A text exchange between former Hawthorn star Cyril Rioli and current Hawks head coach Sam Mitchell has been revealed, bringing up the cultural issues that have affected the club and what ultimately led to Rioli's retirement at just 28 years of age.
Rioli decided to leave the Hawks, and football entirely in 2018, following a series of racist incidents that the star would later reveal to Sam Mitchell in a text message labelled as 'gaslighting' towards the end of his career at Hawthorn.
Rioli's wife Shannyn has been affected in the incidents as well, including president Jeff Kennett's making an insensitive comment about her clothing, as well as one of Cyril's former teammates making an inappropriate comment about her and her culture.
Pressure has come onto Kennett following the news on the incident with Rioli's wife which took place at Launceston Airport in 2018, with veteran journalist Caroline Wilson claiming that Hawthorn needed to conduct an internal review as to what went on in the back end of Rioli's career.
Wilson also revealed the text exchange between the four-time premiership player and the current coach and ex-teammate, with their conversation highlighting the change that is needed at Hawthorn and in the AFL in general.
"Thanks for your response, Sam," Rioli texted last December to Mitchell.
"I am a proud Hawthorn player and I won’t be robbed of that. I’ve never said that I wasn’t. Not only is that evident in the life I spent with the Hawks, but that’s also evident in how we’ve never engaged the media on this. I have always been proud of that club and my contributions in making the club what it is.
"I’m just so disappointed in the lack of support and the gaslighting that happened at the end of my career. I’ve given my life to Hawthorn and have helped build that organisation. I agree that there is a need for change. It’s not lost on me or the nation that the AFL needs to change in a significant way. While I do want that – we need to sort this out in a real way. I need my club to be there in a real way."
Mitchell then responded with the ways that Hawthorn are looking to deal with cultural issues, educating the club including the players and staff to be more self-aware and even inviting Rioli to the club to be a part of the education.
"Hey mate, I have been working on some things since your last message. Thank you for your passion," Mitchell texted Rioli in January.
"We are putting together some plans starting with education around Australia Day. We are looking at how to best educate our playing group and staff around its history and how it can be a really hurtful day. We have a working party of people coming together to make sure we are an educated and thoughtful playing and coaching group.
"Whenever you feel you would like to be a part of the change we are trying to make (even just to watch or have information about what we are doing) then just reach out.
"I am very passionate about this and want to get this right from the start. PS I hope you and Shan are great up there. Would love to catch up some time in your home town."
Footy Classified panellists Sam McClure and Matthew Lloyd were impressed at Mitchell's response and claimed that Mitchell could be the one to bring the club together to deal with the cultural issues.
Rioli is yet to make comment on if he would reconnect with the club in any way in the near future.