Cyril Rioli, Sam Mitchell text exposes Hawthorn gaslighting over racism claims: AFL 2022

A text message exchange between two Hawthorn champions has revealed why Cyril Rioli felt so let down by his former AFL club.

A text message exchange between Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell and former teammate Cyril Rioli has revealed how the under-fire club is working to rectify cultural issues that contributed to the four-time premiership player’s premature retirement.

Rioli stepped away from football in 2018 after a series of alleged racist incidents at the club, including one where a “senior player” reportedly asked teammates on a post-season trip in 2013 whether the partner of an Indigenous player was “also ab** *g”.

According to a report from The AgeRioli’s wife Shannyn Ah Sam-Rioli twice urged the club to improve its cultural awareness practices without significant action being taken.

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Since the report, calls for Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett to resign have grown. He allegedly made comments about Shannyn’s clothing ela at Launceston Airport in 2018 that left her feeling “belittled and humiliated”.

Speaking on Channel 9’s Footy Classified on Monday, veteran reporter Caroline Wilson said “if Hawthorn don’t conduct a review into what went on in the Cyril Rioli years and before, then they’re kidding themselves”.

Wilson also exclusively revealed text messages exchanged between Mitchell and Rioli where the three-time All-Australian accused the club of “gaslighting” him towards the end of his playing career, claiming the “AFL needs to change in a significant way”.

“Thanks for your response, Sam,” Rioli’s message from December last year started.

“I am a proud Hawthorn player and I won’t be robbed of that. I’ve never said that I wasn’t. Not only is that evident in the life I spent with the Hawks, but that’s also evident in how we’ve never engaged the media on this. I have always been proud of that club and my contributions in making the club what it is.

“I’m just so disappointed in the lack of support and the gaslighting that happened at the end of my career. I’ve given my life to Hawthorn and have helped build that organisation. I agree that there is a need for change. It’s not lost on me or the nation that the AFL needs to change in a significant way. While I do want that – we need to sort this out in a real way. I need my club to be there in a real way.”

In response, Mitchell explained how Hawthorn was working to educate players and staff on cultural issues, inviting Rioli to be part of the process in whatever capacity he desired.

“Hey mate, I have been working on some things since your last message. Thank you for your passion,” Mitchell responded in January.

“We are putting together some plans starting with education around Australia Day. We are looking at how to best educate our playing group and staff around its history and how it can be a really hurtful day. We have a working party of people coming together to make sure we are an educated and thoughtful playing and coaching group.

“Whenever you feel you would like to be a part of the change we are trying to make (even just to watch or have information about what we are doing) then just reach out.

“I am very passionate about this and want to get this right from the start. PS I hope you and Shan are great up there. Would love to catch up some time in your home town.”

Footy Classified host Sam McClure said: “Taking that on face value, that’s a strong reflection on Sam’s leadership there, talking about Australia Day.”

Former Essendon star Matthew Lloyd continued: “It sounds like Sam could be the person who brings this all together.”

Hawthorn statement in response to Rioli bombshell

“Racism in all shapes and forms is unacceptable.

“We are sorry that Cyril and Shannyn experienced these incidents during their time at the club.

“We are saddened these experiences have left them feeling the way they do.

“Combating racism and educating everyone both within our own walls and in the community is something we are constantly working on and believe we are getting better at. But there is always more work to be done.

“We are committed to reconciliation and ensuring our First Nations players are culturally safe and have a voice that is both listened to and acted upon.

“At Hawthorn, all of our staff and players deserve to be respected.

“Our doors will always be open to Cyril and Shannyn.”

Full statement from Hawks for Change

“Hawks for Change is deeply and concerned by reports that Hawthorn President Jeff Kennett made highly inappropriate remarks which led to distress for Cyril Rioli, his wife and their family which resulted in their subsequent disappointed departure from the Hawthorn Football Club.

“Jeff Kennett’s disrespect of the Rioli family is the latest shameful example of why he is not fit to serve as President of our beloved football club. Jeff Kennett, through his actions, has again brought the reputation of the Hawthorn Football Club into disrepute.

“Cyril Rioli has confirmed he will not re-engage with the Hawthorn Football Club while Jeff Kennett remains associated with the club. Cyril told The Age “I wouldn’t want to be there while he’s (Jeff Kennett) there”. This is no way to treat a four-time Hawthorn premiership player.

“We are disappointed to see further reports in the media today about previous inappropriate behavior including Jeff proudly talking in the media about owning a golliwog called “Buddy”.

“Thanks to Hawks for Change, Jeff previously agreed to step down by 30 June 2022.

“Hawks for Change now calls on Jeff Kennett to resign immediately and directors of the Hawthorn Football Club must take a stand and seek Jeff’s resignation today.

“When Eddie McGuire realized he had done the wrong thing he resigned.

“Under the new leadership of Sam Mitchell, the Hawthorn Football Club is fiercely united on the field, but under the stale leadership of Jeff Kennett our Club is clearly divided off it.

“Hawks for Change will continue our campaign for greater diversity and democracy in the leadership of our Club.

“For the good of the mighty Hawthorn Football Club Jeff Kennett must go.”

Originally published as ‘So disappointed’: Cyril Rioli’s text message calls out Hawthorn’s ‘gaslighting’

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