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Ex-Sun prepares to sue AFL over harassment

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FORMER Gold Coast player Joel Wilkinson's AFL career came to an end because he spoke out against the "heinous" levels of racism, according to his lawyer who also claims the League acted to silence him.

The Suns defender is preparing to sue the League over alleged racial vilification and sexual harassment during his three-year playing career.

The case is set to be filed with the Australian Human Rights Commission by the end of the week after talks between the AFL and 26-year-old Wilkinson, who is of Nigerian descent, broke down.

Shine Lawyers, who have teamed with American lawyer Mika Hilaire, allege Wilkinson was subjected to discrimination by AFL staff, Suns officials and teammates, as well as opponents and spectators.

Wilkinson immediately took issue after his 2011 AFL debut as a 19-year-old when racially abused by Western Bulldogs rival Justin Sherman. He was also vilified by a Collingwood member the following year and called out racism after the incident.

"We have very clear evidence that demonstrates Mr Wilkinson was excelling in his career," Shine's Will Barsby told reporters on Wednesday.

"And as soon as he raised with his superiors some direct discrimination that he experienced on field during a game at the hands of another player, he was shortly let go, thereafter.

"He was shunned. He was silenced. He was then further mistreated by other players.

"He continued to be heckled by the crowd then he was not offered a renewed contract as a result of speaking up about why it's not right."

Wilkinson played 26 games in three seasons as a rebounding defender in a young side struggling to make an impact.

Mr Barsby said the foundation Sun was also subjected to "racially-enticed sexual harassment" in the changerooms and suffered "significant psychological reaction" as a result of his experiences.

"People will say that's just locker room banter and that's the boys club but when an individual does not want to be subjected to that treatment, that's when it becomes unlawful," he said.

Wilkinson had the courage to come forward and strength not to be silenced by a "gag order", his lawyer said.

Joel Wilkinson and Justin Sherman in 2011. Picture: AFL Photos

"For too long, organisations like the AFL have been gagging people with hush money and forcing them to sign confidentiality deeds so they can't talk about their experiences," he added.

In a statement on Wednesday, the AFL apologised to Mr Wilkinson for the racial abuse he experienced.

"We are sorry that Mr. Wilkinson suffered experiences of racial abuse during his time as an AFL footballer," it said.

"He has previously shared his experience of racial abuse, helping educate the community via a series of social awareness videos produced with the AFL.

"We respect a person's right to pursue claims through the legal system.

"We will continue to work with Joel to seek to resolve this matter."

Mr Barsby said the legal action could spark others to speak out against the League, labelling Wilkinson's alleged experiences the "tip of the iceberg".

Indigenous players Adam Goodes and Nicky Winmar are among the highest-profile AFL players to have responded to racism on the field. Sydney great Goodes went on to play 372 games, while Winmar played 251 for St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs.