South Sydney superstar Latrell Mitchell has urged other NRL players and members of the general public to follow his lead by reporting online abuse to the police in a bid to stamp it out.
Mitchell’s decision to take action against racial abuse described by Rabbitohs CEO as being the worst he had seen during more than a decade in the game resulted in two men being arrested last Friday and the fullback said others should take a similar stand.
"It only takes that one message for someone not as strong as me that can’t take the criticism for them to go and do some self-harm," Mitchell told a media conference at Redfern Oval on Monday as teammates and fans looked on.
"Today I’m taking a stand on it and I want everyone out there to know they can stand up to it too.
"I am setting the standard now that this is not on. If you see it, call it out. Anyone can do it … and just know that the police are right behind you.
If you see it, call it out. Anyone can do it … and just know that the police are right behind you.Latrell Mitchell
"It’s not about Aboriginal and non-Indigenous, it’s about us coming together as a rugby league community and enjoying the game that we love.
"I have got a role to play and I have always set out to be somebody, and standing up for this stuff is who I want to be. I don’t want to be known as just a rugby league player."
Mitchell has been coping with racial abuse "since I was an eight-year-old kid" and had taken to calling out comments on social media but felt that stronger action was needed.
After showing the offensive and threatening messages to his management team of Matt Rose and Warwick Wright, they contacted Solly, who suggested the comments warranted criminal charges and he referred them to the NRL.
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The NRL Integrity Unit reported the abuse to NSW Police and detectives from the Fixated Persons Investigation Unit last week charged a 22-year-old Taree man and 25-year-old Central Coast man with using a carriage service to harass, menace and cause offence.
"Often people and players would assume that these are burner accounts and people can’t be tracked but one thing the police and the NRL have shown with this is that you can track these people down pretty quickly, and they should face the full force of the law for what they have done," Solly said.
"The abuse is so vile that it speaks for itself. If you shouted it in the street or said it someone in a workplace you would be arrested on the spot. It is as nasty and as offensive as any abuse I have seen in my 12 years in the game.
"I am sure the police would say it was one of the quickest statements they have taken because there is photographic evidence of what was said and it is pretty clear who said it."
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Mitchell was unable to disclose what the messages said until the cases were heard in court but had admitted the toll of dealing with constant abuse had been "exhausting".
The 23-year-old said he had received strong support from the NRL, Solly, his management, fans, players and "everyone at South Sydney from Russell Crowe down to Wayne [Bennett]".
"I don’t know how someone could stoop to the level of going out of their way to send you a threat or a hurtful message," Mitchell said.
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"To receive all this hate, I know it comes with the game but it shouldn’t be in our game.
"I think people are going to think twice now because we are going to work towards a process being in place for us rugby league players and just people in general to know they can go to someone and seek support to call this out.
"I want a process in place where we feel comfortable enough as players to go to someone that we know in the NRL who is going to take this on and keep people accountable for their actions."
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Solly praised Mitchell's leadership and said he had shown the way for others when dealing with online abuse.
"I think he is a leader and he transcends both the Indigenous community and the NRL community," Solly said.
"Our primary concern has been to make sure Latrell feels supported through the process and to give other clubs something to look at and say our players shouldn’t stand for this either so if there is a process that is fairly simple to move on let’s do it."