• Eddie Betts experienced racism throughout his AFL career. (Getty Images AsiaPac)Source: Getty Images AsiaPac
The Carlton legend also commended the bravery of Cyril Rioli and his wife Shannyn for speaking out about their time at Hawthorn.
Rachael Knowles

7 Apr 2022 - 12:27 PM  UPDATED 7 Apr 2022 - 12:29 PM

Former Carlton and Adelaide star Eddie Betts said he feared the same fate as Adam Goodes if he called out racism earlier in his career.

Appearing on AFL360, the Wirangu and Kokatha man said he was racially abused his entire playing career, but only found his voice at 28.

“I was too scared to call it out, I was too scared to speak up because I thought what happened to Goodesy would happen to me,” he said.

In 2013, the Sydney Swans legend called out a young Collingwood fan at the Indigenous Round for racially vilifying him during the game, the backlash that followed pushed Goodes to retirement.

In 2020, Betts spoke out against racism after being the target of racial vilification online. He retired a year later.

Betts spoke about the isolation he felt when calling out racism.

“I had a big smile on my face but I was drowning inside,” he said.

“There was no Indigenous liaison officer there, I needed someone to talk to because I was hurting. I was trying to be strong for these young Indigenous players, and for my family and all my people around Australia.”

Whilst the Adelaide Crows did have a Player Development staff, Betts said he needed someone to relate to.

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“I was talking to them but they just didn’t feel it. I needed someone there that could understand me when I was talking, and the pain I was going through,” he said.

Betts said this pushed his advocacy for an Indigenous Liaison Officer at each club, which this year became a mandate.

“Whenever a young Aboriginal kid will come into these football clubs, at least there is someone there they could talk to. If there’s no other Indigenous person on that team, at least there’s an Indigenous liaison officer there that they can relate to, to talk to, to make them feel welcome into that football club,” he said.

“We’re getting better . . . But we have to continue to grow, to move forward and do better as football clubs.”

Rioli's revelations

Betts also weighed in on the revelations by former Hawthorn player Cyril Rioli and his wife, which preceded his shock retirement in 2018.

The 28-year-old stepped away from the club after experiencing a number of incidents involving staff and players. One involved a comment made by club President Jeff Kennett about his wife's clothing in 2018.

“It is very courageous for Cyril and Shannyn to speak up about how they feel, it’s a huge load to wear calling out racism – sometimes isolating and it’s really tiring on you. It’s very courageous of them,” he said.

“It’s sad to see Cyril retire because of this, because of racism. He’s one of the best talents to probably ever play this game, it’s very sad.”

‘Best response is a measured and responsible one: Kennett’

Meanwhile, Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett says the club is taking the claims from the Rioli family seriously.

Kennett said the Hawks were in the process of trying to work out if there were similar incidents that affected past Indigenous players.

"Some will demand immediate answers and actions but, given how important these matters are, the best response is a measured and responsible one," Kennett said in a letter addressed to fans.

In response to the allegations, prominent Hawthorn supporters group Hawks for Change called on Kennett to immediately step down.

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The Hawks released a statement on Saturday apologizing to former premiership star Cyril Rioli and his wife for the racism they experienced at the club.

Former Victorian premier Kennett's second term as Hawks president is due to end in December next year.

But in his first public comments since Rioli and his wife went public on Saturday, Kennett gave no indication of his future in the role.

"I can assure you that the board and the administration will not shirk our responsibility to work through these matters," Kennett said.

"We will firstly seek to establish the facts, before working through the best way of responding to the matters that require addressing.

"Can I finally say on this matter: we all want Cyril back with us at Hawthorn. I hope that we can work through the hurt he feels and make him feel welcome and safe in the brown and gold family again."

- with AAP

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