A former AFL player has made a striking connection between his secret suffering and the AFL community’s shameful response to one star’s pain.
A former AFL player has made a striking connection between his secret suffering and the AFL community’s shameful response to one star’s pain.

Powerful twist in star’s racism monologue

Former Collingwood star Tony Armstrong has delivered a powerful message of support to former teammate Heritier Lumumba following his claims of racism within the Collingwood Football Club.

Lumumba last week said he does not want to meet with Nathan Buckley after the Magpies coach said he was keen to meet with the former star defender following his accusations on Twitter that Collingwood teammates created a "culture of racist jokes" during his 10 years at the club.

Armstrong was responding to the claim from Lumumba's former coach Mick Malthouse that he never witnessed any form of racism at Collingwood.

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Those claims were attacked by Lumumba on social media when he claimed Malthouse read some players the riot act after Lumumba was the victim of "some really cruel racism" early in his career.

Lumumba has repeatedly claimed he was ostracised by the football club before his move to the Demons in 2015 and believes his claims of widespread racism inside his former club have been "discredited" and dismissed.

It is this apparent dismissal of Lumumba's push for public recognition of his racist treatment within the club that forms a had-hitting twist in Armstrong's monologue, which he delivered as host of the Yokayi Footy show this week.

It follows the viral message delivered by Neighbours actor Meyne Wyatt during last week's episode of Q+A on the ABC.

Tony Armstrong with the Pies in 2014.
Tony Armstrong with the Pies in 2014.

In a poignant two-minute speech, Armstrong explains why it is so critical for Australia to hear Lumumba's public demands for an apology.

The former Swans and Crows star, who last year became the first Indigenous Australian to feature as the play-by-play caller on a commercial radio AFL match broadcast, reveals his own private suffering at the hands of racist jokes in the monologue - but uses his experience to show how racism can wound deeply even when it is met with a smile.

"Heritier Lumumba claims he was racially vilified at Collingwood by some of his teammates," Armstrong says at the start of the segment.

"He says it started early in his career and lasted through to 2013. Some got around him. He knows who they are. Whilst others dismissed him as unhinged and, as such, unbelievable.

"That became the narrative. I played with Heritier in his last year at Collingwood. When I met him, he was a proud black man and a strong advocate against racism. He was 27, he journeyed into himself, and he found his culture and his voice.

"I've been on a similar journey. Today, I'm strong enough to call out racism when I experience it. But that's taken a long time. At school, when I was a teenager, I couldn't do it. When my own mates made hurtful, racist jokes about me I laughed. Why? I was desperate to fit in. I was a black kid in a white school. I didn't want to make a scene.

 

Tony Armstrong in action for the Swans.
Tony Armstrong in action for the Swans.

"If that concept feels foreign, consider whether you've ever laughed to hide your hurt feelings. Recently, I told my mates about those jokes. I let them know how they'd hurt me. They were shocked. Why didn't you say something? I explained. They listened and they apologised. None of them dismissed me as unhinged. That's why they're still my mates.

"When Heritier Lumumba joined Collingwood, he was a black teenager in a white culture who was desperate to fit in. This week, every single footballer took a knee against racism. What an incredible moment. In the spirit of that gesture, we should consider whether racism is defined by how a victim reacts at the time, or how they feel. We should consider why a laugh may hide a scar. And why the bearing of that scar years later isn't unhinged, it's brave."

Armstrong last week also shared two powerful stories of how he has experienced racial profiling in and outside the football bubble.

"I went for a coffee with a couple of teammates. Two policemen followed me into the cafe," he said of his time in Melbourne.

"They went on to ask for my ID. They wanted to know where I'd been and what I was doing.

"Why? There'd been a robbery nearby. When I proved who I was, they just scoffed and walked away."

Originally published as Powerful twist in star's racism monologue



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