Chris Johnson backs Cyril Rioli’s stance over Jeff Kennett

An AFL footballer looks wide-eyed as he handballs the ball while two defenders try to close him down.

Chris Johnson, a member of the AFL’s Indigenous Team of the Century, has backed Cyril Rioli’s decision to cut ties with Hawthorn while Jeff Kennett remains club president, saying he and his wife have every right to feel the way they do.

Key points:

  • Cyril Rioli has revealed he will not return to Hawthorn while Jeff Kennett remains at the club
  • Rioli’s break with the Hawks centres on comments Kennett made to his wife Shannon Ah Sam-Rioli in 2018
  • Hawthorn has apologised to Rioli and his wife and said they were welcome back at the Hawks at any time

In a report in The Age on Saturday, Rioli said he would not return to the club in any capacity while Kennett remained in his post.

The four-time premiership winner said a series of issues had fractured the relationship between Hawthorn and its Indigenous players during his time there from 2008 until his retirement in 2018.

These included comments by Kennett towards Rioli’s wife Shannyn Ah Sam-Rioli that contributed to his decision to end his career at the Hawks at the age of just 28.

Speaking on ABC’s AFL coverage on Saturday night, Johnson took issue with people who disregard or downplay comments made to Indigenous Australians that cause hurt or embarrassment.

“We as Indigenous people think a flippant comment is not a flippant comment; it’s a comment,” Johnson said.

Author: Ivan Robinson