Former St George-Illawarra winger Nathan Blacklock says he would not accept an apology from a former Dragons coach that he alleges made racist remarks towards Aboriginal players during his time at the club.
Speaking on NITV’s Over The Black Dot on Tuesday, the former representative player said he felt “a weight has been lifted” after he revealed to the Sydney Morning Herald that racism was the reason behind his premature exit from the Dragons at the end of 2004.
“I just couldn’t bite my tongue… It was eating away at me,” he said.
“You get to a point where you turn your back on league because of it. You stop watching it, you stop watching your favourite team play that helped you lift your profile and gave you the opportunity to play... I am glad I got it off my chest and I can move on.”
Blacklock recalled a video session he had with the team during his playing days that involved a former coach was making racial slurs about opposition players while looking straight at him.
“It was uncomfortable, very uncomfortable,” he said.
“These guys that they are talking about are great players of the game and there are other way to work things. As T (Timana Tahu) knows there are other ways to say things, when you are sitting there and they are calling other players by racial slurs you are like, ‘come on guys, a bit of respect.'”
Blacklock said he harboured no ill-will towards the St George-Illawarra club and expressed an interest in working in a coaching capacity with the Dragons in the future. However, he remained adamant that any apology from the former coach was worthless.
“No good saying sorry for something you meant to do… you take responsibility for what you’ve got and you move on,” he said.
“I wouldn’t accept the apology. I walked away from a good three-year contract that would have set me up."
St George-Illawarra CEO Ryan Webb released a public apology on behalf of the club to Blacklock on Sunday, commending his “bravery in speaking out.”
"Everyone at the club were saddened to read over the weekend that racism played a contributing role in Nathan's departure from the club in the early-2000s… We have come a long way as a club with addressing matters pertinent to not only players of indigenous (sic) background but across all cultures.”
Repeated racial slurs
A host of current Indigenous NRL stars have joined a number of former players in speaking out in recent years about the prevalence of racism both within and surrounding the elite league.
Racial vilification from NRL fans has been called out as recently as last month by Penrith winger Brent Naden, after the 24-year-old Wiradjuri man was targeted by a group watching a game at Central Coast Stadium.
In July, former Brisbane Broncos great Steve Renouf revealed that he experienced racial abuse during his playing days at the club, prompting a hasty offer of an apology from the embattled Broncos' chief executive Paul White.
South Sydney Rabbitohs' marquee player Latrell Mitchell has also worn the brunt of ongoing racist abuse from fans in recent seasons, particularly after he took a stand against racist social media trolls in late 2019. In June, Mitchell revealed the racist attacks and the affects of his decision to call them out almost led to him walking away from the game.
In 2018, Rabbitohs superstar Greg Inglis along with the Panther's Tyrone Peachy were both racially abused by fans during a game between the two teams.
Inglis was also the target of racial slurs in 2013 by yet another NRL fan, and in 2010 by NSW State of Origin assistant coach and now celebrated rugby league 'Immortal' Andrew Johns, which led to NSW Origin player Timana Tahu walking out of the squad in protest.
Johns later apologised to Inglis for his remarks and last month was vocal in his condemnation of the racist slurs targeting Brent Naden.
In 2017, the NRL released its anti-discrimination and vilification framework which committed the league to fostering "a more respectful, safer, non-discriminatory and inclusive sport".
The framework's stated aims are "to stamp out discrimination and vilification in all its forms in the game" and to "promote an inclusive and welcoming sporting environment for all".
Aboriginal welfare officers needed
On Tuesday, Blacklock proposed the appointment of Aboriginal welfare officers at each of the 16 NRL franchise clubs as a measure to provide a safer workplace for First Nations players contracted to the league.
Blacklock said Indigenous NRL players continue to be faced with situations they may not know how to "deal with or they can't speak out" about without attracting criticism for "whinging".
"I would love to see an Aboriginal Welfare Officer in the game that they can approach and tell them what’s going on. That way they can fix it," he said.
"I know speaking up, you are going to get a lot of criticism, but it’s about how I feel .. I’m just happy to shed light on it and hopefully it gets dealt with."