Macklemore and the NRL stand together for equality

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By , Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert


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    There are certain moments in your life that you remember forever. Often these are significant events featuring your loved ones or when you are given the opportunity to watch something special unfold before you.

    Sunday night at the NRL Grand Final was one of those moments for me when I watched Macklemore perform ‘Same Love’ to a crowd of over 79,000 people.

    Our country is currently at a turning point in our history. We have been asked by the government to have our say on whether same sex couples should have the opportunity to marry.

    The campaign from both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ side has been heavily politicised and featured in the media. At times I have found the words and the views shared during the campaign hurtful, distressing and uncomfortable.

    When the NRL began negotiating with Macklemore to play at the NRL Grand Final several months ago, our country was not in this position. The NRL simply invited an internationally acclaimed artist to come and perform his major hits.

    But then, once Macklemore was confirmed, our country’s situation changed and an opportunity presented itself for the NRL to stand up for something meaningful and important.

    The easy thing to do may have been to back down or to ignore the issue. But that’s not rugby league.

    Despite pressure from politicians like Tony Abbott and Pauline Hanson, on Sunday night Macklemore and the game of rugby league did not back down and I have never been prouder to be part of the game in my life.

    As the song started, the crowd applauded. During the song people raised their hands and formed love hearts with their fingers. As the song ended, Macklemore encouraged ‘equality for all’.

    Controversial? No. Political? No. Empowering? Yes.


    (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

    During the song, the big screens featured statements reminding everyone in the crowd what the NRL’s values are. The most powerful words of all were ‘we stand for courage’ and ‘we stand for inclusiveness’.

    In those couple of minutes, Macklemore helped the NRL to demonstrate that when it comes to inclusiveness the game not only talks the talk, but it also walks the walk.

    Macklemore’s song is not a political song. It is a song about equality. The issue of same-sex marriage has become politicised because our government has made it so through this plebiscite.

    Even if the fundamental question is a political one, to the people who have said to me that sport and politics should not mix, I offer this.

    Our world is a complicated and messy one. To simply say that two things should not mix together does not make it so.

    Sport touches a part of our hearts and minds that is deeply personal and emotional. Politics also often touches that very same spot.

    If you look back through history there are countless occasions where politics and sport have combined and where the power of sport has been used to make a political statement.

    For example in 1967, Muhammad Ali was convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison after he refused to be drafted into the armed forces.

    Who can forget when John Carlos and Tommie Smith looked downward and raised their fists in the air on the podium after winning medals at the Olympics in Mexico in 1968? That was one of the most powerful and recognised images in the 20th century.

    More recently, a debate has engulfed the United States about whether players should be able to kneel during the national anthem. In response to comments made by Donald Trump about this act ‘disrespecting’ the United States, many players and teams locked arms and knelt together in a form of peaceful protest against the President.

    It’s not even the first time that we have heard politically charged music at a major sporting event in Australia before. Remember when Cold Chisel played Khe Sanh in 1991, a song about a returned Vietnam veteran who struggles to return to life back home after serving in the war? I have seen footage of the crowd singing and enjoying the words to that song. What about when Tom Jones sang ‘Delilah’ at the AFL Grand Final, a song about a man who kills his girlfriend and reeks of domestic violence?

    We will never live in a world where sport and politics will not mix.

    And to be quite frank, I never want to.

    The power of sport is to use its voice to encourage and push change in our communities. I am proud that my sport is using its big voice to stand up for something important and to tell people that no matter who you are or where you come from, that you are always welcome in the rugby league family.

    Additionally, to the people complaining about Macklemore performing ‘Same Love’, I did not see similar complaints about the opportunity that the ‘no’ campaign was given to air an ad during the coverage.

    Putting all that aside, to me the question we are now being asked to answer is not a political one and it is not a religious one. It is a basic human rights question.

    Thank you to the NRL for saying that basic human rights matter and thank you to Macklemore for coming to Australia and reminding us all that love is patient, love is kind and most importantly that love is for absolutely everyone.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.