Hawthorn racism saga: Indigenous advocate Ben Abbatangelo weighs in on AFL scandal on The Project


A former elite cricketer turned Indigenous advocate fears the AFL may not have the capability to ‘rejuvenate and re-imagine’ in the wake of the latest racism saga before issuing a powerful message.

As Melbourne prepares to host the AFL grand final for the first time in three years, reports about the alleged historical mistreatment of several Indigenous players at Hawthorn have sent shockwaves through the code.

The AFL has launched an investigation into former senior coaching staff’s alleged handling of several Indigenous players and their families during their time at the Hawks. 

Gunaikurnai man and former Melbourne Stars player Ben Abbatangelo’s immediate thoughts were with Indigenous families affected when he read about the ‘inhumane’ allegations on Wednesday.

He described the claims as incomprehensible and questioned whether the dystopia created for Indigenous people can be reformed by AFL administrators.

Benjamin Abbatangelo (left) weighed into the Hawthorn racism saga that has rocked the AFL

HAWTHORN RACISM CLAIMS

* Players were bullied into relocating, made to choose between their careers and families.

* At least two players were forced to replace the SIM cards in their phones in order to cut them off from their partners.

* A group of coaches, including Alastair Clarkson and Chris Fagan, urged a player to have his partner’s pregnancy terminated.

* The same player was told to ‘get rid’ of his partner and move into the home of an assistant coach.

* Another player was told his partner was holding him back and he needed to end the relationship to fulfil his football potential.

* The player was relocated to another residence and cut off from his partner, who was pregnant at the time and miscarried a few weeks later.

* Another new recruit from interstate was separated from his partner and young child, who was born soon after his arrival at the club. The family was not allowed to visit the player until the child was four months old because the club deemed the family would be a ‘distraction’ to the player.

‘I’ve got a lot of history on my side that says it’s incapable,’ he told The Project.

‘It’s not just the microcosm of what’s happening in the change rooms, it’s everything connected to it. 

‘And the people that are involved currently, who are presiding over this, I don’t think have the capability to rejuvenate, re-imagine a code that should be so joyous.’

The former Victorian Indigenous captain and Stars rookie ended the segment with a poignant message. 

‘Maybe we could just stop killing blackfellas – that would be helpful and appreciated,’ he said.

The allegations emerged on a day Tiwi Islanders won a landmark case in the Federal Court for drilling to be halted at a massive gas project northwest of Darwin. 

They won against Australia’s second-largest independent gas producer Santos, which is a long time supporter of the AFL and has a sponsorship deal with Port Adelaide in the AFLW.

The former cricketer (pictured) ended The Project segment with a powerful message

The former cricketer (pictured) ended The Project segment with a powerful message

Earlier in the segment, Abbatangelo also shared harrowing insight into how other First Nations people were feeling about the allegations.

‘There’s a lot of people that from the community that bear the brunt of all this stuff day to day and find it really difficult to un-see the things that you see and un-feel the things that you feel,’ he explained.

‘So, to wake up and read that, I think it’s an avalanche of emotions and feelings that are hard to describe because it’s so inhumane.

‘It’s immediately thinking about the people involved, the people that have been impacted and yeah, then almost like, you have this moment and, for me, it’s like alright, you’ve stepped out of the dream and let’s get ready for the apocalypse and more of the nightmare.’

‘There’s something interesting in the blindness for a society that has been built on racism and that has seen it so clearly, has this pervasive ability to then be blind to the things that they’ve created.

Abbatangelo admitted he has never experienced what allegedly occurred to these young men and women and their families, which he described as beyond comprehension.

‘But I think every First Nations person that lives on this continent and its islands that moves through any professional setting has got a lot of skeletons in their closet. Mine aren’t to the extent of that, but they are within the same playing field and within the same realm.’ 

Ben Abbatangelo (pictured in 2014) former Victorian indigenous captain and a community rookie for the Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League

 Ben Abbatangelo (pictured in 2014) former Victorian indigenous captain and a community rookie for the Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League

Abbatangelo called for an independent inquiry to go beyond the AFL and everything connected to the code.

‘Should there be more to that independence and the scope of the powers that they have? Absolutely,’ he said.

I think we need to look at the private school system as well, that for young Aboriginal kids that want to live a life or play AFL, they have to move from their community. They have to give up so much of themselves. 

‘And throughout that entire process, to have a crack at living your dream you have to almost distance yourself from who you are. 

‘I think the programs that are associated with it, I think it all needs to be put under the spotlight because it’s all set up to disconnect people from their families, from their communities, from their identities just to succeed in a sporting sense.’

Abbatangelo was inundated with praise from viewers.

‘Blistering and humbling commentary & assessment of the Hawthorn scandal. Thank you so very much Ben,’ one tweeted.

Another added: ‘Ben Abbatangelo was incredibly impressive on the panel. So passionate and didn’t pull any punches.’

A third wrote: ‘When will the trauma for Indigenous Australians ever end? Heartbreaking, soul-destroying, despairing.’

Hawthorn players celebrate their 2013 grand final win - the team's second under Clarkson. Daily Mail Australia does not claim any of the players pictured in the photo are in any way involved in the allegations uncovered by the club's external review

Hawthorn players celebrate their 2013 grand final win – the team’s second under Clarkson. Daily Mail Australia does not claim any of the players pictured in the photo are in any way involved in the allegations uncovered by the club’s external review

 Ex-Hawthorn coaches Alastair Clarkson and Chris Fagan allegedly pressured Indigenous player to get his partner to have an ABORTION – as AFL launches independent investigation into ‘harrowing and disturbing’ claims

By Shayne Budgen for Daily Mail Australia and AAP 

Ex-Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson was allegedly part of a group of senior staff accused of telling an Indigenous player to pressure his partner into terminating her pregnancy, according to a report about a review commissioned by the club.

Staff involved in the allegations also include Clarkson’s his former assistant Chris Fagan, now the coach of the Brisbane Lions, according to the report by the ABC.

The report claims the incidents that will be revealed in the review occurred during the club’s golden run of success under Clarkson, when they won the 2008 grand final and three straight premierships from 2013-2015.

Clarkson (pictured with Luke Hodge celebrating Hawthorn's 2014 premiership win) is alleged to have been part of a group of senior coaches that told an Indigenous player to get his partner to abort their child, and break up with her

Clarkson (pictured with Luke Hodge celebrating Hawthorn’s 2014 premiership win) is alleged to have been part of a group of senior coaches that told an Indigenous player to get his partner to abort their child, and break up with her

The report also claims Clarkson's former assistant Chris Fagan - now coach of the Brisbane Lions - was a member of the group of senior Hawks figures who allegedly pushed the player to have his unborn child terminated

The report also claims Clarkson’s former assistant Chris Fagan – now coach of the Brisbane Lions – was a member of the group of senior Hawks figures who allegedly pushed the player to have his unborn child terminated

The most damning allegation in the report is that a player who was ‘delighted’ with news of his partner’s pregnancy was urged to tell her to abort the child and break up with her by a group of coaches including Clarkson and Fagan.

Clarkson has this afternoon refuted the allegations made against him and says he ‘looks forward to the opportunity to be heard as part of the AFL external investigation’.

The 48-year-old, who recently signed a five-year deal to North Melbourne, has had his start date of November 1 pushed back in the wake of this latest development. 

Fagan has been left devastated by the accusations and said he had no knowledge of the alleged meetings raised by players in the report, according to the Herald Sun.

On Wednesday the Lions announced Fagan is taking a ‘leave of absence’ from the club so he can ‘fully cooperate’ with an independent investigation that has been announced by the AFL.

A Hawks player who is named only as ‘Ian’ in the report made startling accusations against the team’s most senior coaches.  

‘Clarkson just leaned over me and demanded that I needed to get rid of my unborn child and partner,’ he claimed.

‘I was then manipulated and convinced to remove my SIM card from my phone so there was no further contact between my family and me.  

‘He told me to kill my unborn child.’ 

It’s alleged Ian’s partner Amy was left in a state of deep shock when she heard the news.

‘He could barely get the words out and he seemed to be crying, and he quickly said that we needed to terminate the pregnancy and end the relationship,’ she said in the report.

Amy further claimed the club cut her off from Ian – leaving her unable to call or text him – for the first five months of her pregnancy, which impacted his mental health. 

An Indigenous player named only as 'Ian' has claimed Clarkson (pictured) leaned over him and demanded that he 'get rid of' the unborn child he was expecting with his partner

An Indigenous player named only as ‘Ian’ has claimed Clarkson (pictured) leaned over him and demanded that he ‘get rid of’ the unborn child he was expecting with his partner

‘I will never forget that phone call or the heartbreak I felt in that moment. I was frozen on the spot, completely numb from what I had just heard Ian say.’

Amy claimed that when the couple fell pregnant again six months after the birth of their first child together, she felt like she had to abort the baby due to pressure from the club and her desire not to ‘lose Ian again’.

She went through with the termination and hasn’t been able to forgive herself since.

‘This is a sacred thing, the bond between mother and a child, and Hawthorn wiped their feet all over that,’ she said.

‘Hawthorn says it’s the family club, yet they tore ours apart.’ 

The Hawks also allegedly pressured other couples to separate early on in their pregnancies or soon after their children were born, the report claims, with two of those families given assistance with mental health support from the AFL Players’ Association.

It’s also claimed that the Hawks allegedly bullied First Nations players into choosing between their football careers and their families, and forced them to leave their homes so they could be relocated.

The incredible run of success Clarkson (pictured earlier this month) had with Hawthorn occurred as the club was bullying Indigenous players into breaking ties with their loved ones to concentrate solely on footy, it's been alleged

The incredible run of success Clarkson (pictured earlier this month) had with Hawthorn occurred as the club was bullying Indigenous players into breaking ties with their loved ones to concentrate solely on footy, it’s been alleged 

It’s alleged coaches pressured at least two young players to remove SIM cards from their phones in order to cut them off from their loved ones and force them to devote themselves entirely to the team.

On Wednesday, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachan confirmed the league will hold an independent and externally run investigation into the accusations.

It will consist of a four-person panel led by a highly regarded king’s counsel, with the make-up of the group to be made public by Thursday. 

McLachlan described the ABC report as a ‘challenging, harrowing and disturbing read’.

‘I acknowledge the hurt, the anger and the grief of people who have shared their experiences and told their stories and all of those impacted,’ he said.

‘I want to say to the women and the partners and also the players who have shared their stories that our first priority is to you, and to provide the care and the support that you need. 

‘You have been heard, and as a support and a community, we will do our best to wrap our arms around you.’

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan (pictured) described the accusations in the report as 'challenging, harrowing and disturbing'

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan (pictured) described the accusations in the report as ‘challenging, harrowing and disturbing’

Victorian Sport Minister Steve Dimopoulos described the allegations as ‘extraordinarily serious’ and the AFL Players’ Association has called for an independent, ‘wide-ranging’ investigation into the allegations 

The review was given to Hawthorn management two weeks ago and the club released the following statement on Wednesday morning.

‘Earlier this year the Hawthorn Football Club engaged external First Nations consultants to liaise with current and former First Nations players and staff to learn more about their experience at the club.

‘This important work has raised disturbing historical allegations that require further investigation. Upon learning of these allegations, the club immediately engaged AFL Integrity as is appropriate.

‘The club will continue to provide support to those who have participated in this process, and their wellbeing remains our priority.

‘While the process indicated the current environment at the club is culturally safe, it also recommended that some of the club’s current First Nations training and development programs should continue to be strengthened.

‘The club places the best interests and welfare of our players and staff as our number one priority.

‘Given the matters raised are confidential, the club will not provide any further comment at this time.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk