The Gold Coast Suns have acknowledged a “regrettable” incident of racism involving former player Joel Wilkinson at a 2013 Wacky Wednesday event, where two of his teammates dressed in blackface.
Photos of the players, Leigh Osborne and Alex Sexton, were revealed by the Herald Sun after Wilkinson released documents pertaining to a 2018 Australian Human Rights Commission case into the matter.
“The Gold Coast Suns acknowledge that Joel Wilkinson experienced racism during his AFL career with the club including two well-publicised on-field incidents. We deeply regret that he did,” a Suns statement read.
“The photo released to media is from an end-of-season player dress-up event that occurred in 2013.
“The Suns view the choice of outfits in the photo and on that day to be inappropriate, unacceptable and regrettable.”
Wilkinson told the Herald Sun he was “mortified” when he saw Osborne on the day, and said he “tried to stop it during the event”.
In a statement of his own, Osborne said he was unaware of the hurt he had caused Wilkinson at the time, and apologised to him once he had learned of the Human Rights Commission case in 2018.
“When I attended the 2013 Mad Monday-type event dressed as Joel I did so with the loan of his jumper and with his agreement after I had asked him whether it was OK to dress up as him. Joel never raised any issue about it with me on the day,” Osborne said.
“The first time I became aware that Joel was upset about what I did was when I found out about his complaint to the Human Rights Commission years later in 2018.
“As soon as I found out about it, I contacted him and apologised to him for my actions and said I was sorry for what I had done in 2013.
“I never meant to hurt or ridicule him but looking back now I understand it was wrong.”
The Suns said Sexton, who said he now understood “how upsetting and offensive my actions were”, had also apologised for his role.
An AFL statement also apologised for the blackface incident, and again acknowledged the impact racism had on Wilkinson throughout his life and football career.
“The AFL is clear that any use of blackface is never acceptable in any forum or at any time,” it said.
“While the AFL was not aware of the 2013 end-of-season blackface incident until 2018 shortly before Joel detailed the incident in his complaint to the Human Rights Commission, one thing that is clear is that the behaviour is wrong and is behaviour that we would never accept or condone.
“Again, we understand the impact this has had on Joel. We are sorry that it happened, and it shouldn’t have.”