Manly Sea Eagles owner Scott Penn: Meet rugby league’s rainbow warrior
The Harvard-educated millionaire owner of the Manly Sea Eagles has called in from the world’s woke capital of New York to insist his team is committed to its ‘inclusivity and diversity jersey’ – despite several of his team’s stars standing down due to religious objections.
‘It was totally an inclusivity and diversity jersey,’ Scott Penn told the Sydney Morning Herald, from his home in Brooklyn, New York, where he spends six months of the year.
‘It was never just about pride. It was about saying we want everyone in the game and making them feel they can get involved.’
His comments came as seven Sea Eagles players threatened to boycott Thursday’s crunch NRL match against the Sydney Roosters rather than wear the jersey.
Mr Penn – who has previously called for a ‘wellness revolution’ in Australia – admitted the players were in a difficult position but insisted the club was committed to the jersey.
He made the comments from his home in New York, which he shares with his wife Nicole and children Isabella and Jack.
The Harvard graduate, who also attended Knox Grammar, is the CEO of Digital Wellness, a company worth more than $200 million that claims to ‘power the world’s most renowned and trusted weight loss programs’.
Manly Sea Eagles owner and ‘wellness’ guru Scott Penn (pictured with wife Nicole) has admitted the players have been put in a ‘tough position’ over new ‘inclusivity jersey’
The Sea Eagles unveiled the jersey – called Everyone in League – on Monday to promote inclusivity of LGBT+ people in the NRL
Mr Penn made the comments from his home in New York, which he shares with his wife Nicole and children Isabella and Jack
The Penn family have owned 40% of the Sea Eagles since 2006, before snapping up the entire club in 2014
His glamorous wife is the CEO of New York marketing firm EGC Group, having served as managing partner for 22 years. Like her husband, she is also a Harvard graduate.
Photos on her Facebook page show the family posing happily in New York, with Mr Penn previously describing how the family experienced the pandemic there.
The Penn family have owned 40% of the Sea Eagles since 2006, before snapping up the entire club in 2014.
Mr Penn claims to be a passionate advocate for ‘wellness’ and has called for a ‘wellness revolution’ to completely change the way society thinks about food and weight.
‘As a teenager I ate constantly, often making poor choices, and within a few years, I went from being a fast rugby winger to a plodding front-row forward. All because of a lack of balance and knowledge in what I was eating, Mr Penn explained in an article on the so-called wellness revolution.
‘Obesity is a major contributor to life-changing and life-ending conditions like heart disease and diabetes, conditions that have risen alongside obesity levels. If we’re going to live longer, the last thing we want is to have our physical body letting us down in our last 30 years.
Mr Penn is a Harvard graduate who also attended Knox Grammar and is also the CEO of Digital Wellness, a company that claims to ‘power the world’s most renowned and trusted weight loss programs’
‘Living longer, but in misery, doesn’t sound pleasant. To avoid this, we need to shift the way society as a whole thinks about weight and wellness.
‘We need a Wellness Revolution.’
In another interview, he said: ‘I personally was an overweight teenager and I’ve spent my last 25 years in this space, it really is my passion.’
Digital Wellness has an approximate valuation of between $US120m to $US150m.
‘A lot of people said why am I running both a health business and a football team, but the reality is that they’re both all about playing at an elite level,’ Mr Penn told the Australian.
‘With the football team you have elite athletes who have to perform every single week in order to achieve the ultimate premiership, which is to win a championship, and we’ve got that same mindset with the health business.
‘We’ve got to make sure that every interaction we have with a member or patient is as good as it can possibly be or they won’t come back. And same with the team performance on the field, if they’re not playing well the crowd won’t come back. So fundamentally it’s all about numbers and trends and giving people what they want.’
Speaking about how he led the privatisation of the Sea Eagles in 2004, Mr Penn previously said his experience in the US drove him.
‘I spent about eight weeks a year in the US for a six-year period, and I saw private ownership of teams over there, and always on the plane trip coming back, I’d think, ‘Why aren’t any of the NRL teams privatised?’,’ Penn said at the time. ‘With Super League, pokie tax, and leagues clubs not being able to fund clubs as much as they used to, it had to happen.’
In April, Mr Penn announced that his firm’s Mayo Clinic Diet app was being launched globally and targeting $100m in revenue by 2025.
The owner insisted his team were sticking by the jersey – but admitted the move had put the players in a tough position
The app program is already the third largest in the Australian online weight loss market and the Sea Eagles wants to spread its popularity through North America.
Though Mr Penn has been the main driver of his family’s interests in Manly, his father Rick is the head of the family.
Rick is the former CEO of Weight Watchers Australia and New Zealand and is one of the richest businessmen in the country.
Rick and his wife Heather helped launch aerobics in Australia in the late 1970s before moving onto Weight Watchers in the mid-1980s.
The older Mr Penn is also thought to be a key figure in anti-obesity lobbying in Australia.
Now, the Penn family – who have pumped an estimated $20 million into Manly over the years – are back in the limelight amid the row over the jersey.
The Sea Eagles unveiled the pride jersey – called Everyone in League – on Monday to promote inclusivity of LGBT + people in the NRL.
But star players Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley refused to wear it on Thursday, saying it would be against their religious beliefs.
Manly wingers Jason Saab (left) and Christian Tuipulotu (right) are among the players who oppose wearing the jersey on religious grounds
ARLC chairman Peter V’landys (pictured) later downplayed the latest off-field saga to rock the NRL and insists it’s not a political issue
The players’ decision to skip the game over the jersey has sparked an outpouring of public outrage, including from their own fans and club legends, while others have supported their freedom of religious beliefs.
Mr Penn has admitted the players have been put in a ‘tough position’ but insisted the club are ‘committed’ to the jersey.
‘We’re not going to force them to play, but we’re committed to the jersey and we’re committed to inclusion. We’re not walking away from our position. And we respect their beliefs,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald from New York.
‘It’s just disappointing we’re here. We don’t want those players to be outcasts, but as a club we celebrate and support everyone. We have only done this from a good-hearted point of view.
‘We own it. This was to celebrate everyone, that was the whole point of it. We don’t want to put our players in a difficult position, but we’re committed to the team playing in it – and we’re standing strong by that. We’re an inclusive club and continue to be.’
It has since been reported that three players have changed their mind and will play this week following an emergency meeting.
‘Of the seven players who are refusing to wear the jersey, at least three now have had a bit of a change of heart and are considering wearing the pride jersey for this upcoming round,’ reporter Michelle Bishop told Channel 7’s Sunrise on Tuesday morning.
KIIS FM breakfast hosts Kyle and Jackie 0 weighed into the controversial debate on Tuesday morning, saying they didn’t believe religion was the real issue.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called for the saga to be resolved.
‘I hope this is resolved. It’s a good thing that sport is more inclusive. It is important that in Australian society we respect everyone for who they are,’ he told reporters on Tuesday.
ARLC chairman Peter V’landys later downplayed the latest off-field saga. He respected the players’ decision, despite expressing his disappointment.
‘The game prides itself on treating everyone as a human being, no matter what their race, colour or sexual orientation,’ V’Landys told 2GB’s Ben Fordham on Tuesday.
‘We’re all human beings at the end of the day.’
‘Rugby league is the greatest game for all. It’s inclusive. But at the same time you have to respect people’s religious beliefs and cultural beliefs.
‘Those players are taking a stand and they’ve got every right to – they’ve got freedoms to do so. We live in a free country.’
‘But as far as the game is concerned, we pride ourselves on being inclusive and welcoming everybody, no matter their race, colour or sexual orientation.’
Mr V’landys denied suggestions the boycotting players are being excluded for not being inclusive.
‘Everyone knows the position of the game. Everyone knows it’s the greatest game for all,’ he argued.
‘If you don’t want to be inclusive and you don’t want recognise we’re all human beings and we’re all the same, you’ve got the right to stand down. But the game will always be there for everyone.’
He conceded the Sea Eagles should have consulted the team more collaboratively but said players have a choice.
‘I don’t think this is a political issue,’ Mr V’landys said.
”I’m the first person who doesn’t want sport to be politicised because we go to sport to escape the day to day problems so we don’t want politics involved.
‘Recognising and respecting fellow human beings and being inclusive I do not believe is political. But at the same time, I respect people have personal freedoms and they’ve got a choice.’
Three Manly players ‘backlip’ on religious boycott of crucial game over LGBT pride jersey – as gay club legend says dispute that has torn the club in two ‘breaks my heart’
By Levi Parsons and Dan Cancian for Daily Mail Australia
Three Manly players have reportedly backflipped on their decision to boycott Thursday’s crunch match against the Sydney Roosters because of the club’s rainbow-striped gay pride jersey.
The Sea Eagles unveiled the jumper – called Everyone in League – on Monday to promote inclusivity of LGBT+ people in the NRL.
But star players Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley on Monday night said they would refuse to run out wearing the ‘inclusive’ jersey on religious grounds.
The players had an emergency meeting with club officials to try to reach a compromise, but outright refused to wear the strip, meaning the club could be forced to promote seven reserve-grade players to make up numbers.
But on Tuesday morning 7News reported three of the seven players were considering a change of heart.
‘Of the seven players who are refusing to wear the jersey, at least three now have had a bit of a change of heart and are considering wearing the pride jersey for this upcoming round,’ reporter Michelle Bishop told Sunrise.
Club legend Ian Roberts, who in 1995 was the first-ever rugby league player to come out as gay, said the embarrassing situation will be felt most by the area’s LGBTQI+ community.
‘I try to see it from all perspectives but this breaks my heart,’ Roberts told the Daily Telegraph.
‘It’s sad and uncomfortable. As an older gay man, this isn’t unfamiliar. I did wonder whether there would be any religious push back. That’s why I think the NRL have never had a Pride round.
‘I can promise you every young kid on the northern beaches who is dealing with their sexuality would have heard about this.’
Club legend Ian Roberts, who in 1995 was the first-ever rugby league player to come out as gay, said the embarrassing situation will be felt most by the area’s LGBTQI+ community
Manly players Sean Keppie (left), Kieran Foran (middle) and Reuben Garrick posed with the club’s Everyone in League jersey, which was unveiled on Monday
Manly were preparing to hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday in an attempt to try and resolve the ugly rift, which has left them in a precarious position ahead of the Round 20 clash at Brookvale Oval, also known as 4 Pines Park.
But with a media storm brewing players and officials brought the meeting forward to Monday night.
The 90-minute sit down ended with coach Des Hasler telling the players he understood they were put in a difficult position and that he supported their decision not to play.
The jumper at the centre of the dispute features rainbow colours replacing the traditional white piping on the maroon background, making Manly the first NRL club to wear a pride jersey in rugby league’s 134-year history.
It was understood Monday night’s meeting floated the idea of the players who objected to the new design be allowed to wear the standard jersey instead, but NRL regulations stipulate all players must be wearing the same playing strip.
The Sea Eagles wore a vintage kit on Friday in their loss against St George Illawarra
Manly are in a precarious position ahead of the Round 20 clash at Brookvale Oval, also known as 4 Pines Park (pictured)
Sea Eagles star Kieran Foran, Sean Keppie and Reuben Garrick posed with the new jumper, which received the backing Roberts.
‘LGBTIQA people have always been a part of sport but haven’t always been allowed the visibility,’ Roberts said.
‘I have been trying to get the NRL to have a pride round for the past three years and it still hasn’t got the traction it deserves. It saddens me because they think having a float at the Mardi Gras is enough and it’s not.’
At this stage the club has no intention of scrapping the jersey – even as the Sea Eagles are fighting it out for a place in the finals.
Manly’s interim chief executive Gary Wolman said the club was proud of the initiative and of the message it sent to the community.
‘The Sea Eagles have such a rich and diverse history in rugby league and in the community,’ he said at the unveiling of the jersey.
‘To be able to bring this concept to life with Dynasty sport is a fantastic achievement and we are pleased to be able to share such an important message that means so much to many people in the community.’
Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler must name a 22-man squad for the game by Tuesday afternoon
Ian Roberts, pictured in 1995 playing for the Manly Sea Eagles, was regarded as one of the toughest forwards of his era
The feel-good factor following the announcement, however, has long dissipated with reports circulating there was little consultation with the players.
The Sea Eagles wore a retro kit for their loss against St George Illawarra on Friday, but it is understood the NRL will not allow players who oppose the rainbow jersey to wear an alternative jumper.
Thursday night’s clash could be pivotal for both teams’ finals hopes, with the ninth-placed Sea Eagles trailing the eighth-placed Roosters just on point differential.
Israel Folau was exiled by Australia three years ago following his homophobic remarks
Manly must name a 22-man squad for the game by Tuesday afternoon.
Former Wallabies star Israel Folau famously had his Australia contract torn up in 2019 after he posted a meme on social media which said ‘hell’ awaits homosexuals and other groups he considered as ‘sinners’.
An evangelical Christian, Folau returned to rugby league in France in 2020 and tried to revive his career in the sport in Australia but was blocked by local officials.
The 33-year-old returned to Test rugby last month, when Tonga took on Fiji in the Pacific Nations Cup.