The Project star Peter Helliar has issued an apology to former Collingwood player Heritier Lumumba after footage of a trainwreck 2017 segment resurfaced in which Helliar essentially doubted his claims of racism at the club.
Lumumba’s experiences with racism at the club were thrust back into the spotlight on Tuesday as a leaked report revealed the true extent of Collingwood’s racism problem, despite the fact that the report barely even scratches the surface on the abhorrent racism he faced.
But in addition to reminding us all just how poorly Lumumba was treated by the club, the situation also served as a stark reminder of how he was doubted by the media.
— The Project (@theprojecttv) September 12, 2017
Back in 2017, after an exclusive interview with Lumumba himself (which takes a huge amount of courage to even choose to speak publicly about these issues), Helliar’s immediate response was that the claims that Lumumba was given the nickname “chimp” hadn’t been substantiated by the club.
“Heritier has the opportunity to become a really strong, significant voice in the battle against racism with the AFL and Australian sport,” Helliar said.
“My only thing — it would be really helpful if we heard more detail, specifically with the nickname.”
Helliar then went on to explain that nobody at the club could confirm the name. Obviously, in the interest of journalistic integrity, it’s important to fact check claims, but it’s also not exactly surprising to think that Collingwood (a club that was literally investigated for their systemic racism) might not be quick to admit to name-calling.
“We can’t find anyone who would speak to us who knew of that nickname over a playing career of 10 years.
Helliar even went so far as to assert that Lumumba was “smearing an entire club”, which is particularly rich considering the racism complaints the club has copped since the interview aired.
“Even if you have to name names, take us into your experience. Paint the picture so we understand it more. Because if you don’t do that, then it just sounds like you’re smearing an entire club.”
These comments by Peter Helliar re Heritier Lumumba are cowardly, desperate and dishonest. It's pathetic to watch him cover for bullies. pic.twitter.com/mFVkzUQxU6
— Aamer Rahman (@aamer_rahman) September 13, 2017
Following the clip’s resurfacing, Helliar issued a grovelling apology on social media, asserting that he will “do better” in future and is incredibly sorry to Lumumba for his actions.
“I urge all fans & members to demand better from @CollingwoodFC,” Helliar tweeted on Tuesday morning.
“This report is heartbreaking. To @iamlumumba I am truly, unequivocally sorry. I should have believed you. I will do better.”
Lumumba has since taken to social media to reveal that The Project invited him back on the show, but he declined the offer.
— Héritier Lumumba (@iamlumumba) February 2, 2021