason.

People struggle with gender identity and sexuality at a young age, some as young as primary school.  These people are bullied into believing that they are freaks.  All the negative rhetoric around this issue only reinforces those beliefs and are helpful to absolutely nobody.  Vote no if your heart desires, it is your democratic right.  But leave the NRL  to support the people that need it the most in our society (be it Indigenous people, victims of domestic violence or people in the LGBTIQ+ community).

If, like former first-grader Tony Wall, you are so horrified that the sport you love is promoting a love for all people, whether they are adult or child, black or white, man or woman or a member of the LGBTIQ+ community, that you want to sign a petition that states that Macklemore shouldn’t perform because it makes you uncomfortable, then frankly, the game is better off without you.  The Grand Final will be a wonderful spectacle and I hope that we are treated to a wonderful game of football and a debate on Same Sex Marriage that is respectful to both sides, but particularly to people that have been bullied for most of their lives over something that they can’t control.  Well done, NRL.  Well done!

Are the NRL right in making a public stance on issues like Same Sex Marriage? Let us know in the comments below.

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Bo Nicholson

29 from Brisbane, Australia.

Cricket and Rugby League Writer for RealSport.

Film Reviewer for Snob Bo Reviews (http://snobbomoviereviews.tumblr.com/ and https://soundcloud.com/bo-nicholson ).

Also a Support Worker, working with people who have intellectual disabilities.

NRL Grand Final: NRL & Macklemore deliver a timely stance on Same Sex Marriage

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