‘I was mortified ... he came in black paint’
EX-SUNS AFL PLAYER SPEAKS OUT ON RACISM
A FRESH footy racism storm has erupted, with the emergence of photographs showing two white players dressed in blackface at a Gold Coast Suns club celebration, and a letter from AFL lawyers contesting an African teammate’s complaint.
The AFL and the two players yesterday issued formal apologies over the blackface incident to former Suns player Joel Wilkinson.
Wilkinson released the documents to the media because he said the AFL industry and legal process had failed to appropriately address his concerns regarding racism during an Australian Human Rights Commission case from 2018 to November 2019.
The photographs show then-teammates Leigh Osborne and Alex Sexton painted with black faces at a Wacky Wednesday end-ofseason event in 2013.
The legal letter from the AFL, sent to Wilkinson during the commission case, targeted him for celebrating his African culture rather than addressing his claims of institutional racism in the league, he said.
At the 2013 event, Osborne was imitating Wilkinson, of Nigerian descent, while Sexton was portraying an Indigenous teammate.
Wilkinson said that when Osborne flagged that he planned to dress up as him at the function, he was very reluctant for him to do so.
Wilkinson said he was assured by Osborne that he only intended to impersonate his professionalism at training and ability in the gym, referencing he’d carry a water bottle and wear compression shorts and ankle tape, items Wilkinson always kept on him.
Wilkinson made it clear to Osborne, “don’t make a mockery of me”, he said.
At the event, Osborne wore Wilkinson’s jumper, protruding white ankle straps and tights with Wilkinson’s name and the word protein written in black ink on them, and carried a water bottle. And he painted his face and body black.
Sexton – who is still playing for the Suns – donned the blackface as he portrayed an Indigenous teammate.
Wilkinson said he would never forget how bad he felt.
“When I arrived I saw him and another teammate in black paint, I was mortified and so angry I couldn’t believe he came in black paint,” he said.
“The only people who showed any type of remorse were the Indigenous players in the team.
“I tried to stop ... I thought when we returned from the event they would be held accountable by the club, the Gold Coast Suns, but nothing happened, to my dismay. It very much was a representation of my whole career in the AFL and how they never cared or put in place the systems to protect my wellbeing against racism.”
But he also said he never imagined that the insult would get worse, when his decision to dress and celebrate his culture on the day would five years later be used by AFL lawyers in what he said was a bid to discredit his claims of racial discrimination.
Wilkinson said he originally reported the incident and the other alleged racism he faced during and after his career to the AFL and the AFL Players Association over the summer of 2013 to 2014, and for several years after. And he said he reported all the racial incidents to the Suns throughout his career.
“And no one did anything about it,’’ he said.
Wilkinson filed a lawsuit in May 2018 against the AFL, the Suns and six other AFL teams, and four individuals, for racial discrimination, racially aggravated sexual abuse and religious vilification.