‘Heartbroken’ Hawks boss makes key promise

WARNING: This story contains intergenerational trauma for indigenous people and pregnancy loss

Hawthorn CEO Justin Reeves says the club is “profoundly heartbroken” by the “disturbing” finding of its external review into the experiences of First Nations players at the club.

But despite the damning report, insists it will keep the identities of the players involved confidential.

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It comes after the ABC published a report on Wednesday containing graphic examples of alleged mistreatment of First Nations players at Hawthorn.

It alleges young First Nations players were separated from their partners, and that one couple was pressured to terminate a pregnancy in order to help the player’s career.

In a letter to members on Friday, Reeves confirmed that the club had received the externally commissioned report around two weeks ago before immediately notifying the AFL’s integrity unit.

“Earlier this year, following some media reports, Hawthorn Football Club engaged external First Nations consultants to liaise with current and former First Nations players and staff to learn more about their experience at the club,” he wrote.

“This was always about finding out if any of them required any further support in their life after football and learn more about their time at Hawthorn.

“We did not know what we would find, but we felt it was an important and responsible thing to do.

Hawthorn CEO says report into historical racism ‘heartbreaking’

“Around two weeks ago we received the results of that work. And as you can now see, some of those stories are disturbing.

“We are profoundly heartbroken that there are people who feel like this about their experience at our club.

“Upon receipt of that report, we immediately engaged AFL Integrity – both because it was a recommendation, and because it was the most appropriate next step. From here, those named in the reports would be interviewed and be given the opportunity to respond and tell their story.

Incoming Kangaroos coach Alastair Clarkson was one of three former Hawks staffers named in the report, along with Brisbane Lions coach Chris Fagan, who was an assistant under Clarkson, and ex-Hawks player development manager, Jason Burt.

“The club will continue to offer support to those who have participated in this process, and their wellbeing remains our priority. We want to assure you that will continue to be the case,” Reeves continued.

“Some may ask why we are not releasing the actual report, and it is a good question. Many of the people who participated in the report did so on the basis that it would be confidential. We won’t breach that trust.”

Appointed CEO in October 2017, Reeves said the report found the club’s current environment to be “culturally safe,” but “ongoing improvement” would be sought.

“As you may have now seen, the AFL is commencing a process to investigate the matters fully,” he wrote.

“We are completely supportive of this and will co-operate. This may take some time, but we want to assure you all we are committed to this work, and we will keep you all up to date as appropriate.

“We know that the past few days have been challenging, but we must use this as an opportunity to improve our club and make it the best it can possibly be.”

The AFL will establish an independent panel to investigate the claims

Speaking on Fox Footy’s AFL 360, chief executive Gillon McLachlan confirmed the governing body was close to finalising the panel, with the AFL Players’ Association and AFL Coaches’ Association set to be involved with the final appointments.

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