Making a stand
Former Gold Coast Suns' player Joel Wilkinson reveals the devastating impact racism had on his football career
FORMER Gold Coast player Joel Wilkinson has revealed the devastating impact that racism has had on his football career.
The 22-year-old Queenslander, who played 26 games for the Suns between 2011 and 2013, has spoken about his experiences in an AFL Media-produced video titled Making A Stand
Wilkinson was racially vilified by then-Western Bulldog Justin Sherman in his first AFL match in round 14, 2011.
"My first game, and I'm out there playing and I heard the remark from a player, an opposition player, 'You black c***,'" he recalls in the video.
"I remember just thinking, 'How do I go about this?'
"I was at the point where I actually was prepared to fight him, just to put the spotlight on the issue and make it a big issue.
"I remember being in the rooms with the captains and the coach. They said to me, 'Joel, what do you want to do?'
"I remember saying that I want something to happen, because I could actually feel him thinking he was superior to me, and he felt like I was worthless.
"I actually felt like he was trying to make me feel like I was a little kid, a little black kid, a little piece of dirt. And he was just a superior being."
The following year, Wilkinson, whose father is Nigerian, found himself confronting racism again when he was vilified by a Collingwood member.
"That's something that I face and I still face to this day: racism," he says.
The issue of racism among spectators again raised its head on Friday night when a Hawthorn fan was ejected from Aurora Stadium in Launceston for abusing North Melbourne's Majak Daw.
"Unfortunately there are still idiots out there," North coach Brad Scott said after the game.
"But if anything good was to come out of it, it was a Hawthorn supporter but other Hawthorn supporters around made it known to him that it wasn’t on, and those supporters are to be applauded."
The video in which Wilkinson speaks so candidly is part of the AFL's 2014 club education program, which aims to promote safe, welcoming and inclusive environments for everyone involved in football.
Three other videos have also been produced, featuring former Geelong midfielder Simon Hogan discussing depression, former Port Melbourne assistant coach Peta Searle talking about the role of women in the game and openly gay grassroots footballer Jason Ball speaking about the impacts of homophobia.
So far the videos have been shown to first- to third-year players at a number of AFL clubs.
"It's not always the easiest thing to get players to open up about these issues," the League's general manager of football operations, Mark Evans, told AFL.com.au
"But to hear about the way that they have absolutely engaged in the program says that we have taken the message brilliantly to them.
"That means there is a great opportunity in this to expand the program and potentially use some of those players as presenters to other parts of the community.
"It just seems that this project has so much scope for development."
Wilkinson was delisted by Gold Coast at the end of last season and has signed to play with Carlton's VFL affiliate, the Northern Blues, this year.
He will keep making a stand to try and stamp racism out of the game.
"You want people to be embraced in all environments, irrespective of cultural backgrounds," he says.
"For me, inclusion and identity is massive."