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AFL not safe for Indigenous players: Eddie Betts

Eddie Betts says the AFL is not safe for Indigenous players.
Heavy heart ... the abuse has taken its toll on Eddie Betts. Photo: AAP
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Eddie Betts believes the AFL is not a safe environment for Indigenous players, having vowed to continue fighting racism beyond Saturday’s swan song.

Carlton great Betts has announced he will retire after playing his 350th game, joining Adam Goodes and Shaun Burgoyne as the only Indigenous players to celebrate the milestone.

Betts said he is most proud of his five children and efforts to call out racism, rather than any of the countless highlights, 638 goals or 166 wins spread across 16 seasons.

The 34-year-old, who last week implored Australians to help tackle racism in a powerful speech following Taylor Walker’s remark, admitted on Tuesday there is much to be done within the AFL.

“I don’t feel like it’s safe at the moment,” Betts said.

“I feel like there’s still a lot of racism.

“This year there has been a lot of racism. It’s been draining and it’s been tiring.

“Every year we’ve seen myself and the other Aboriginal boys standing up, trying to call it out, trying to make a stance.

He said that in recent conversations with AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan, he had called for the league to be stronger and “somehow catch these people”.

“And keep them accountable for what they say online or over the fence.”

Betts noted it was Goodes’ activism that helped him find his own voice and ability to make a difference.

He said it inspired in him the belief that he “had the strength and courage to stamp out racism”.

Goodes was routinely booed by crowds throughout his final few seasons, with the AFL belatedly apologising for its lack of action during an unfitting end to the champion’s 372-game career.

Betts, who revealed plans to launch his own foundation to help “Aboriginal kids achieve their goals, dreams and be leaders in whatever aspect they want to”, and Goodes spoke for approximately half an hour last week.

“Just getting some advice and seeing how he dealt with it and how he felt,” Betts said.

“I told him I’m going to hang up the boots.

“He gave me some support and guidance and said, ‘mate, the next chapter of your life is going to be pretty special’.”

The AFL, responding to Walker’s suspension, has flagged plans to beef up sanctions and player education while forcing every club to employ a full-time Indigenous liaison officer.

Betts is among several AFL players to have been targeted with racist abuse by trolls on social media during recent seasons.

“I’m not the one that’s going to make change. It’s not on Aboriginal people here in Australia … we need everyone to chip in,” he said.

“Because nobody is born racist. Everyone’s learned it along the way somewhere or heard it.

“I’ll still call it out, even when I’m not playing footy. I’ll still use my voice.

“I’m still going to be there for the rest of the Aboriginal boys who are playing. I’m still going to help them, going to be their support, shoulder to lean on.”

-AAP