Newly appointed North Melbourne coach Alastair Clarkson and Brisbane Coach Chris Fagan have become embroiled in very serious allegations stemming from their time together at Hawthorn. It began with an external review commissioned by the club to better understand the indigenous people, referred to as First Nations players, and their experiences at the club. The review led to the allegations being made and the club referring everything to the AFL Integrity Unit. Several of the involved players were interviewed and their stories - and those of their partners, paint a completely different picture of the "family club". The story was made public by the ABC which brought to light the treatment of the young players at the hands of the coaches and club officials.
Three players and their partners told their stories but had their names changed for the publication. The families allege that players were told to part ways with their partners, even though the women were pregnant, were forced to move out of their homes. Their partners were allegedly told to terminate unborn children. The families say the players had the SIM cards removed from their phones to further separate them from family. Essentially, they were told football came first and that was to be their primary focus. In many cases, they were bullied into choosing the club and those involved had no compassion for the players or their families. [Ed. note: the ABC has stated that Clarkson and Fagan were given multiple opportunities to respond before the allegations were made public.]
Former player and captain Luke Hodge said he was shocked to learn of the allegations. The AFL is launching an investigation. Clarkson's official start at North has been delayed pending the outcome and he has denied the allegations. Fagan has stepped down from his position at Brisbane pending the outcome.
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan praised the courage of those who shared their "harrowing stories". During a press conference, he said, "These are serious allegations, it is important we treat them appropriately, while also ensuring the formal process provides support for those impacted and also natural justice to those people who are accused ... there is increasing courage of the complainants to speak out. Both sides need to be heard ... It's inappropriate to make a comment in advance of that ... We need to do more, and we will. We need greater education and safety in our game, and we will do that. There are so many people hurting today and have been hurting for a long time. As a game we will do better."
McLachlan said an external panel of four independent, appropriately qualified people would conduct the investigation for the AFL, "They will be appropriately skills-based and have the right mix of diversity and an approach that prioritizes cultural safety for all those that have shared their experiences. We need to run a proper investigation to get to the bottom of it and this is important out of respect for those making the allegations and out of respect for those being accused."
He addressed briefly the First Nations people, "You've been heard and as a supporter and community we will do our best to wrap our arms around you and support you. Your welfare is the most pressing priority for us. I know sharing these stories is not easy … I want to thank you all for sharing your experiences."
AFL executive general manager of social policy and inclusion Tanya Hosch said the allegations in the report reflected the wider issues of racism and discrimination affecting the country as a whole. "I think the country has a bigger problem. "When the 'Do Better' report was released (by Collingwood), I said very plainly then that if you look at any organization in the country, specifically for issues in relation to the treatment, cultural safety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, you would anticipate finding a problem. I don't think we're (our game) immune to that. It's really clear we're not ... ".
The AFL also announced that Commissioner Andrew Newbold, who was president of Hawthorn between 2012 and 2016, has taken a leave of absence from the Commission. Commission Chairman Richard Goyder concurred with McLachlan saying, "I want to also acknowledge that this is a really distressing day for the people who have shared their experiences. These are serious allegations, and it is important that we treat them appropriately while also ensuring the formal process provides support to those impacted and also natural justice to those people who are accused ... ".
Speaking on SEN Radio, Hodge said, "Does it dampen … what we went through as a group? We had a lot of successful years, but at this stage that's irrelevant ... When you get drafted ... it's supposed to be an exciting time ... It's supposed to be, 'my life has changed', now I have a pathway for the next 10 to 15 years hopefully. That's not what happened with these young kids. Your first thought goes to the players who went through it and the partners and the families that went through it because it doesn’t matter what your job is; it’s always family first, and that’s the first people you look after. So to go through and read that and what’s been alleged, it’s very uncomfortable."
Hawthorn CEO Justin Reeves said neither Clarkson nor Fagan were interviewed as part of the external review as the external review focused on the indigenous players and staff. Of the allegations, he said, "It's tough reading, it's heartbreaking ... These allegations are extremely disturbing. We are profoundly disappointed that some of our former players and their families feel like this about their experiences at the club." Reeves, who was appointed Hawthorn's chief executive in October 2017, urged the club to face its past. At the time the incidents allegedly took place, there were 23 First Nations players on Hawthorn's list.
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AFANA will continue to report on this story as it develops.
Source: afl.com.au, abc.net.au
Article last changed on Sunday, June 04, 2023 - 7:40 PM EDT