South Sydney superstar Latrell Mitchell has made a bold statement after claims he was racially abused by a young NRL fan, at halftime of his side's round two defeat to Penrith. The 25-year-old stressed that “racial abuse is as unacceptable in society as it is in rugby league” after he was allegedly called a “bl**k dog” by a teenage supporter at BlueBet Stadium.
NSW Police and the NRL Integrity Unit are both investigating the alleged incident, with witness testimony being gathered to determine exactly what the young boy said to the fullback. The ugly saga has sparked widespread condemnation in the league world, with commentators, players, coaches and fans all showing their support for Mitchell and calling for racism to be booted out of the sport.
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Mitchell was spotted wearing white socks with the Aboriginal flag printed on them at Rabbitohs training on Monday, in a powerful sign of pride around his Indigenous heritage. Speaking for the first time since the incident that has dominated headlines all week, Mitchell told the Daily Telegraph that although racism is something he's had to deal with his whole life, it has no place in society, let alone rugby league.
“Whilst the support from people inside and outside rugby league since Thursday night has been great, nobody should have to deal with racial abuse in 2023," he said. Mitchell admits he felt an obligation to his family and other Indigenous players in the NRL to call out racism, just as the Rabbitohs and Panthers did on Thursday night.
“It is important for me to call this abuse out immediately,” Mitchell added. Not only for myself, but every Indigenous person who has suffered or suffers this sort of abuse. We have a number of Indigenous players in our squad - who will have all been as equally offended by the comment."
The alleged offender has been identified as a teenage boy wearing a Sydney Roosters jersey over a hoodie. Police have been told by several witnesses that the term used against Mitchell was “filthy dog”, in contrast to what others have testified to have heard.
Teammates rally behind Latrell Mitchell
Rabbitohs teammates have rallied around their superstar fullback, amid concerns in some quarters that continued racial abuse of Mitchell could drive him away from the game - much in the same way it did to Sydney Swans legend Adam Goodes in the AFL. Mitchell traveled back to Taree to spend time with family after the latest incident, with Rabbitohs teammates commending the manner in which he has responded to the ugly controversy.
"He's dealt with it and called it out and it's not about Latrell really, it's about the whole community and what it stands for," Souths prop Tom Burgess said. "If we stand for that, then we're just as bad.
"It's about all standing up together and calling it out (for everyone) who has been discriminated against. Good on Latrell for standing up for what he believes in, and we all believe in that too. He's a big role model for his culture and his people and he's really strong in that sense."
Souths prop Junior Tatola, who is of Tongan descent, said Mitchell's actions had brought the Rabbitohs squad closer together. "Everyone is beside him," Tatola said.
"We're in 2023 and it's still happening and it's not just happening to Latrell. My nephew, he's in kindergarten and he's getting racially abused. They're only kids but they're learning it from somewhere. It's got to stop. It makes me furious how it's still happening."
Burgess says Mitchell's actions are important to give others the courage to stand up to racial abuse and call out social injustice. "He gives inspiration to people out in the country 11 hours away; they're finding strength from what Latrell did," Burgess added.
"The waves of what he does, those travel massively. He's got to keep being Latrell and we will be there to support him."
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