Hawthorn legend Cyril Rioli has spoken out for the first time about his fractured relationship with the club, with his final few years overshadowed by issues off the field.
Rioli, a four-time Hawthorn premiership player, retired in 2018 at the age of just 28.
In an interview with The Age alongside wife Shannyn, the Riolis detailed several incidents that rubbed the pair the wrong way.
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Most notably they spoke about their disappointment with club president Jeff Kennett, who during the Indigenous round of 2018, made a comment about Shannyn’s ripped jeans while at Launceston Airport.
Standing alongside a woman called Lulu, who she refers to as her mother-in-law and who also designed Hawthorn’s Indigenous round guernsey, Shannyn claims Kennett approached her regarding her jeans before making inappropriate remarks about the style of the pants.
“I felt belittled and humiliated,” Shannyn Rioli told The Age.
“The club kept saying I was overreacting, but they were portraying me as the angry black woman. They said later I had wanted to go home to Darwin for a while. That’s not right.”
Speaking on that incident also, Rioli added: “I’ve never really spoken about what happened in Tassie, but I think there was a lot of gaslighting at the end of my career by the club.”
Rioli currently remains distanced from his former club, and it’s expected he won’t attend the next 10-year premiership reunion in 2023.
Speaking on Kennett specifically, Rioli said: “I wouldn’t want to be there while he’s there.”
In another incident, the pair revealed that during an end-of-season trip in 2013, one senior player asked if the partner of one of Rioli’s Indigenous teammates was “also a boong”.
“Cyril found out about it and was very upset,” Shannyn said.
“But when it went to the leadership group they told him to ignore it and just said: ‘Don’t worry about it’. No one in the leadership group stood up to act.”
Rioli said of that incident: “Nothing really happened. We spoke about it, but it was like: ‘You’re there to play footy.’ You move on, but we should have dealt with it. Being young and not really knowing how to deal with it was hard.”
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Rioli’s wife prior to that incident had urged Hawthorn to improve its cultural awareness. She never received a response in 2012 after emailing the club’s welfare officer regarding the club’s Indigenous programs.
According to the report, new Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell has since reached out to Rioli to make peace between him and the club, while at the same time making it known his desire to improve the club’s relationship with Indigenous communities.
“I’d be up for helping clubs if they wanted me … Richmond or West Coast … but I wouldn’t go back to Hawthorn after what’s gone on. It’s the only club I wouldn’t put my hand up for right now,” Rioli said.
Following the report by The Age, Hawthorn released a statement.
“Racism in all shapes and forms is unacceptable,” the statement read.
“We are sorry that Cyril and Shannyn experienced these incidents during their time at the club.
“We are saddened these experiences have left them feeling the way they do.
“Combating racism and educating everyone both within our own walls and in the community is something we are constantly working on and believe we are getting better at. But there is always more work to be done.
“We are committed to reconciliation and ensuring our First Nations players are culturally safe and have a voice that is both listened to and acted upon.
“At Hawthorn, all of our staff and players deserve to be respected.
“Our doors will always be open to Cyril and Shannyn.”