Fox Sports presenter Jake Duke stunned by Latrell Mitchell treatment in NRL - petsitterbank

Fox Sports presenter Jake Duke stunned by Latrell Mitchell treatment in NRL

Jake Duke has interviewed dozens of incredible athletes, but one story about Latrell Mitchell stands out more than most.

Having grown up in an Indigenous family and interviewed some of the biggest Aboriginal sporting personalities, Fox League presenter Jake Duke is more aware than most about the struggles faced by First Nations people.

Despite this, even he was left reeling when Rabbitohs fullback Latrell Mitchell shared stories of copping racist abuse on Duke’s Refuse to Lose podcast.

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Originally booked as a feature interview for Rabbitohs Raw, which was aired on Fox Sports ahead of last year’s NRL Indigenous round, Mitchell, a Birrbay and Wiradjuri man, sat down with Duke to detail the abuse he had suffered both on and off the field – some of which came from children.

“(That) your mother or father is teaching you to go out of your way to say something like that to a person is disgraceful,” Mitchell said at the time.

“The way I thought about it that calling people out was a waste of energy after the first few, I just had enough and there’s a whole hate crime unit at the police that are happy to help.

“It’s a culture problem, there are people who can teach black history. You just have to stop being ignorant about it and just embrace it.”

Duke told news.com.au that, sadly, he wasn’t surprised by Mitchell’s experience, but still found the scale of the abuse “unbelievable”.

“It’s hard to believe that people could say those things even today… he just plays football, that’s his job,” he said.

Overcoming obstacles can spark real change

Refuse to Lose Duke has been seen sitting down with some of Australia’s most exciting athletes to discuss the struggles and obstacles they’ve encountered on their journey to the top, with multiple Indigenous superstars including Greg Inglis, Ash Gardner and Patty Mills all featured on various episodes.

With the AFL and NRL Indigenous Rounds taking place, Duke said now was an opportunity for sports fans to focus on the adversity facing First Nations communities.

“Be it tough upbringings, having to move away from family or not having family at all – it seems like a lot of these people have had tougher stories than most,” Duke said.

One example was Wests Tigers and former State of Origin player James Roberts, whom Duke grew up with and also featured on the podcast’s pilot episode.

“He had a tough life growing up – he struggled with alcohol and drugs, moved from foster home to foster home and even spent time in jail,” Duke said.

“His story has always stood out to me… he’s had discipline issues throughout this career but I always think if people knew more about his life and what he’s been through they’d realize he’s actually doing really well by comparison.

“(Indigenous Australians) have been dealt with a more difficult hand than a lot of people in this country, and they don’t always have a sport to help get them out of it… these athletes are voices for them and the change that we want to see.”

Duke, a Kamilaroi man, said there was a misconception that the struggles faced by Indigenous people were largely from a bygone era.

“There’s an idea that these tribulations Indigenous Australians face were a long time ago … my dad wasn’t allowed to get in the pool in Moree because of the color of his skin – that’s one generation ago,” the Fox League presenter told news. com.au.

“There’s still a lot of scars and trauma and things that have been passed on.”

Importance of Indigenous athletes laid bare

Duke noted sport, while not a cure for pre-existing inequalities, had still played an enormous role in educating Australians about issues affecting Indigenous communities, as well as the culture and history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“If you can name me the five most famous Indigenous people in Australia, I recognize four of them are sports people,” he said.

“Because of the profile that sport gives people, Indigenous athletes end up being the most prominent people that the community see – if they’re not using their platform to make people aware of these issues then who’s going to do it if not them?

“(Sport) plays a massive role in furthering the cause of Indigenous people and spreading awareness – things like the Sir Doug Nicholls Round in the AFL aren’t just about celebrating the athletes, they’re about … listening to what these people care about and what their story is.

“Even just putting the Country in the name of stadiums… those little small things, it’s all part of a big change.”

When asked to nominate an entry point of his podcast for first-time listeners, Duke suggested Episode 10, a chat with NRL great Preston Campbell, who was instrumental in the creation of the popular All-Stars match.

The clash, first held in 2010, showcases Indigenous athletes and traditionally opens the NRL season. The player judged best field is awarded the Preston Campbell Medal.

Duke noted Campbell’s off-field mental health struggles were indicative of a far broader issue facing Indigenous communities.

“Campbell was at the top of his game, he won the Dally M Medal for Player of the Year in 2001… and six months later he tried to take his own life,” he said.

“His story resonates so much and is so applicable to the lives of so many Indigenous people.

“We talk about financial and social disadvantage, but the effect that has mentally on young Indigenous kids is huge.

“This is a major problem in Indigenous communities – the statistics about Aboriginal youth and how much more likely they are to take their lives is damning.”

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