After his stellar performance against the Geelong Cats on the weekend, Carlton star Eddie Betts has opened up about the emotional toll racial abuse has had on his wellbeing throughout his AFL career.
Last week, the AFL community rallied behind Betts after he outed a racist social media troll as the fight to stamp out discrimination picked up following the Black Lives Matter movement.
The small forward took to Instagram to share abuse directed at him in the lead-up to the AFL’s return from the coronavirus lockdown.
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Players have been taking a knee before AFL matches to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, which erupted after the death of African-American George Floyd in late May.
During Saturday’s AFL game between Carlton and Geelong at GMHBA Stadium, Betts made a matchwinning tackle late in the fourth quarter to seal the Blues’ first win in Geelong since 1997.
Betts was playing his second game for the Blues since leaving the club in 2013, having had a six-year stint with the Adelaide Crows.
During an emotional interview on Fox Footy’s AFL 360, Betts said he was “sick and tired” of the relentless racial abuse which has plagued his entire professional career.
“It’s just tiring, just fighting fighting fighting every year,” Betts said on Tuesday.
“The last six years over in Adelaide I’ve been racially abused every year online. I had a banana thrown at me, and quite frankly, I’m getting sick and tired of it.
“It just drains you, you kind of think, ‘Why am I playing footy?’ and then I think to myself, ‘I need to let people know what I’m going through’.
“With everything that going on in the world, over in America, ‘Black Lives Matter’ and this stuff is still happening in Australia to Aboriginal people in Australia. It’s draining.
“I needed people to understand that I need to set up barriers every day when I leave the house, thinking I’m going to get racially abused when I’m driving, when I go to the supermarket.
“All I want to do is rock up to training, play, enjoy the game of footy but before then I’ve gotta set up barriers for myself because I get racially abused.”
Betts was “really proud” to partake in the pre-match kneel in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and recounted the horrific circumstances of his grandfather’s death in police custody.
“We’ve got 432 deaths in custody here in Australia and that was since 1991,” Betts said.
“My grandfather Eddie Betts, my dad’s Eddie Betts, my grandfather is Eddie Betts, he was sick in Port Lincoln, he went to the doctors. The doctors turned him away, he had chest pain, they thought he was drunk, they rang the police on him, they took him to the cells.
“He died alone in the cells by himself at age 49, my grandfather Eddie Betts.
“I wish I could’ve grown up with my grandfather, but that’s not the case. But I know that he’d be proud of me and me carrying on the name Eddie Betts.
“But you know, that could’ve been prevented, that could’ve been stopped if he was helped at the hospital.
“I’m really proud that the boys took a knee and hopefully we can continue to make change in the future.”
Betts wants the AFL to be a safe place for aspiring Aboriginal athletes, and believes calling out racism on social media will help eradicate abuse in the sport.
“Sometimes on social media they set up fake accounts and you can’t catch them, you can’t call them out. It’ll happen next week again and I’m tired of it,” Betts said.
“I’m sick and tired of it, but I want the AFL to be a safe platform for young Aboriginal kid to come and enjoy and play footy without being racially abused.
“Young Aboriginal kids, this is what they do, they get racially abused growing up. But the AFL is a safe spot for us to come and enjoy the game that we love, and if I have to cop most of this racial abuse coming my way to set the standards in the future so these young Aboriginal kids can come and play footy and enjoy it without being racially abused, I’m happy to cop the brunt.
“It hurts. It hurts myself, it hurts my family and I’m sick of fighting.”
“I was really angry and I wanted to put something up that was aggressive but that’s not my nature. I’m kind, always like to give people a second chance and I’ve always liked to educate people.
“But until we make changes, I don’t know how it’s going to stop until, I don’t know, maybe you start charging these people and catching them out and getting the law involved.”
Betts pleaded for Australians to educate themselves on racism, and admitted the abuse has made him question whether to continue competing in the AFL.
“It’s tiring and we’re sick of fighting,” Betts said.
“But I tell you what, I’m going to keep fighting, I’m going to keep standing up for it, I’m going to keep fighting for what I believe in.
“I’ve always said to myself, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong, why can’t you just come and enjoy the game of footy?’
“I think you know the only problem that they have with me is that I was born black, and I guess I believe that’s the only problem that they have with me.
“I guess what I want to say to Australia is, ‘Open your eyes up and start to listen and learn and educate yourself’, because I’m sick of copping it. I’m absolutely sick of copping it and it hurts, it deeply hurts.
“You think to yourself, ‘Why do I play footy, why should I keep playing footy if I’m going to keep copping this?’
“But you know I want to make a change, and the way to keep hurting these guys is just keep playing great footy and keep smiling and that’s what I love doing.”
Carlton are currently 13th on the AFL ladder and will take on Essendon on Saturday evening at the MCG.