Luther Burrell hopes speaking out helps eradicate racism in rugby union
Luther Burrell says he shared his experiences of racism in rugby union so it can be “eradicated” from the sport.
The former England centre, 32, says he has been “overwhelmed” by the support he has received.
“This is not about shining the light on people who have said what they have said,” he told BBC Sport. “This is about creating a change.”
In an interview with the Daily Mail on Sunday, Burrell said he has been on the receiving end of comments about slavery and bananas and he wanted to “empower younger generations” by speaking out.
The Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Premiership Rugby have since apologised to Burrell, while the Rugby Players’ Association (RPA) said it had also spoken to Burrell and he had their “full support”.
Newcastle, who officially released Burrell on Monday, have launched an internal investigation to determine if any of the racism that he suffered happened while he was with them.
Northampton Saints, who he played for between 2012 and 2019, said they were “reassured” he did not experience such abuse with them and “applauded his bravery.”
Players and parents have also contacted Burrell as well as former cricketer Azeem Rafiq, whose revelations about the racism he experienced at Yorkshire have led to changes at the county.
“I do think now we’re in a generation where things have to be done,” he said.
“The worrying thing is that some of the players have messaged me, saying, ‘thank you for finally sharing your experiences. They think this is banter but it’s not banter. You’re not just doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for everyone’. That was very reassuring
“A message I had this morning, which has been a recurring theme, is: ‘Luther, my son is 15 years old, he has experienced exactly what you’re talking about through your career and I applaud you for speaking out’.
“I need to get to that point where that is eradicated because I don’t want a 13, 14, 15-year-old lad sat in a changing room feeling like he’s being ambushed by this laddish banter and behaviour.
“We just need to eradicate it and not normalise it. I feel like I allowed it to be normal so I’m doing this now so that anybody else that experiences similar sort of stuff to what I felt has the confidence to go out there and say, ‘you know what mate, no, I’m not accepting that’.
“Also, hopefully, we can develop something to put into place where these people can go.
“The whole bigger picture now is for conversations to be had and for something to be put in place where it is eradicated and, if it does occur, then people have somewhere to turn.”
Burrell, who also played for Leeds and Sale, made his professional debut in 2006 and switched codes to rugby league in 2019 to play for Warrington Wolves.
He says it was a “relatively recent” comment about slavery that was “the final nail in the coffin.”
“There was a line and that line had been crossed because people actually came up to me and said, ‘how are you dealing with that?'” he said.
“That is the one that bothered me for days and days and the one that I shared with my friends and peers because it was really close to the bone. We’re talking about something that was 200, 300 years ago. It was almost unbelievable.”
He added: “This whole process of me sharing my experiences was never about any sort of sympathy for myself or needing an apology.
“This was just to show that this had been occurring and we need to eradicate it from the game.
“I’ve been really overwhelmed and I hope that, by speaking out, I can make a difference.
“I love rugby and I want to see it develop and grow for the next generation that come through.”