Ian Roberts has secured a commitment for the NRL to publicly support same-sex marriage. Picture: Richard Dobson
Ian Roberts has secured a commitment for the NRL to publicly support same-sex marriage. Picture: Richard Dobson

NRL backs gay ‘yes’ vote

IN his NRL playing days Ian Roberts was the toughest and most fearless forward of his era.

On Friday afternoon he broke down and cried.

A telephone call from the NRL confirmed the code would publicly support the same sex marriage campaign as Australians prepare to vote.

"I have tears in my eyes mate," he said, "I've never felt so proud about our game. This will save lives. This is a moment in time that will be remembered forever."

A week earlier Roberts had made an impassioned plea via email to NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg to get on board.

The 52-year-old actor, who played 13 Tests for the Kangaroos and nine Origin games for the NSW Blues, was the first rugby league player to come out publicly 25 years ago.

Marriage rights has been a passion of his following the suicide deaths of four close mates who struggled with the stigma attached to their sexuality.

But it was the death of 13-year-old schoolboy Tyrone Unsworth earlier this year in Queensland that convinced Roberts to take his campaign to the NRL.

Tyrone Unsworth.
Tyrone Unsworth.

"The poor kid was bullied at school for being gay," Roberts said, "That's what triggered me into doing this. His passing will not be in vain."

"This move by the NRL will save lives," he said.

"There is a place for everyone in our game."

"Rugby league has been so strong in breaking down barriers and raising awareness about many issues, whether it's to do with indigenous Australians or domestic violence against women.

"It's about saving lives because that's the power our game has."

For Roberts this is bigger than winning a premiership, a Test match or an Origin game.

Or landing a gig in a movie.

"Nothing I've done in the past is in the same ball park," he says, "We're talking about young lives. "I've had friends who have died from the knock-on effects of discrimination.

"Feeling alone. Rejected by their families, that sort of thing.

"There's kids in the suburbs killing themselves.

"I feel so proud for the game. They've said its ok now. It's a huge thing and I can't thank the NRL enough"

Roberts is undecided if he will marry his long-time partner Daniel if the vote is approved.

"My partner and I have been together for 11 years now," he said, "I've grown up thinking this is never going to happen. So I'm not prepared for it.

"We'll think about it if it gets passed. It's not just about the word marriage. It's about equality."

Greenberg said one of the key pillars of rugby league is inclusiveness and the game had a duty to back up its policy with action.

"There is a place for everyone in our game," Greenberg said.

"It might be as a junior, as a volunteer, as a match official or as an NRL player.

"And we need to treat everyone equally both on and off the field and that's why we will publicly support the same-sex marriage proposal."

Ian Roberts with his partner of 11 years, Daniel.
Ian Roberts with his partner of 11 years, Daniel.

IAN ROBERTS' EMAIL TO THE NRL

Hi Todd

It's Ian Roberts here. I hope this finds you and your family well.

I appreciate it's a busy time for you and the staff at the NRL with the finals about to start but the exposure the game is receiving right now is why I am contacting you. It's one that's very personal to me but, more importantly, one that could save lives.

Hopefully, you're aware of the High Court challenge that begins today to the same-sex marriage postal plebiscite. I'm in the process of drafting a letter to all the major sporting bodies asking them to support same-sex marriage and to make that support public. I'm planning on sending out those requests to the other major sporting bodies in the coming weeks.

But I would love the NRL to take the lead and be the first. Not for the sake of being first but for the simple reason is that it's the right thing to do.

As you know, I came out publicly 25 years ago. The ARL failed to make the most of that moment. They could have been on the front foot, leading the way for all sporting bodies, and not just sporting bodies but for all major corporations. The ARL chose to ignore that opportunity because it was an awkward conversation to be having back in 1994.

It's not awkward any longer - it is a necessary one. I don't want the game I love to again miss this moment in history. This is about being brave. It's about doing the right thing. It's about saving lives because that's the power our game has. It is a game for everyone.

An announcement from you, on behalf of rugby league, before the High Court decision is handed down would send a strong message. The postal vote is due to start on September 12 so there isn't much time.

Rugby league has been so strong in breaking down barriers and raising awareness about many issues, whether it's to do with indigenous Australians or domestic violence against women.

It can be the leader again. It's one thing to have a float in the Mardi Gras parade but this is different. So I'm appealing to you to take control and show the NRL it legitimately takes pride in supporting same-sex marriage. As I said, that it's a game for everyone.

I am hopeful of hearing from you soon. I can be contacted on XXXXXXXXXXX at any stage to discuss.

Regards, Todd

Ian Roberts

News Corp Australia


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