In Wilson’s report in The Age on the weekend, Rioli and his wife, Shannyn Ah Sam-Rioli, opened up on several incidents at Hawthorn that took place during the four-time premiership star’s career and prompted his shock retirement in 2018.
It culminated in comments from Hawks president Jeff Kennett to Shannyn about her ripped jeans at Launceston Airport in 2018, while Cyril said he wouldn’t go back to Hawthorn while Kennett is president.
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In the fallout from the explosive claims, Kennett has been called to stand down as president by influential Hawthorn group Hawks for Change.
Speaking on the matter on Channel 9’s Footy Classified on Monday night, Wilson emphasised that the issue spreads further than just Kennett’s exchanges with the Riolis.
“It is a very sad story, I know a lot of people have decided it’s an issue about Jeff Kennett and whether he should or shouldn’t leave the club,” she said.
“I maintain this is a much bigger story, it’s about every AFL club, it’s about the Hawthorn Football Club and things that happened to Cyril Rioli in the years that preceded Kennett’s presidency as well.
“His comments about Shannyn’s jeans were really the straw that broke the camel’s back after years of racial red flags that upset Cyril Rioli.
“Kennett became a symbol for everything that had happened. There are a lot of very angry Hawthorn people — people who are now in very senior positions in Australian sport and elsewhere — who say they had no idea, that they are gutted by this.
“I say that just shows how uneducated they were and how little they really understood what needed to be done.”
Wilson opened up on one example during a game between Hawthorn and Sydney at the MCG in 2015 when Adam Goodes was booed, a response that was “played down” by Hawks leaders at the time, according to Wilson.
She reported several Hawthorn players including Rioli and Shaun Burgoyne were “very upset” in the rooms at half-time, and after the game it was discussed at the Hawks internally.
Wilson revealed later that week Burgoyne met with then Hawks CEO Stuart Fox and then president Andrew Newbold about the Goodes situation, while there was a view among Hawthorn’s Indigenous players, some of who didn’t want to play the following week, that the club should’ve put out to a statement to acknowledge it.
However, she said the club’s view at the time as that Goodes’ treatment wasn’t racially motivated.
“This is just one thing that happened at Hawthorn and other clubs did not respond well to the booing of Adam Goodes either, but I’ve always felt that Hawthorn should’ve taken a stand that night,” Wilson said.
Days after that booing, Hawthorn announced a $1 million Indigenous sponsorship with the Epic Good foundation, an announcement that featured Rioli and Burgoyne.
But Wilson said in her report: “It’s just unbelievable that they were receiving $1 million over five years and yet they still only paid an Indigenous liaison officer to work for them one day a week. This is another thing that Cyril Rioli was really disappointed in, just one of many incidents”.
“Even people who were bosses of that club at the time, some quite can’t remember where the money went. No one is suggesting it was misappropriated, but did it go to the right programs for the Indigenous players who were there at time?” She said.
“If Hawthorn don’t conduct a review into what went on in the Cyril Rioli years and before, then they’re kidding themselves. Because if they don’t mend this relationship, it’s going to harm the club for years to come.”
Wilson revealed that new Hawks coach and four-time premiership teammate of Cyril’s Sam Mitchell conducted his own investigation into Wilson’s report that during an end-of-season trip, a senior player asked teammates whether the partner of an Indigenous player who was present at the time was ’also a b***g’.
Cyril‘s view was that the leadership group knew about the incident but did nothing about it, although Wilson said members of that senior playing group had reached out to her in the days following her initial report and insisted “they didn’t know about this”. Wilson, though, said she’d ascertained some senior leaders were present when the comment was made at the end-of-season trip.
She reported Mitchell had conducted his own investigation into the incident and confirmed it‘d taken place.
Mitchell reached out to Cyril in December in a bid to make peace and reinforce the club’s commitment to strengthening its ties with Indigenous Australia.
Footy Classified disclosed a text message exchange between the two.
“Thanks for your response, Sam. I am a proud Hawthorn player and I won’t be robbed of that. I’ve never said 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,” Rioli allegedly said to Mitchell via SMS.
“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 the real way. I need my club to be there in a real way.”
Mitchell reportedly responded: “Hey mate. I have been working on some things since your last message. Thank you for your passion. I had a good catch up with Chad (Wingard), Jarman (Impey), and ‘Brocky’ (Tyler Brockman) today and 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 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.”
Mitchell on the weekend said he was “saddened” by the story and was hoping to bridge the gap between the Hawks and Rioli and eventually bring him back into the fold.
“I’ve reached out to him over the last few months and (I’m) trying to get him to reconnect back with the club and show him some of the things we are doing now to try and improve in this area,” he told reporters after Hawthorn’s loss to Carlton.
“Hopefully we can welcome him back into the fold at some stage, but at the moment you’ve just got to respect his wishes that he’s not willing to do that just yet.“
Foxfooty.com.au has contacted Hawthorn for comment.
The Hawks on Saturday released an extensive statement in response to Wilson‘s initial report.
“Racism in all shapes and forms is unacceptable,” the statement read.
“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.”