Newcastle backrower Mitch Barnett has passionately denied claims he directed a racial slur towards Indigenous player Tyrone Peachey, saying: "I am not a racist."
Barnett was accused of calling the Gold Coast utility a 'black c***' in Sunday's victory over the Knights, but an NRL investigation found no evidence to reach a conclusion.
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After an NRL-facilitated conciliation meeting between the pair on Wednesday night, neither player would concede their truth.
And while he applauded Peachey's bravery for calling out what he believed to be racism, in a statement on Thursday afternoon Barnett denied racially vilifying him.
"Racism has no place in society, and no place in the game," Barnett said.
"I am many things. A son, a husband, a teammate.
"I am not a racist and I did not racially abuse Tyrone Peachey.
"I cannot be clearer on this."
Barnett's statement was not a requirement of the conciliation process, but the 26-year-old wanted to clear his name.
In the days since the incident Peachey has publicly condemned the remarks, saying he is sure of what he heard Barnett say and is disappointed in the outcome of the NRL investigation.
However, in his statement Barnett labelled it a misunderstanding and admitted he swore at Peachey but did not use a racist slur.
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He said he was shocked and heartbroken to be accused of racism.
"While I am shattered to be accused of such an act, one positive to come from all of this is it has generated a conversation around racism," Barnett said.
"It is a conversation that needs to continue and extends beyond rugby league.
"Players should call out discrimination and I support Tyrone in speaking out.
"I hope Tyrone continues to receive support from the game and his club.
"However, that does not change the fact I did not say what I was accused of saying.
"While in this case, there was a misunderstanding, I hope this situation has made everyone more conscious of the evils of racism."
Barnett is set to play in the Knights' elimination final against South Sydney on Sunday afternoon.
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