Chris Johnson backs Hawthorn great Cyril Rioli over his break with the club over comments by Hawks’ president Jeff Kennett
Posted On April 2, 2022
Chris Johnson, a member of the AFL’s Indigenous Team of the Century, has backed Cyril Rioli’s decision to cut ties with Hawthorn while Jeff Kennett remains club president, saying he and his wife have every right to feel the way they do.
Cyril Rioli has revealed he will not return to Hawthorn while Jeff Kennett remains at the club
Rioli’s break with the Hawks centres on comments Kennett made to his wife Shannon Ah Sam-Rioli in 2018
Hawthorn has apologised to Rioli and his wife and said they were welcome back at the Hawks at any time
In a report in The Age on Saturday, Rioli said he would not return to the club in any capacity while Kennett remained in his post.
The four-time premiership winner said a series of issues had fractured the relationship between Hawthorn and its Indigenous players during his time there from 2008 until his retirement in 2018.
These included comments by Kennett towards Rioli’s wife Shannyn Ah Sam-Rioli that contributed to his decision to end his career at the Hawks at the age of just 28.
Speaking on ABC’s AFL coverage on Saturday night, Johnson took issue with people who disregard or downplay comments made to Indigenous Australians that cause hurt or embarrassment.
“We as Indigenous people think a flippant comment is not a flippant comment; it’s a comment,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who also captained the Australian International Rules team in 2005 and was twice named All-Australian, said First Nations people carried trauma “for a long, long time” after racial insults.
“We always have to be forgiving of people, but sometimes enough is enough and sometimes you’re better off without those people or that environment in your life.
“It wasn’t just that incident, there’s a few other things as well.
Hawthorn issued a public apology to Rioli and Ah-Sam Rioli over their experiences during their time at the club, saying “racism in all shapes and forms is unacceptable”.
“At Hawthorn, all of our staff and players deserve to be respected,” the statement read.
“Our doors will always be open to Cyril and Shannyn.”
Kennett’s term as president is due to end in December 2023.
However, a nominating committee will report back to the club board by the end of June, with reports that recent board arrival Ian Silk is seen as a potential candidate to replace Kennett.
Hawthorn supporters group Hawks for Change released a statement on Saturday saying it was “deeply disappointed and concerned” by Kennett’s comments.