It was sent to Ferguson straight after the Eels’ round 15 match against Canberra in Darwin on June 29 from a person claiming to be a 22-year-old Knights supporter. Ferguson showed the message to Eels officials, who then immediately put together a report and notified the NRL.
Ferguson didn’t go public with the racial abuse because he did not want to distract from NSW preparations for the State of Origin decider on July 10, in which he was one of the best players on the field.
“As soon as Blake notified us of the message, the club made it clear that it would pursue the matter as thoroughly as it could and has been working with the NRL integrity unit over the past few weeks,” Parramatta said in a statement. “We condemn this type of behaviour in the strongest possible manner and we will protect our players from this continuing in any shape or form.”
A proud Indigenous man who played in the first All Stars match in 2010, Ferguson declined to comment but was comfortable with the Herald publishing today’s story.
He has not played since round 17 after he suffered a severe infection following routine knee surgery. The infection was so bad he spent some time in intensive care but returned to training last week.
The 29-year-old was not named in Parramatta’s squad for Friday night’s clash with the Titans on the Gold Coast but is expected to play in the blue and gold again before next month’s finals series.
Revelations about the attack on Ferguson come days after Mitchell, who won a grand final alongside Ferguson at the Roosters last year, received similar racial abuse.
A friend sent Mitchell a screenshot of a Facebook comment from a profile using the name Jeff Maddock, whose racist post included claim he would “laugh my guts up” if the Roosters centre broke his neck.
The Facebook account has since been deleted, but integrity unit investigators have seen other posts that suggest the user is an Eels supporter.
Parramatta confirmed that nobody by that name is on their membership database.
Meanwhile, former Australian, NSW and Parramatta winger Timana Tahu said the silver lining of the game’s current racism row was the reaction of other players.
“This generation of players is a lot stronger than 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago in the game,” Tahu told NITV. “And that’s what I like about this new generation of kids: they’re not scared to stand up and be a voice for who they are and what they believe in.
“I love to also see people from every background jump on board and support the players because he’s an NRL player and he’s part of the game. No one should be racially taunted because as I’ve said before, there’s got to be a line. You can enjoy some banter but when it comes to slurring someone about their race or ethnicity, that’s not a good thing.”
Roosters captain Boyd Cordner applauded Mitchell for taking such a strong stance.
“It’s disappointing that in this day and age it’s still a part of society,” the NSW skipper said. “That comment was shocking and hurtful. I have to congratulate Latrell for pointing it out and standing up against it. He’s a proud man and proud of his culture. We don’t want anyone going through that. It’s not on. It’s an uncomfortable thing to talk about but we need to talk about it.”
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.