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Luther Burrell reveals he was butt of teammates' racist jokes

By Stefan Frost
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Former England star Luther Burrell has revealed the extent to which racial abuse is still prevalent in rugby circles.

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In a wideranging interview, Burrell revealed inappropriate Whats Apps messages from teammates in group chats but refuses to name the players involved. The 32-year-old was initially hesitant to lift the lid on the issue and expose what still goes on in professional changing rooms, but eventually decided to speak to Nik Simon of the Daily Mail about how racism is still rife in rugby.

“I’ve said things that have probably crossed the line,” Burrell said. “Naivety, insecurity, wanting to fit in, the need to be liked. Things are said in the changing room that shouldn’t be said. A lot of what’s said isn’t even malicious, but it’s become normal and it needs to be addressed.

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“My son and daughter, three and five, are mixed race. Would I be happy with them getting the same racial “banter” from their friends? Of course not.”

The former Northampton centre began his rugby career in 2006 with Leeds Carnegie and claimed to have been the butt of numerous racial jokes since. He now wants the younger generation to instil change so that his children do not have to go through what he, or his father Geoff, who is of Jamaican heritage, have endured.

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

“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”.

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“Then another lad jumps in and says, “No, no, no, he’ll need it for where his shackles were as a slave”.

Teammates would also causally use the greeting “What’s up my n*****?” which made Burrell feel highly uncomfortable. He explained that by speaking out, he hopes to start a conversation within rugby that forces progress. He also admitted that he previously was complicit and chose not to call anyone out in order to fit in.

“I’d laugh it off. I’ve been a coward by not speaking up. There’s seniority in rugby environments. You’re treading on eggshells because you don’t want to become segregated from the group.”

According to Burrell, there is also a class divide in rugby that is ostracising players from more working-class backgrounds.

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“I grew up on a council estate in Huddersfield. Ellis Genge is a council estate lad. Are there many Genges around the league? I don’t think there are. When I was in the England team, the only person with a similar upbringing to me was Kyle Eastmond and he walked away from the game aged 31.

“Do football changing rooms have this type of stuff being thrown around? No, because it’s far more diverse.

“The change has to come from within but it won’t happen overnight. You need to plant the seed. I love our sport and I want to see it move forwards.”

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