AFLW player Haneen Zreika could earn the most nominations for The Frownlow Medal in history if she refuses to wear the AFL pride jersey every year. Zreika is refusing to wear the jersey for the second year in a row for religious reasons, and earns her second consecutive Frownlow nomination.
The Frownlow Medal is awarded to the player whose off-field demeanour epitomises the values of the modern-day footballer and draws attention to the status of footballers as role models to young Australians. It covers Australia’s four major football codes; the National Rugby League (NRL), Australian Football League (AFL), the A-League (Football) and Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition. NRL player Shaun Kenny-Dowall won the inaugural medal in 2015, while NRL star Jarryd Hayne is the most recent recipient.
The GWS Giants player is the first Muslim to play in the AFLW and was praised as a trailblazer for the game and her community. She is now a symbol of the conundrum the AFL has created for itself in trying to please everyone at all times. It also highlights the predicament of the Giants, whose territory covers the conservative Western Suburbs and the more open-minded Inner West.
Zreika first refused to wear the pride jersey in 2021, and was forced to sit out the game. She will do the same this year.
The 23-year-old is a regular starter for the Giants and has a long career ahead of her if she can stay healthy. She could therefore earn a Frownlow nomination every year until retirement and surpass some of the Frownlow favourites such as Jordan De Goey and Josh Dugan, who have committed all manner of off-field scandals. She would even surpass her famous predecessor, Israel Folau.
“Coming into this, I never thought it would be an issue,” she said.
“I didn’t want to make a big deal of it, until the AFL rejected me from wearing a normal jersey. That was a shock to me. I love what the AFL do and the way they include everyone, but you can’t have a round where you include people but exclude someone that it impacts their faith.
“I really feel like an outsider, like, ‘No mate, you’re not part of us’.
“I always respect everyone, no matter what they are or where they come from. But obviously I take my religion seriously. They can be whatever they want. I still love and respect them and they’re still my mates.”
The controversy mirrors that of the Manly Sea Eagles, who released a pride jersey in the 2022 NRL season and saw seven of their players refuse to play that round on religious grounds.
How many years will Zreika play at the top level, and how many times will she be nominated for The Frownlow Medal?
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