Luther Burrell: I want younger Luthers to speak out against racism in rugby

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Former England rugby player Luther Burrell says he wants to influence the next generation of players to speak out against racism

Former England rugby player Luther Burrell says he wants to influence the next generation of players to speak out against racism

Former England centre Luther Burrell hopes by speaking about his experiences of racism in rugby he will empower the next generation of players to do the same.

Burrell won 15 caps for England between 2014 and 2016, and played for Premiership clubs including Leeds, Sale, Northampton and Newcastle.

He told the Mail on Sunday that racism is “rife” in the sport and he has received comments about bananas, fried chicken, and slavery.

He also said that “racial banter” has become “normalised” in the dressing room and among team-mates.

“It’s not banter,” the 32-year-old told Sky Sports.

“Let’s have the craic about how poor I played at the weekend. Or something about my hair. But when you are chucking slavery into a banter comment it’s a bit farfetched.

“I look back and I’m disappointed I didn’t feel the courage or strength to speak about it. But that’s the nature of the beast. I’m talking about it now as I hope 15-year-old or 17-year-old Luthers are sitting in the changing room feeling they can be confident to say something. But more importantly let’s try and eradicate it so these young players wouldn’t have to say anything.”

Burrell, who has played for Newcastle since September 2020, says racism is “widespread” at all levels of rugby. “This isn’t about me or trying to get sympathy – I have had so much adversity in my life.

“I’m trying to make a change for the better, for the game. It’s our game, I love rugby and I want to make a change. I don’t want this in the game. I want it eradicated.

“I’ve been blown away [with the reaction]. I’ve had the executives and president of the RFU messaging me and I had a phone call with them. And we’re going to have a coffee and they will show me what they’re up to. And I’ll let them know how they can make a difference.”

In his interview with the Mail recounting his experiences, Burrell said: “Things get said in jest without any thought.

“Every week, every fortnight. Comments about bananas when you’re making a smoothie in the morning. Comments about fried chicken when you’re out for dinner.

“I’ve heard things that you wouldn’t expect to hear 20 years ago. We had a hot day at training and I told one of the lads to put on their factor 50. Someone came back and said: ‘You don’t need it, Luth, put your carrot oil on.’

“Then another lad jumps in and says: ‘No, no, no, he’ll need it for where his shackles were as a slave’. Excuse my language but, what the f***? Where does that come from? Some players shake their head and others laugh along with it.”

He says he made the decision to speak out after consulting his family, friends and colleagues.

“The first thing I needed to ask myself was whether I wanted to do this, what the reasons are for it and why and where we could go with it. It took me over six months to get to this point. And it was back and forth chats with Nik [Simon – Daily Mail journalist].

“I used Nik at that point as I’ve worked with him before and I felt a sense of trust with him. I spoke to my father, my friends, my colleagues, my peers to see if anyone had the same sort of experience. My dad told me about his stuff but the most reassuring thing was some of my peers were telling me to speak up about this. Even speaking to my friends who play amateur level and they’ve had similar experiences. It is about now moving forward and changing that.

“I’m not with my partner anymore but over the years she has experienced a lot with me. So, I used to go home and tell her certain things and she’d be gobsmacked. And she’d tell me ‘why are you not doing anything about it?’ – but it’s not as easy as that. If it was that easy, I’m sure the majority of people that have suffered would be doing the exactly the same.”

Bill Sweeney, chief executive of the RFU, says he has spoken to Burrell and offered an apology in a statement.

“We are disturbed that this has been Luther’s experience and we applaud him for speaking out, racism in any walk of life is not acceptable. I have had a conversation with Luther to see if we can learn from his experience and possibly work with him as an advocate of change.

“Inclusion and diversity is at the heart of our strategy and we want to improve education and awareness across our game. We apologise to Luther and all of those who have experienced any form of discrimination and will continue to work to eliminate it from our game.”

The Rugby Players’ Association added: “We applaud Luther Burrell for his decision to talk out about the racism he has encountered during his playing career. We have spoken to him and he knows he has our full support moving forward.

“There is no place for the language used against Luther, and the attitudes that reveals, either in rugby or broader society.

“His honest revelations only highlight the game’s need for meaningful conversations and education on what positive inclusive cultures should be.

“As our players have consistently said, positive change only comes through open dialogue from top to bottom in organisations, including players and all other groups.

“There has clearly never been a better time for the education and data collection which will be rolled out across the men’s and women’s elite game in the coming season.”

Burrell also said in the interview he will “never name names but it’s gone on for too long”.

Burrell ‘did not exeprience any racial abuse’ at Saints

“Everyone at Northampton Saints was saddened and appalled to read Luther Burrell’s comments published yesterday, detailing the racist abuse he has experienced during his playing career,” said Mark Darbon, Chief Executive at Northampton Saints.

“The club condemns all forms of discrimination, and yesterday reached out to Luther to offer our support and applaud his bravery in speaking out.

“We were reassured during our conversation that Luther did not experience any racial abuse during his time at Northampton Saints. The club will continue its ongoing work to make sure that Franklin’s Gardens remains an inclusive environment for all Northampton players, staff and supporters.

“We have invited Luther to return to Franklin’s Gardens in the coming months to contribute towards the Diversity and Inclusion projects already being delivered by the Club’s community and commercial staff.

“Saints will welcome and support any wider action taken by the RFU and Premiership Rugby to improve education and awareness across Rugby Union, so that we can eradicate discrimination from our game.”

Newcastle Falcons, another former club of Burrell’s, said on Monday evening: “Following Luther Burrell speaking out over the weekend about his experiences throughout his long and distinguished career Newcastle Falcons wishes to stress that it is determined to ensure our club is a welcoming and fully inclusive environment for everyone.

“There is no place for racism in rugby, sport or any walk of life.

“We have spoken to Luther to offer our full support, and we are committed to determining whether any of the occasions he references took place during his time at Newcastle Falcons as part of a full internal investigation.”

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