Darrell Williams

Taking a stand: Darrell Williams has sent a letter to NRL CEO Dave Smith about racism. Photo: Edwina Pickles

 

The NRL is embroiled in a racism scandal after former New Zealand fullback Darrell Williams claimed he was the victim of racial abuse during a recent Manly board meeting.

Williams has written to NRL chief executive Dave Smith to complain he was referred to by the racially derogatory term ''boy'' by fellow director Rick Penn during a board meeting on April 4. Williams took offence to the comment, which was noted in the minutes kept from the meeting.

Williams, who played 21 Tests for the Kiwis, claims the term was used ''to demean me, to talk down to me and treat me like a second-rate citizen''. ''In the context that he said it and the effect he wanted it to have, it was racist, absolutely,'' Williams told Fairfax Media.

''To have to resort to addressing me like that is a new low, which I'm not going to tolerate. He didn't apologise. He made it worse when he tried to justify himself by saying: 'I've dealt with your kind before'. I'm thinking 'how big a hole do you want to dig?' He did what he did because he knew what he wanted to achieve - to demean me, to talk down to me and treat me like a second-rate citizen.

''For me it was racist in that context and it's why I took offence to it. Don't call me a 'boy'. History will show that it has not been used in a positive light, certainly not in the way he spoke to me.''

At the 1979 Logie Awards, Bert Newton generated international headlines when he said to Muhammad Ali ''I like the boy''. Newton apologised for the use of the term, which has historically been used to denigrate black Americans.

Williams claimed Penn never apologised, that his son, chairman Scott, failed to sanction him and they tried to have the incident scrubbed from the minutes at a subsequent board meeting.

''In the second meeting when they said, 'We didn't believe it was offensive, how can you be offended?' - it's not for him to determine whether it's offensive,'' Williams said. ''I took offence to something that was said, that's the definition of feeling the victim of a racist remark. In the sanctity of the boardroom there are certain levels of etiquette and decorum. That's why I got offended, because he should have had more control.

''You can't talk to me - or anyone - like that. I'm not going to let it ride.''

Rick Penn confirmed the issue was raised at a subsequent board meeting. ''It was brought up in the board meeting the other day and it was discounted,'' Rick Penn said. ''There's nothing to talk about … there was no further discussion on it.''

Pressed on whether he used the term, he declined to comment.

The issue of racism in sport and society has been a major talking point after Sydney Swans star Adam Goodes was called an ''ape'' by a 13-year spectator during last weekend's win against Collingwood. The issue flared again when Magpies president Eddie McGuire made light of the situation on Melbourne radio.

Williams has previously shown he is prepared to stand up for his principles when, as one of the members of the NRL judiciary panel in 2008, they instigated legal action over comments from a post-match press conference following Melbourne's win in the grand final qualifier. Defamation proceedings against Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy and then-CEO Brian Waldron were ended following an out-of-court settlement.

''This is an issue that needs to be taken care of and it's topical at the moment,'' Williams said. ''I'm pretty sure I would have done something whether Adam Goodes was on the front page this week or not because I feel strongly about it. I told my kids I was going to go on with this and they said, 'Dad, you don't need anybody to talk to you like that'. That's why I want to do something about it. I'm disappointed, I'm sad it can happen from somebody with a supposed level of business acumen. Certainly the chairman should have done something about it but didn't.''

Asked what he hoped to achieve by going public, the former Manly and Parramatta player said: ''I'd like [Rick Penn] to offer an apology and offer to stand down. I'd also like Scott, under these circumstances, to stand down from the chairmanship. There's a reason why we've had two votes of no-confidence in this guy. Because the chairman is supposed to show certain qualities, like leadership. I feel there is no protection from him. There should be. I should be comfortable going to another meeting knowing it will never happen again. I don't have that.''