LUTHER BURRELL: I have no regrets on speaking out on racism

LUTHER BURRELL: I may have sacrificed my career to speak out on racism, but I’d do it again… players will now think twice before saying something that may be offensive in the changing room or on a team social

  • I’m thankful for the support I have received from the public and ex-team-mates
  • Everything I said has been backed up and I hope it provides a catalyst for change
  • Players have experienced racism at every level of the game in elite English rugby 

It was a long wait for the outcome of the racism investigation but I can speak now with my chest out, proud of the outcome. It was a stressful process, challenging the status quo. It’s easy to get spooked by it all.

There were plenty of times when I thought it would have been easier to just keep quiet but I’m pleased I told my story. Everything I said has been backed up to the highest degree and I hope it provides a catalyst for change.

We have to be realistic. Society tells us that we have these conversations and it soon gets forgotten about. I won’t just slip away quietly.

I’m truly thankful for all the support I have received in the last week from the public and old team-mates. Also from the likes of Bill Sweeney and Tom Ilube at the RFU and from Simon Massie-Taylor at Premiership Rugby, who have a duty to make our sport more attractive for the next generation.

I was disappointed by the reactions of some former colleagues. They didn’t show my comments the level of respect that I would have hoped for. Even now, there are still a minority in rugby questioning me, calling for me to name names.

Luther Burrell’s revelations of abuse about slavery and race were upheld by the RFU

Burrell is pictured playing for the Newcastle Falcons last year in a Premiership Rugby match

I’m disappointed by the way Newcastle handled things. They said it was impossible to take action when I didn’t identify anyone behind the discrimination. But if I had then it would have turned into a witch hunt. It would have got messy and we wouldn’t be having these productive conversations now.

It was good to see someone like Maro Itoje talking about his experiences in the sport. When he speaks, people notice. Hopefully in future, players will be in a stronger position to call things out.

I’m sure players will now think twice before they say something that may be offensive in the changing room or on a team social. I know the RFU are looking at introducing disciplinary measures and I would welcome that. The sport needs to be more embracing of things like race, class, religion, and sexuality because it’s holding the game back. The sport is massively under-represented in minority backgrounds and I hope that changes.

Appointing Christian Scotland-Williamson on the diversity panel is a good move because he won’t shy away from the truth. It’s important to keep having these conversations. I hope the clubs are reactive to this RFU survey, showing they’re implementing things within their own structures, rather than just performative measures.

Whether or not I’ll experience the change first hand as a player, I don’t know. I never announced my retirement. But aside from talks about playing for the Barbarians again, I’ve not had the offers that I hoped for. I’m still training hard, six days a week, and in fantastic shape. If the right club called, I’d give it my full attention, but I’m not actively out there, desperate for a contract.

I may well have sacrificed my career to speak out. But I knew that could happen. Clubs don’t like people who challenge the status quo. You get stereotyped as someone who is difficult.

 Burrell, pictured playing for England in 2015, wants to change the environment for young stars

A lengthy eight-month investigation into the centre’s experiences revealed multiple incidences of racism and fresh instances of discrimination came to light during the inquiry

Since going public, Burrell has not been offered a new deal and many think he is now retired

I’m thankful that I’ve had a great career and if I don’t play again, I can walk away from the sport with my head held high. I certainly have no regrets about what I did. I was immensely proud to play for England, but the decision to break my silence on racism feels just as significant.

It’s a long time since I sat down with the guys from The Mail on Sunday and spoke about this over steak, chips and macaroni cheese. I had been unsure about speaking out. But as I began to share my experiences with people outside of rugby, they could not believe what they heard.

Eventually, I realised I had to get it all out there. Even if it meant putting myself in the firing line.

It has taken a long time for the findings to come out, but it never got swept under the carpet. There’s no expiry date to all of this. It is just a great starting point. I’m hopeful it will leave the game in a better place than I found it.

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