CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses allegations of racism, as well as pregnancy termination, trauma and mental health issues including suicide. 

An external review of alleged racism within AFL club Hawthorn will reveal claims the club was involved in separating First Nations players from families and demanded a player tell his partner to terminate their pregnancy for the sake of the player’s career, the ABC reports.

The racism review will allege club staff involved included coach Alastair Clarkson and former assistant coach Chris Fagan, who is now head coach of the Brisbane Lions. Incidents were said to have occurred during Clarkson’s time as head coach when the team won four premierships.

Hawthorn had more than 20 First Nations players during that time. Three families involved told the ABC staff allegedly bullied First Nations players, removed them from their homes and into alternative accommodations and blatantly told them to choose between their careers and their families.

Coaches also allegedly coerced at least two young First Nations players, both in their first five years at the club, to remove SIM cards from their phones so they couldn’t contact their families in an attempt to make them focus on the sport.

The most abhorrent allegations, however, are that the club used intimidation tactics to separate couples at the earliest stages of pregnancies and parenthood, again to supposedly keep the players’ focus on football, and demand one player tell his partner to terminate a pregnancy.

The player told the ABC anonymously that when he joyfully announced to his teammates that his partner was pregnant after having miscarried previously, a group of coaches including Clarkson and Fagan ushered him into an office. He claimed he was told to have the pregnancy terminated, break up with his partner and move into the home of an assistant coach.

“It was so intimidating, confusing and upsetting,” the player said.

“Clarkson just leaned over me and demanded that I needed to get rid of my unborn child and my partner,” the player claimed.

“I was then manipulated and convinced to remove my SIM card from my phone, so there was no further contact between my family and me. They told me I’d be living with one of the other coaches from that night onwards.

“He told me to kill my unborn kid.”

The abortion didn’t go ahead, but the player said he was separated from his family and his partner said she was unable to contact him until the five-month mark in her pregnancy.

When he was allowed to move back in with her it was on the condition that they move away from their suburb to one more in line with Hawthorn’s “image”.

“They just bullied us into moving house and I gave in because I felt powerless,” his partner told the ABC.

“We were made to move house when I was 37 weeks pregnant. It was a very stressful time and I remember thinking that I should be resting right now, not moving heavy furniture. I had my baby the following week at 38 weeks.”

The families involved told the review these actions created multi-generational trauma. Two have since been given mental health help from the AFL Players’ Association due to the suicide risk after they had to relive the trauma for the review.

The racism review was handed to Hawthorn’s senior management two weeks ago and has now been passed to the AFL integrity unit. If Collingwood’s racism review in 2021 is anything to go by, this will send shockwaves through the team and league.

Alastair Clarkson did not respond to questions from the ABC but Hawthorn released a statement on Monday night. It called the allegations “disturbing”, but also said “the process indicated the current environment at the club is culturally safe.”

“This important work has raised disturbing historical allegations that require further investigation. Upon learning of these allegations, the club immediately engaged AFL Integrity as is appropriate,” the statement read.

“The club will continue to provide support to those who have participated in this process, and their wellbeing remains our priority.

“While the process indicated the current environment at the club is culturally safe, it also recommended that some of the club’s current First Nations training and development programs should continue to be strengthened.

“The club places the best interests and welfare of our players and staff as our number one priority.”

The AFL also released a statement that said it took the allegations ‘very seriously’.

“The AFL takes extremely seriously all matters where people report experiencing harm, discrimination or mistreatment in our industry,” it said.

“The experiences outlined in the document are extremely serious and require further and full examination.

“The AFL is finalising a process to investigate the allegations and has sought further details of those who shared their experiences in order to progress its investigation.”

After leaving his role as head coach at the Hawthorn Football Club during the 2021 season, Clarkson was appointed head coach at North Melbourne. He will begin his role for the 2023 season.

Help is available. 

If you require immediate assistance, please call 000.

If you need mental health support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or chat online

Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.

You can also report instances of racism or discrimination to the Australian Human Rights Commission on 1300 656 419 or lodge a complaint online.

Image: Getty Images / Robert Cianflone