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Mitchell should be applauded for strong stance on racism

Over the last two weeks, Latrell Mitchell and Blake Ferguson have both been on the receiving end of some disgusting and inappropriate comments made via social media, in particular targeting their Indigenous heritage and commitment to their culture.

I want to make one thing clear. These people are not only 'online trolls'. They are racist and there is no place for them in the game of rugby league, sport in general or Australian society.

Mitchell spent some time away from the game last week with his family, but then responded in a spectacular fashion on the weekend in both word and deed.

On Sunday, the Roosters thumped the Warriors 42-6. In that victory Mitchell contributed 18 points, scoring two tries and kicking five goals.

After the game, Mitchell also addressed the media, outlining what a challenging week it had been for him and his family.

He vowed to continue to call out racist behaviour and thanked many people for their support, including Adam Goodes and Lance Franklin of the Sydney Swans who both reached out to Mitchell last week.

It's timely that this conversation is happening once again, particularly following an article on the weekend about Goodes, where he admitted that he had fallen out of love with AFL in retirement.

This retirement was arguably premature and was a decision in response to those fans that continued booing him incessantly on the field because of his commitment to call out racist behaviour and act as a proud Indigenous man.

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To hear that Adam has fallen out of love with the game that he loved so much and which he devoted so much of his time to is heartbreaking.

Still, to this day, there are many AFL fans across the game who maintain that their booing of Goodes was not racially motivated.

What I find troubling about that is that even when Goodes called out the behaviour and spoke very publicly about the very real impact it was having on him, fans continued to boo.

It was very hard to watch, particularly as Goodes became more distressed as the booing continued.

Have we learnt anything from the Goodes situation?

We must be vigilant to make sure this is not the experience of any of our rugby league players. In that vein, in response to the comments made towards both Mitchell and Ferguson, I applaud the actions of not just the NRL administration but also footy fans.

The moment those comments were made on social media, they were screen-shotted and shared across the internet with fans making it clear how unwelcome this sort of commentary is in rugby league.

Additionally, the NRL administration responded swiftly and without hesitation, launching an NRL Integrity Unit investigation into the comments and making it clear that they are taking it seriously.

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We need to take care of our players and ensure that they are always made to feel welcome in our game no matter their race, gender or orientation.

But on top of that, the NRL can also play a very powerful role in spreading and communicating important social messages.

We have seen the NRL do this in the past through formal support of and recognition of the 'Uluru Statement' following this year's Indigenous round, and when Macklemore sang his smash hit 'Same Love' at the grand final in 2017 whilst the debate about same-sex marriage was taking place.

What can we do as fans?

As a fan, when I see those sorts of comments I do feel powerless. It is important to call these comments out, but additionally what more can I do to support our players and contribute to real and meaningful change?

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In my opinion, there are very few circumstances where public shaming leads to meaningful change.

Many of us live by the phrase 'the standard you walk past is the standard you accept' so it seems natural to call out poor behaviour.

Is there space for compassion here and perhaps an attempt to understand why these people are making these comments? Are they afraid? Are they disenfranchised? Are they suffering from a lack of connection? Is there a way to help these people understand how hurtful their comments can be without all of social media 'piling in'.

There is also a role here for the big social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to do more in this space; because whilst some online trolls just like to be pests online, there is no place for people sharing distasteful comments towards our players who in the end are humans doing their best on the field each week to entertain all of us.

They deserve to be on the field, no matter their race, gender or sexual preference, and whilst criticism of their performance may be part of the game, criticism of who they are certainly isn't.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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