NATHAN Buckley says he was guilty of "dismissing" former Magpies teammate Heritier Lumumba's claims of racism at the club, with the Collingwood coach admitting his response reinforced "pain and trauma" for the premiership defender.
In an exclusive interview with AFL.com.au, the out-of-contract Magpies coach and former captain addressed the club's independent 'Do Better' report for the first time, including the dramatic fallout that saw president Eddie McGuire depart his post after more than two decades in the position.
The report was tabled to the club in December but Buckley said he had not read it until it leaked to the media in late January, with 18 recommendations adopted by the Magpies after the report found "systemic racism" at the club through its involvement in significant race-related incidents in the game.
>> WATCH THE BUCKLEY INTERVIEW IN THE PLAYER BELOW
Lumumba's allegations of racism against the club over a number of years were an impetus for the report being commissioned, with ex-Magpies Leon Davis and Andrew Krakouer also detailing their history of suffering racism at the club. Buckley pointed to a post-game press conference in 2017 where he didn't acknowledge Lumumba's experience.
"In the end we've seen Heritier, Leon and now Andrew who have spoken from the heart about their experiences. I have a personal reflection. There was a press conference I gave in 2017 when Heritier's documentary came out," Buckley said.
"I wasn't able to separate myself from the personal connection and the potential feeling of not having been able to have done enough in that circumstance to lift myself out of that to see the bigger picture which is that what Heritier's talking about, what Leon's talking about, what Andrew has spoken about, is their experience. Where they want to be and what we want the place to be – we're united in that.
"We don't want people to ever feel like they're diminished or vilified or seen as less than in our environment. If that is their experience then it needs to be acknowledged and for that I think the club has said it apologises unreservedly and obviously I have been a part of this club for a long time so I don't like the fact that people have felt that way and I've got to – we've all got to – listen and learn more to the experiences and acknowledge them rather than dismissing them.
"There was a presser when I look back in 2017 and it was dismissive and I needed to be better than that."
Buckley, who enters his 10th season as Magpies coach this year, last year invited Lumumba to return to the club to see the positive steps it had taken to confront the issue. He said he viewed his responses from that press conference in a different context as the club better views systemic racism.
"What I now understand is that is a form of systemic racism, the dismissing and denial of experience is not a direct act but in many ways it reinforces the pain and trauma that Heritier felt and that Andrew and Leon have spoken about. It's feeling like they don't have a voice and they don't have somewhere to go and that's the systemic aspect of it," he said.
"When you reflect on that you [think] 'OK, how can we do this better?' because you've got to be aware and conscious of it, and there's a lot of listening [to] and learning [from] that needs to take place from the people that have felt for a long time that they don't have a voice. I feel like we've taken pretty good strides as a club.
"Our internal environment has improved but clearly there's still work to do and as I said, it's not about my experience, it's not about anyone's experience from a white privileged background, it's actually about hearing the experiences of people who feel like they're not being honoured the way they should be."
In the wake of the report, 150 footballers and netballers at Collingwood wrote a letter apologising to "anyone who, through their association with our club, has been marginalised, hurt or discriminated against due to their race", with 120 staff endorsing the message. The club's past players also welcomed the findings from the report.
Buckley said the club "had to front up to" its past.
"There was a big part of 'What does this actually say about us? What do we need to learn? What do we need to listen to? What do we need to acknowledge?' to be better," he said.
"There was an element of 'OK, what does this mean for us?' even if you're a young player at the club, if you're a senior leader, if you're a staff member, even myself. Where do we go from here? There was a lot of questions, a lot of conversations, and those conversations are the right ones to have.
"It's about the experiences of those that feel like they have been marginalised and discriminated against and felt lesser in the environment and that's over a long period of time."
McGuire had brought forward 2021 to be his final season at the helm of Collingwood, but stepped down after mounting pressure for his response to the report, when he labelled it an "historic and proud day" for the club.
Buckley says he understood those who questioned McGuire's terminology, which included AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan.
"The more you put yourself in this position [in front of a microphone], the more likely you are to say something that's not quite going to hit the mark and I think that was one of them," Buckley said of the comments.
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"He's owned that, we've owned that, and once again that reinforces potentially the trauma that Indigenous people or minorities have felt through the Collingwood Football Club's contribution. That simply has to stop now."
Collingwood has appointed directors Peter Murphy and Mark Korda to be co-presidents as the club decides on McGuire's replacement, with Buckley not being drawn on McGuire's legacy being tarnished.
"He's either loved or hated. There's not a lot in between with Ed, and I think that's been a Collingwood way. I think we have modified that in the last three or four years, we don't chest beat as much, we're generally more open and transparent and willing to learn and listen and to grow, and to impact as positively as we possibly can," he said.
"But there's years of a character that has been portrayed for Collingwood, and by Collingwood, so I understand that's a reality.
"Ed's probably fed into that in some ways and been a victim of it in others but the reality is to take our steps forward as an organisation we need to be more circumspect. We need to understand that we don't know it all, that we can be a leader in society let alone in the football industry."