When Hawthorn Football Club selects young men and women to join our playing lists, we do so because they have demonstrated that they have skills that will increase the club’s chances of being successful, or because we recognise potential talent and character that we think we can help them to develop to become premiership players for us.
We don’t select players based on race, colour or religion.
Once on our list they are all equally important to us, and we spend considerable time developing their football skills, encouraging them to undertake studies and gain skills for life after football. Over the journey we have had a number of First Nations players wear the brown and gold.
Chance Bateman was our first First Nations player to play 100 games for our club. Shaun Burgoyne recently finished his career with us having played over 400 AFL games.
Lance Franklin has now kicked 1,000 goals with us and Sydney.
Cyril Rioli could turn on a sixpence and electrify us all.
As well as Mark Williams, Brad Hill and others who have all made an important impact over the years.
Today Jarman Impey, Chad Wingard, Tyler Brockman, Kaitlyn Ashmore and Janet Baird wear our colours.
Recently, we decided to conduct some work among our past and present First Nations players and staff to learn more about their experience at the club, and find out if they required any further support in their life after football.
We commissioned Phil Egan and his firm, Binmada, to talk to our past and present First Nations players and staff understanding that First Nations people would feel more comfortable telling their story to fellow First Nations people. We were also asked, and committed to, keeping the review, and any comments made by those interviewed, confidential. Importantly, many participated on that basis.
When the club received the final report, it would be an understatement to say we were horrified at the stories that three of our past players and their partners had recorded. If the allegations were true, these individuals, and their families, have been subjected to some horrific and unacceptable behaviours.
The review was never meant to be forensic. We wanted to hear from our past and present First Nations players about their experiences at Hawthorn and their current wellbeing.
The Board met to consider the final review and, because of the severity of the contents, decided to inform senior officials at the AFL about the stories that were contained within the review. The Board further decided that the review had to be given to the AFL’s Integrity Unit, as is required under the club’s AFL license, and because it was a key recommendation of the review. We also believed that we as a club did not have the personnel or the skillset to take the matter further.
After submitting the review to the AFL, we were then informed that certain members of the families of those who told their story had also been interviewed by an ABC journalist.
Their story was then published by the ABC shortly after that.
The stories themselves are so heartbreaking to read.
We had just begun a process with the AFL to address the issues the three families had raised.
The ABC story, and the coverage since, publicly named a number of individuals who the three families had mentioned in their stories to Mr Egan and the ABC. This denied those named their ability to respond to those allegations in an appropriate and fair manner consistent with the AFL rules.
All of those named in the ABC story have stood down from their position until a resolution has been determined.
The AFL, given the claims made and the failure of procedural fairness to others, has moved to establish an inquiry of four people to examine the claims in order to ultimately establish the truth. The details of the form, shape and personnel who will head the inquiry will be released by the AFL in the next few days.
Last night the club requested to meet with the AFL and its Counsel, and that meeting took place today.
Of course, our first concern is the welfare of the families who have made the claims and we are doing all we can to work with them. We are also concerned about the individuals and families who have been publicly named.
All families are suffering for different reasons.
A solution must be found quickly, and all parties should be prepared to work towards a solution, because not to do so will impact heavily on all involved.
Those hurt by alleged past actions should have their right to natural justice served, and the club can continue to learn and grow in this important space.
As a club, we do not apologise for asking our past and present First Nations players and staff about their past and present experiences. It is good practice to do so and will assist in our endeavours to provide a safe and nourishing environment for every member of our community.
Hopefully all parties will see fit to work with the AFL inquiry to bring this matter to a conclusion. We at the club do not intend to provide a running commentary on this matter and will allow the AFL inquiry to do its work.
That said, we will assist in any way we can.