Past Indigenous AFL stars aspire to be an ‘asset to the industry’

The Indigenous Past Players' Association aims to help current and future generations

Past Indigenous AFL footy stars are stepping forward to help current and future generations through a new players’ organisation which aims to be up and running by November.

Former Fremantle Dockers and Brisbane Lions player Des Headland is president of the new group whose 13-member committee includes Derek Kickett, Peter Matera, Gavin Wanganeen, Scott Chisholm, Michael O’Loughlin, Phil Egan, Kirby Bentley and others.

The organisation, which has yet to be named but is still known by its working title of the Indigenous Past Players’ Association, held a meeting yesterday (Tuesday) as it prepares for the start of the new AFL calendar year.

“We want to be an asset to the industry, we’re not here to have a crack at the AFL,” Headland says. “We’re saying: use us, we can help with things like cultural knowledge and cultural safety.”

The organisation’s formation comes after a report prepared for it by Indigenous AFL specialist and academic Dr Sean Gorman late last year, which highlighted failings in the AFL system and clubs in dealing with Indigenous players and the problems they face during their careers and afterwards.

It also comes after the tragic death in April of former Fremantle Dockers forward Shane Yarran at the age of 28.

Twenty-five former Indigenous AFL players were involved in the study, but are not identified by name, in the individual case studies that appear in the Indigenous Past Player Forum Report 2017.

The report contains a series of recommendations based on the players’ experiences including:

*  An overarching Reconciliation Action Plan model be implemented across all clubs and administrations.

*  All clubs and administrations have cross cultural awareness training to educate their people on Indigenous issues, history, reconciliation and co-existence.

*  Indigenous liaison officers be available at all clubs to help rookies deal with issues such as homesickness, alienation and education.

*  Corporate mentoring be introduced through sponsors to help increase workplace outcomes post football.

Mr Headland said Indigenous players make up about 10 percent of the AFL player pool and he would also like to see more of them move into coaching or administration roles within AFL clubs.

He said the new organisation would aim to support players as they transition from football to lives outside the AFL. He said the experiences of past players who had had lengthy careers as well as those whose careers were cut short would be invaluable.

Mr Headland said life after football could be challenging.

“It’s tough out there,” he said. “A lot of players think the AFL and footy will last forever.”

“This will give them a network to tap into.”

Dr Gorman, the author of a 2016 book on racial vilification in the AFL called The Biggest Game in Town, is currently serving as the acting managing director of the new players’ organisation.

He said setting up footballers for their lives after professional sport should start while they are rookies.

Meanwhile, the Essendon Football Club is reportedly moving to house an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sports hall of fame in a $20 million extension to the club’s base.

The club did not respond to calls from NIT this week, but The Age reported earlier this month the club was in talks with federal government ministers about funding.

By Wendy Caccetta

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