Breaking the code

Eddie Betts says there should be an investigation at every club in the AFL. “This could happen at any football club,” he says. “And I think that every football club should do a review like this. Every football club should come out and do an external review, contact the Indigenous players and past Indigenous players, and see how that footy club was.”

The former Carlton and Adelaide Crows forward says he heard racist slurs every week of his playing career. When he read about the alleged mistreatment of Hawthorn players, he was not surprised. “Aboriginal people, we’re not surprised … We face these issues in many systems – in the education system, in the justice system, in the health system.”

The sickness of what Hawthorn is alleged to have done is extraordinary. Indigenous players were cut off from their families. They had their phones tampered with. They were moved from place to place to isolate them. In one instance, the club tried to force a player’s partner to have an abortion. The player later attempted suicide.

“It was so intimidating, confusing and upsetting,” the player says, adding that the coach, “just leaned over me and demanded that I needed to get rid of my unborn child and my partner. I was then manipulated and convinced to remove my SIM card from my phone, so there was no further contact between my family and me. They told me I’d be living with one of the other coaches from that night onwards.”

The coaches involved deny this account. There will now be an independent investigation. Betts is right: there should be a review across the entire code. There should have been after last year’s report detailing systemic racism at Collingwood. As that report stated: “This is not a review to determine whether racism had been perpetrated against individuals at Collingwood. On the extensive evidence on the public record and in our conversations with staff, players, ex-players and supporters, it is clear that players and fans have experienced incidents of racism and that Collingwood’s response to these incidents has been at best ineffective, or at worst exacerbated the impact of the racist incidents. The continual failures in this regard speak to a systemic racism within the Collingwood Football Club that must be addressed if things are to change.”

The ABC gives the name Amy to the woman Hawthorn allegedly pressured to have an abortion. They report that she had to plead with the club to see her partner. She was lied to about his decisions. She developed postnatal depression. When she became pregnant again, she had an abortion to avoid pressure from coaches.

It is difficult to fathom the club’s actions, although to the coaches they probably seemed reasonable. To them, all that mattered was football.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 24, 2022 as "Breaking the code".

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