Soward condemns racial abuse
Penrith Panthers five-eighth Jamie Soward is the latest NRL player to condemn an alleged racial slur directed at Newcastle Knights player Dane Gagai during his side's loss to the Sharks on the weekend.
Soward labelled the alleged remarks "disgraceful", echoing the sentiments of fellow Indigenous star Johnathan Thurston and former Broncos great Justin Hodges who both rushed to Gagai's defence earlier in the week.
The incident marred an otherwise wonderful Indigenous Round that celebrated and promoted the bond between rugby league and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Soward played for the Aboriginal Dreamtime side in 2008 and has gone on to represent the Indigenous All Stars three times, including alongside Gagai earlier this year.
The Penrith playmaker said Sunday's incident provided the NRL with an opportunity to take a stand against racism by making an example of the accused perpetrator.
"I think the NRL has got a real chance now – especially with Todd (NRL CEO Todd Greenberg) taking over – he's got a chance now to stamp his authority and rub people like that out of the game," Soward said on Thursday morning.
"We saw what happened with Adam Goodes last year and how long it took the AFL to really sort that situation out and make Adam feel comfortable within the game again.
"He had to take time off from the game and go away, and we don't want that for Dane. We want him to be able to feel safe in his environment and go out and play good footy because he's a fantastic player."
Soward admitted he had been on the receiving end of racial abuse when he was younger and emphatically declared that "there's no room for it" in today's environment.
"As players we appreciate the fans, sponsors and everyone that comes to the games to support your team, and we understand that [as players] you do get pressure," he said.
"Me most of all understands that fans are going to say things at times. You've got to remember that we have families too. We go through things ourselves and for that fan – or those fans – to say what they said to Dane was disgraceful.
"As far as I'm concerned that fan should be really ashamed of himself and he's not welcome to any NRL ground, not just Newcastle."