I loved playing football. I gave 12 years of my life to playing the game professionally. But those years were also marked by the pain of being trapped in a culture that condoned racism through a combination of ignorance, habit, and arrogance. In the end, the message to a young, black man like me was clear: I was only of value if I didn’t challenge the status quo.
In the past few weeks, I have re-lived the events that marked my final years of football. I have been repeatedly questioned about my experience – nine years of working in a culture where I was called “black cunt”, a “ni**er”, and a “slave” – all in the name of “fun”. I’ve been painted as mentally unwell, and once again my experiences have been dismissed by the institutions who have a duty to address them.
I find it worrying that both Collingwood and AFL officials have continually cast direct and and indirect aspersions on my mental health and wellbeing. I have been upfront about my struggles with depression in the past. It’s not unusual that a professional athlete might struggle under the enormous stress of performing at such levels. To see this history weaponised as a reason to now dismiss or discourage reporting on my story is deeply troubling and a dangerous precedent in a society where we are trying to encourage people to speak out about their difficulties.
My desire to see young Indigenous players and young players of colour come up through the sport that profits from their talents without being subjected to environments that belittle and humiliate them is not the result of ongoing or unresolved mental health issues.