Hawthorn CEO Justin Reeves at centre of latest AFL bombshell

Justin Reeves is the latest high-profile AFL figure to step down mid-season, following Alastair Clarkson and Damien Hardwick.

·5-min read
Hawthorn CEO Justin Reeves embraces Hawks coach Sam Mitchell.
Hawthorn CEO Justin Reeves has announced he is stepping down from his position. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Hawthorn CEO Justin Reeves has resigned from his role, plunging the Hawks' already difficult AFL season into further turmoil. The club has been mored at the bottom of the AFL ladder as they embark on a rebuild in 2023, one which has commenced with the AFL investigation into historical allegations of racism against former coaches Alastair Clarkson, Chris Fagan and Jason Burt proceeding in the background.

Reeves confirmed he was stepping down after meeting with the Hawthorn board mid-week. He has faced significant pressure not only due to the aforementioned investigation, but also behind-the-scenes movement on Hawthorn's board which eventually lead to former club president Jeff Kennett's retirement in 2022.

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Appointed to the CEO position in 2018 with the backing of Kennett, Reeves was a key player in the ill-fated succession plan which saw Clarkson leave the club one year before his contract was due to expire and hand the reigns over to assistant coach and former player Sam Mitchell. The saga left Clarkson feeling embittered towards the club he lead to four premierships, and cost the Hawks a $900,000 payout to the former coach.

He was also for the club's cultural safety review, which exposed the allegations against Clarkson, Fagan, and Burt, accusations all three have strenuously denied. Clarkson, who was hired as North Melbourne coach in 2022 just weeks before the allegations surfaced, has since stepped down from the role citing the ongoing pressure the investigation has placed on him.

Reeves maintained his position as CEO after 1991 premiership player Andy Gowers was voted in as Kennett's successor. He had been close with Kennett, reportedly to the point where it strained the relationship with Clarkson in the 2020 and 2021 AFL seasons.

“I’ve worked hard with my team to establish strong foundations for the club to work through some important cultural, strategic and operational matters and, with that work done, I’m confident the club can emerge stronger than ever,” Reeves said in a club statement announcing the move. “I believe now is the right time to hand over to new leadership.

"I’m confident my departure will allow the board to identify a new CEO to lead our incredibly talented executive team, to ensure future club sustainability and success and support club coaches Sam Mitchell and Bec Goddard. I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead Hawthorn.”

Hawthorn CEO steps down amid fierce criticism from Hawks greats

The AFL investigation into the club has revealed major tensions still exist between the Hawks and several high-profile former players. Premiership stars Luke Hodge and Jordan Lewis have both suggested the club needs to take more responsibility for the role it played in the allegations coming to light.

Clarkson's decision to step down at North Melbourne left Lewis 'shocked', but he said the animosity the former coach felt towards the Hawks was shared by many unhappy with how the club had handled the situation. He told Fox Footy was was sympathetic to the position Clarkson was in and said the AFL needed to pull out all the stops to resolve the situation - not just for Clarkson but also for those who had originally made the allegations.

Lewis said Hawthorn had a lot to answer for, declaring the club had 'blood on their hands' and saying those in charge of the AFL investigation had failed to do their job. Clarkson launched an attack on both Hawthorn and the AFL's lead investigator, Bernard Quinn KC, in an explosive press conference a week before deciding to step down.

Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell shakes hands with Jarman Impey.
The Hawks are in the midst of a rebuilding season, with just two wins from their first 10 games. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

“There are people still at Hawthorn with blood on their hands. The more I talk about it, the angrier I get,” Lewis said.

“He’s the most resilient person that I’ve ever come across in my life. So for him to get to a point where it’s taken such a significant toll on him for him to be able to step away and acknowledge that he’s not dealing with the situation greatly and his mental health is suffering, and I can only imagine how much his family has been put through at this particular time shows just how much stress he’s been under.

“These people who were put in place to interview both sides of the situation to get a clearer picture of what actually happened haven’t done their job. I feel for the Indigenous players because they probably went into this situation hoping there would be an outcome.

"Once again, eight months down the track they still feel like they’re in limbo. The same goes for the other side of the camp. They haven’t even had a chance to talk.

“I couldn’t imagine that they would want to go back to the football club for a very, very long time. It’s really sad.”

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