Hawthorn premiership captain Luke Hodge says he wasn’t aware of a racist comment made by a player about the partner of an Indigenous Hawk on a 2013 end-of-season trip until recent days, claiming the incident was never formally raised with the club’s leadership group.
Hodge on Wednesday said he was “sad”, “flat” and “upset” for the Rioli’s after reading on the weekend about their experiences during the former star forward’s stint at Hawthorn.
Rioli and his partner Shannyn Ah Sam-Rioli opened up to The Age about several incidents that took place at the Hawks during the four-time premiership star’s career, particularly a comment from president Jeff Kennett about Shannyn’s ripped jeans prompting Cyril’s shock retirement in 2018.
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Speaking on SEN’s WhatleyHodge said he was and wasn’t aware of some of the incidents raised by the Rioli’s in the article.
But Hodge was most taken aback when he was reported a senior player asked teammates during an end-of-season trip whether the partner of an Indigenous player, who was present at the time, was “also ab***g” report that.
“I was most shocked (about) the 2013 story about what was taken to the leadership group and what was said back to the players – that was very concerning, because I sit there as captain at the time and hadn’t heard of that story ,” Hodge told SEN’s Whatley.
Asked directly by Gerard Whateley whether he was aware of Rioli approaching the leadership group with a complaint about a racist remark made on an end-of-season trip in 2013, only to be told ‘you’re there to play footy’, Hodge said : “No – and I rank ‘Caro’ to discuss that … She was really good over a 20, 25-minute conversation.
“The whole thing was I wanted to find out more about it because how that read, that came across terribly and I wanted to find out if that was true, who did he go to and talk to. The leadership group process that we had was on a Monday, there’s six players, there’s (Chris) Fagan, there’s (Alastair) Clarkson and you go through areas of the game that you’re good (at), that you need to improve, the team and how they went – and then you went through if there were any issues around the club.
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“So if something of that seriousness had been brought to the leadership, you would have spoken about it – and I can tell you right now that wouldn’t have been the message that was sent back. That’s why I spoke to Caro to try and get some ins and outs of where she heard it. She said some of the information that was passed on to her wasn’t 100 per cent correct at the time – and she did adjust her story at the time – but I think what you read first is what sticks in your mind.”
Hodge said he’d since spoken to form teammates, both inside and outside the leadership group, and ascertained a comment was indeed made on an end-of-season trip that left a player “very hurt”.
Asked directly by broadcaster Gerard Whateley whether he was aware Rioli had approached
He said he’d spoken to the two players involved, as well as a senior player who oversaw an apology — and the acceptance of the apology — at the time.
“What I found out was there was a senior player there and they spoke through it,” he said. “The senior player got the two players together, obviously discussed what was said and what happened, there was an apology made, apology was accepted and then they sort of went on with the rest of their trip.
“I asked the senior player: ‘Should that come back to us?’ And he clearly said in his mind it was resolved in that the three players that were involved in the discussion, they resolved it. There was an apology, the apology was accepted and then they moved on. I spoke to all three at that.
“What we know is it’s not all about what was said, but it’s more about how it’s taken. I spoke to the Indigenous player who heard that and was hurt by those comments and he reiterated the same thing. He goes it was a heartfelt apology and because he knew the person and he knew when the apology was made that he meant it, he said the same and that it was resolved then and they’ve been mates since.”
Hodge said he felt uncomfortable about the notion the club didn’t do enough to ensure Rioli felt supported during his career.
“The amount of times that we’ve said to players ‘are you OK’, but it’s not until you dive a little bit deeper, you ask pointed questions that you really get the right answer in and you understand their feelings,” he said .
“You sort of sit back and go: ‘Did we ask pointy enough questions to see how Cyril or see how the other Indigenous plays were feeling?’ It sort of sits with you that maybe we didn’t ask those pointed questions, which it doesn’t sit comfortably with you.”
Hodge said he’d tried to reach out to Rioli in recent days but had been unsuccessful.
“I know speaking to a lot of the boys that they have tried to touch base with him,” he said. “He’s probably been inundated with messages, but as a former teammate and as a club … you can’t push someone into this. You need to sit back, you need to respect their wishes, to give them time. But all we can do as former teammates is let him know that we’re there for a chat if he needs to – and this may take a lot of time.
“I’m the same as every football lover who wants to see Cyril back in AFL, I’m the same as every Hawthorn supporter who wants to see Cyril back at Hawthorn and I’m the same as all of Cyril’s teammates, who, through what we went through as a group, every four times every 10 years we’ve got an opportunity to catch up and celebrate what we were able to do. I just hope that we all get the opportunity to sit back with Cyril, have a beer and chat about what we were able to achieve.”