Former Hawthorn star Cyril Rioli has revealed the details around his fractured relationship with his former club, citing a now infamous incident with President Jeff Kennett as the "final straw" leading up to his retirement in 2018.
Rioli, who played 189 games for Hawthorn across his 11-year career, opened up in an interview in The Age about his time at the Hawks and the events leading up to his shock retirement in 2018.
Shannyn, Rioli's wife, was left feeling "humiliated" after a run in with Kennett in Tasmania during 2018's Indigenous Round, where the President allegedly made a comment about her ripped jeans. Following a retort from Shannyn, Kennett reportedly reached into his pockets and offered her loose change to buy some thread.
“I felt belittled and humiliated,” Shannyn said.
“The club kept saying I was over-reacting, but they were portraying me as the angry black woman. They said later I had wanted to go home to Darwin for a while. That's not right.”
“I've never really spoken about what happened in Tassie, but I think there was a lot of gaslighting at the end of my career by the club,” Rioli said.
“I look back on a lot of things that happened there and it makes me feel all right about myself. There's a lot of love and I get taken aback a bit about the influence I had.
“But bloody oath it was hard sometimes. Some things that happened to my teammates. The comments by coaches about the blackfellas all sitting together. The white fellas were always welcome to join us. I don't think they (the club) really had any idea of what it was like for us, in reality.
“Seeing the way they treated Shan. It was the final straw. It opened my eyes seeing how distraught she was and defending her and seeing how they were to us.
“The way things happened after that, it just hurt so much and it hurt her. I just thought I don't need to take that shit, so it was fight or flight and I said, ‘let's get out of this shit storm'.”
Now living in Darwin and working with Indigenous youth, Rioli remains open to a potential return to the AFL system after spending time with Northern Territory Thunder, but remains defiant that a return to the Hawks isn't on the cards.
“I'd be up for helping clubs if they wanted me … Richmond or West Coast … but I wouldn't go back to Hawthorn after what's gone on. It's the only club I wouldn't put my hand up for right now” Rioli said.
Following the explosive interview, Hawthorn released a statement apologising to the Rioli's and affirming their commitment to their Reconciliation Action Plan.
"Racism in all shapes and forms is unacceptable," the statement read.
"We are sorry that Cyril and Shannyn experienced these incidents during their time at the club.
"We are saddened these experiences have left them feeling the way they do.
"Combating racism and educating everyone both within our own walls and in the community is something we are constantly working on and believe we are getting better at.
"But there is always more work to be done.
"We are committed to reconciliation and ensuring our First Nations players are culturally safe and have a voice that is both listened to and acted upon.
"At Hawthorn, all of our staff and players deserve to be respected.
"Our doors will always be open to Cyril and Shannyn."
Kennett has made no comment in relation to the interview.