Three AFL figures including media commentator Sam Newman have issued a formal apology and signed a $100,000 settlement with St Kilda great Nicky Winmar over comments they made on a podcast about Winmar’s famous stand against racism.
In a 1993 game against Collingwood, Winmar, a Noongar man, lifted his St Kilda jersey and pointed to his skin after being racially abused.
He and Aboriginal teammate Gilbert McAdam had been the target of racist abuse from the crowd at Victoria Park throughout the match. His gesture was a symbol of defiance and a turning point for conversations about racism in Australian sport.
A photo of his stand, captured by photographer Wayne Ludbey, has become one of the most recognisable images of Australian sporting history. Ludbey has repeatedly said he heard Winmar say: “I am black and I am proud.”
But in an episode of their podcast You Cannot Be Serious, which aired last month, Newman, journalist Mike Sheahan and former Hawthorn captain Don Scott implied the anti-racist sentiment had been added later.
Newman suggested activists had “morphed” the moment to suit their political agenda and Sheahan said he left the ground thinking Winmar was making a reference to the “guts” he and McAdam had shown during the match.
The podcast aired after Newman resigned from Channel Nine after a petition to sack him over comments he made about the death of George Floyd.
Winmar and Ludbey began legal proceedings and a formal mediation hearing was held in the Melbourne offices of law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler on Friday.
Guardian Australia understands they were prepared to bring a case under the Racial Discrimination Act.
The parties agreed to a $100,000 settlement, to be paid to the Michael Long Foundation, started by Long, a former Essendon player and Anmatyerre, Maranunggu and Tiwi Island man, to funds education and football programs for Indigenous children. The podcasters also agreed to give a formal public apology.
Broadcaster Stan Grant, a Wiradjuri man, and retired federal court judge Raymond Finkelstein, led the mediation.
The apology from Newman, Scott and Sheahan reads: “During our 23 June 2020 podcast we talked about Nicky lifting his jumper and pointing to his skin at the end of the 1993 Collingwood and St Kilda match during which he had been racially abused.
“We acknowledge what Nicky did was an act of Indigenous pride and defiance.
“It was also a powerful statement of solidarity for Indigenous Australians who are subjected to racism and vilification.
“Any suggestion otherwise was wrong. We have reflected deeply on the issues.
“We understand many people would regard what we said as racially discriminatory of Nicky and Indigenous Australians.
“For all these reasons, we sincerely apologise to Nicky Winmar and to Indigenous Australians generally.”
Winmar told Nine newspapers he was “happy it’s resolved” but that there were still a few issues to work thorough.
“I just wanna say I’m black and I’m proud and I want to thank the rest of Australia for supporting this,” he said. “I was very disappointed [with the comments]. It’s been a very emotional last few weeks. I believe in what I said.”
Sheahan offered an on-air apology and quit the podcast within a week of that episode airing, saying he was “shaken” by the public fallout and had received hurt phone calls from Sydney Swans stars Adam Goodes and Michael O’Loughlin.
“I’m not as accustomed as you to the fallout and the public scrutiny so it’s shaken me a bit,’’ he said to Newman on the 30 June podcast.
Newman said they had “a fair amount of reaction”.
Sheahan said he was worried that he “definitely did hurt some people who I regard as football friends”.
“Indigenous people, Indigenous players, who I have a healthy relationship with, they were hurt and angry. Adam Goodes rang me and was clearly hurt and a little angry about what I’ve said. Mick O’Loughlin and I spoke.
“I don’t like unnecessarily hurting people. I’m speaking for me here. I think I see myself through their eyes as attacking an Aboriginal monument in football. I genuinely feel they were hurt by what I said.”
Guardian Australia has contacted Winmar and Ludbey’s lawyer for comment.