Racism in sport a ‘by-product’ of Australia, says former NRL star

First Nations athletes who face racism from fans and clubs are being traumatized yet again by the experience, a former NRL star told ABC’s Q&A program.

Joe Williams, who played for the Rabbitohs, Panthers and Bulldogs over a four-year career, said the whole story of the persecution faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was brought to the fore by incidents of player defamation.

“Are players expected to just dismiss it? Let’s look at the implications and effects of racism when it comes to alerting our stress response in our brain and all that’s happening during that process of targeted, racist slurring,” he told the audience.

“It takes us straight back to years and decades when our moms, dads and grandparents were flogged and … beaten up just for getting inked.”

The Viradyuri Volgalu man made the comments in response to a question from a viewer questioning player abuse. It comes after multiple incidents of racism and cultural insensitivity within the sporting community, both from fans and the players’ clubs themselves.

Trying to broaden the scope of the problem, the former halfback said it’s not just an issue within the sport.

“I get that question all the time – does the NRL have a problem with racism, does the AFL have a problem with racism?

“I think Australia has a problem with racism. Sport is a by-product of a larger country.”

Williams said he himself has struggled with his response to racist incidents in the past.

“I know if I knock someone’s teeth out, who’s in trouble?

“My father once said to me: ‘You will never defeat racism with your fists, you will only ever defeat racism with intelligence and the truth.'”

Sports leadership without diversity

Williams’ comments were preceded by a discussion of the lack of representation of various sports codes within senior management.

Despite the high number of Pasifika and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, this was not reflected in positions of power, he told host Stan Grant.

“We see a hell of a lot of people of color in rugby league and rugby union, but we don’t see a lot of people of color making the decisions at the top.

“I think it’s a must, and if we’re going to have serious conversations about it, it has to start.”

Olympic swimmer and now Australian Sports Commission chief executive Kieren Perkins was then asked by Grant if he was “part of the problem”.

“100 percent,” he replied.

Online defamation becomes ‘more widespread’

The role of social media in facilitating the abuse faced by athletes and the wider population has also been spotlighted. A viewer cited a study that found 44 per cent of Premier League players who had a Twitter account had experienced abuse.

Citing the example of Pasifika Rabbitohs wing Jaxson Paulo, who fended off death threats after their recent game against the Panthers, panelist David Lakisa said it is vital that the industry confronts the reality of online abuse.

“So make sure there’s strong support structures in place and that there are clear guidelines on how to handle this because it’s becoming more widespread,” he said.

Williams drew attention to the disconnect between the real-world impact of online racism and the lack of punitive measures taken by victims.

Read  Sport Fans NFTs launches ahead of World Cup 2022 in Qatar

“There are no consequences for words online or even words said to me.

“It’s documented … that the effects of racism, the toxic stress it causes on someone’s brain, is like a slap in the face.

“So if someone hits someone in the face, they would have consequences for that, but if someone has racist tones or even language towards someone, there are no consequences.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *