There is concern within the Indigenous Rugby League community that South Sydney star Latrell Mitchell will be driven away from the game by the relentless attacks directed at him on social media.
Over the past fortnight alone, the 24-year-old has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
After being caught and heavily fined for flaunting New South Wales' COVID-19 social distancing restrictions for a weekend gathering at his rural Taree property in late April, the star player this week drew another bout of unwanted attention when it emerged he was one of three Rabbitohs to be tested for the coronavirus after showing flu-like symptoms.
Fortunately for Mitchell, the test results came back negative yesterday.
While the weekend trip back home to Biripi Country with a group that included his father, Storm flyer Josh Addo-Carr and Newcastle Knights back Tyronne Roberts-Davis, was clearly the "wrong thing" to do, the disproportionate fallout in the media is part of a bigger problem, according to Indigenous All Stars captain and Manly Sea Eagles forward Joel Thompson,
Speaking with NITV News on Tuesday, Thompson said what concerned him most was the "targeted attacks" from a lot of media.
“I’m just more concerned about the agenda ... I just feel it’s not okay. So I am going to make a stand now and separate myself from a lot of it,” he said.
“Obviously they did the wrong thing. They spoke about it and owned it and they understand that. It wasn’t even just that instance, I feel like, especially with Latrell. We’ve all seen the Adam Goodes documentary and it was quite powerful, the effects it had on him and how much it ripped him down and made him not want to continue playing.
“I feel like that’s what they (the media) want because there’s no other reason behind it.”
Last year, at a cultural camp facilitated by the NRL at the end of the season, some of the code's senior Indigenous players spoke about the continuing attacks on Mitchell. Players also met with NRL bosses and sections of the media to discuss some of their concerns ahead of the All Stars match in February.
Thompson said that the NRL understands and “comes from a good place”, citing Mitchell's inclusion in the ‘Simply the Best’ advertisement this year. However, that too was something Mitchell copped criticism over.
Thompson said he is disappointed that other areas of society, in particular certain media outlets, keep chipping away at Mitchell.
“I would love to see the amount of articles that are directed at Latrell, it’s just everything. When he had a sore throat yesterday there was another two players but it was the face of him. I understand he is a world class player, but when you start reading the comments, it’s just feeding these negative minds,” said Thompson.
“You read some of the comments and it always turns to racism. They (certain media outlets) are fueling that.
“It burns me some of the racism that comes out. It’s so disappointing how we are meant to move forward as a country when you still have this - people getting targeted like they are …
"There’s some good journalists out there, but unfortunately the way things are now is, everything is about clickbait and they want that attention."
After copping a deluge of racist abuse on social media throughout 2019, both during and outside of the playing season, Mitchell decided to speak out by naming and shaming racist attacks against him. Then in September, he revealed how standing up for himself had led to a whole new wave of attacks.
This led to veteran sports journalist Dean Ritchie suggesting in November that Mitchell should have "thicker skin" and "learn to live with [it]".
Thompson said he feels the general public are starting to catch on that some outlets are heading down a “dangerous path" but there is still more to be done.
“I’d hate to see the way it’s going because it’s continuing to build and getting worse. I just can’t cop it to be honest,” he said.
“People have to understand the effects it is having on the individual, not just Latrell but his family and people that are connected to him. It hurts to see people attacked.
“But t’s just continuing, which is disappointing. I just can’t sit back and continue to watch it.” -
Jodan Perry is the host of NITV's flagship Rugby League program 'Over The Black Dot' which airs every Tuesday night at 8.30pm on NITV (Ch.34)