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Indigenous hawthorn players racism, rhan hooper and derick wanganeen

No club can say that racism doesn't happen there, but Hawthorn's history with its Indigenous players is a mess.

Few Australian football clubs can say they have never had a racist past.

A lot of the time, you can see the attitudes and biases of the time reflected in the way football teams look back on the past.

But while the reflections of some organizations look like a blurry version of society, the spotlight that shines on the center stage of sports makes every ugly spot and scar stand out.

It could be said that, over time, this image has been most often linked to Collingwood.

From Nicky Winmar's famous statement of racial pride in front of the Victoria Park crowd to Héritier Lumumba's ongoing criticisms of how he and his Indigenous teammates were treated at the Magpies, Collingwood's apparent problems have been laid bare in the public eye, put on display, and exposed to the masses for uncomfortable, unpleasant, but necessary criticism.

Most of the time, things have been more subtle with Hawthorn.

The mirror in Waverley is one that has often been clouded by success. Stories of racist recruiting practices and comments in the locker room were hidden by the fact that the team was so good on the field.

But this new review is another attempt to wipe away the fog, and what seems to be hiding behind it is an ugly reflection of a club that is often praised.

Indigenous hawthorn players racism, rhan hooper and derick wanganeen
In 1988, a Hawthorn banner before a game.

In the 1980s, blackface banners caused a stir.

In the past, Hawthorn's attitude toward race had been written on the wall, or more accurately, on the banners.

During the 1980s, when they were at their best, they won four flags without having any Indigenous players in any of them. Two of their grand final banners caused a racial stir because they used blackface stereotypes.

The first one, from 1988, showed a woman hanging Hawthorn sweaters on a clothesline with the words "Bring 'em home to mama."

In 1989, it was "Well, hello, Hawthorn. It's so nice to have you back where you belong." It was based on the song "Hello, Dolly!"

"It doesn't make sense. I don't see why," In his book 1989: The Great Grand Final, Tony Wilson wrote.

"Every time I see that banner, I think of Willie Rioli Sr., Robbie Muir, and Chris Lewis, men who were called racist names at a time when some people thought it was okay to do so."

Wilson had just joined Hawthorn at the time, and he talked about playing in the Hawks under-19s with Willie Rioli Sr, the younger brother of Richmond great Maurice Rioli.

"[Rioli] was very small, but he was incredibly skilled, especially near the goal," Wilson wrote.

"I was captain, and I remember one afternoon at Arden Street when I had to tell some of our players to stop being racist toward North Melbourne's Indigenous players by telling them, "Everything you say to them, you say to Willie too."

Willie didn't play any games in his senior year. He might have been too small. He was probably too early. When he went back to South Fremantle, where people were nicer, he became a star in the WAFL.

A banner for Hawthorn before the VFL grand final in 1989.
A banner for Hawthorn before the VFL grand final in 1989.

Lagging behind in talent recruitment

Only two Indigenous players wore the gold and brown guernsey in the first 75 years that Hawthorn was in the VFL.

Between 1957 and 1958 and 1964 and 1965, Cyril Collard and Percy Cummings played 18 games. After that, it seems like the team stopped looking for Indigenous players.

The Hawks were not the only team to take this approach. During the 1960s and 1970s, there were not many Indigenous players in the VFL, with the exception of star players like Polly Farmer and Barry Cable, who moved from Western Australia to try out for Victorian clubs.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Hawks stood out as an odd team.

As Indigenous players like Gavin Wanganeen, Andrew McLeod, Chris Johnson, Ronnie Burns, and Michael O'Loughlin became stars, Hawthorn still wouldn't let them join their senior team.

That was true until the 2000 draft, when recruiting manager John Turnbull brought Chance Bateman to the team.

In 2002, Geelong's David Wojcinski is riding on the back of Chance Bateman. Since 1964, Bateman was the first Indigenous player to play his first game for the Hawks.
In 2002, Geelong's David Wojcinski is riding on the back of Chance Bateman. Since 1964, Bateman was the first Indigenous player to play his first game for the Hawks.

Bateman had talent but was still young. Small but very skilled, he had been on Hawthorn's radar for a while when then-coach Peter Schwab and Turnbull went to stay with Paul and Carol Bateman in Perth to learn more about him.

They liked the kid right away and picked him up with the 48th pick in the 1999 national draft.

When Bateman asked Turnbull why it had taken so long for Hawthorn to start recruiting Indigenous players again, he said that early in his career at Waverley, a senior club official had told him, "Just remember, don't draft anyone with darker skin than mine."

Bateman told The Age in 2021, "Once he told me that, one of my goals was to change all the wrong ideas or stereotypes people had about Indigenous people."

"It didn't just matter what they thought about them as people; it also mattered what the football club or people thought about them as players."

After two seasons, seven games, and a lot of hope, the Bateman family was hit with sadness. Candace, Chance's younger sister, was killed in a train accident when she was 15 years old.

In 2010, Chance Bateman was at work. He would be the first Indigenous life member at Hawthorn.
In 2010, Chance Bateman was at work. He would be the first Indigenous life member at Hawthorn.

When he told the club that he had to go home to be with his family, they said, "Stay as long as you like."

After coming back to Australia and playing for Hawthorn's VFL team Box Hill, the rising star decided he needed to move back home permanently. He asked to be traded to West Coast and Fremantle. From what I've heard, the Hawks were happy to do it for the person, not for the club.

But they couldn't make it work, which only made Bateman more determined to make the most of the chance he had been given.

"After they didn't trade me, Turnbull was over there [in Perth] and just told me that Schwaby wanted to keep me for next year," he said.

"So I just decided to come over and give it my best shot and try to be the first Aboriginal person to play 50 games for Hawthorn."

He played in 177 games, including the 2008 grand final, and became the first Indigenous life member of Hawthorn.

At Hawthorn, things were getting different.

Lance Franklin was happy to win his second premiership with Hawthorn in the 2013 grand final.
Lance Franklin was happy to win his second premiership with Hawthorn in the 2013 grand final.

Cyril Rioli's 'final straw'

When Schwab left Hawthorn in 2005 to make room for Alastair Clarkson, the club got a lot of Indigenous players because of the Bateman signing.

Indigenous players like Buddy Franklin, Cyril Rioli, and Shaun Burgoyne led a large group of players who were drafted to be part of a new golden era of Hawks football. From 2008 to 2015, the Hawks won four flags.

The Hawks were trying to change how people saw them, and they were doing a good job of it.

But things would still go wrong.

Some Hawks asked their loyal fans to stop making fun of Adam Goodes, which made Hawthorn fans the face of the booing scandal.

Jordan Lewis, a legendary member of the club, said at the time, "I don't like it."

"I don't understand why they do it and I don't know why. I wish someone would come forward and explain why they do it. It has to stop."

The Hawthorn crowds were not the only ones to boo the Swans champion, but they could have helped put out the flames.

Andrew Newbold, who was chairman at the time, said that any message about stopping the booing should come from the players, not the people in charge.

He told The Age at the time, "It's a shame."

"I'm sure it's not racially motivated. Three of the five Indigenous boys on our list were playing that night." But I have to say that it surprised me. I think it's better for our players to talk to our fans than anyone else."

Everyone in the league, including Hawthorn, took a "do nothing" approach, and in the end, Goodes left the game in 2015 amid heartbreaking scenes.

Behind closed doors, more problems kept coming up.

Shaun Burgoyne played for Hawthorn in 250 games.
Shaun Burgoyne played for Hawthorn in 250 games.

In 2013, it was said that a "senior player" asked if the partner of an Indigenous player was "also a b**ng."

And in 2018, Rioli quit the AFL too soon. He told The Age that president Jeff Kennett's comment at Launceston Airport about his wife's ripped designer jeans and whether she wanted some spare cash to help sew them back together was the "final straw."

Kennett said it was just a joke, and he sent the couple text messages and a letter to say he was sorry.

Shannyn Ah Sam-Rioli said at the time, "I felt put down and ashamed."

"The club kept telling me I was overreacting, but they were making me out to be the angry black woman. People told me later that I had wanted to go home to Darwin for a long time. "That's wrong."

Rioli said that it had opened his eyes.

He said, "I've never really talked about what happened in Tasmania, but I think the club did a lot of gaslighting toward the end of my career."

"That was the last straw.

It made me realize how important they were to us.

Chris Johnson, a former Lions champion, told ABC Sport that Rioli had a good reason to be upset.

"Cyril and his partner have every right to feel the way they do, and it may never be right for them to feel comfortable going back to the club," he said.

"We should always forgive people, but sometimes enough is enough, and you'd be better off without those people or that environment in your life."

In 2018, Cyril Rioli quit his job suddenly.
In 2018, Cyril Rioli quit his job suddenly.

Spectemur Agendo

The way Hawthorn has treated its Indigenous players over the years is not unique.

Few, if any, clubs are safe from being criticized.

But Hawthorn fans, players, and staff will all think about and be upset by the Hawks' history and the latest accusations made in the external review.

The Latin motto for Hawthorn is Spectemur Agendo, which means "Let us be known by what we do."

How the club acts from here on out will determine what those actions will be.

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