Dragons legend Nathan Blacklock has revealed racism within his own team’s dressing room forced him to leave the club prematurely.
Blacklock became a cult hero at the Dragons as he cemented his place in NRL history as the leading try scorer for three straight seasons, beginning in 1999.
However, 20 years later, the 44-year-old has revealed he secretly battled racism from his own teammates before he was ultimately lost to Australian rugby league in 2004.
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Blacklock says it was racism that saw him leave the Dragons for an ill-fated one-season code-switch cameo with the NSW Waratahs in 2003.
Breaking his silence on the scandal, Blacklock has told The Sydney Morning Herald, of one particularly painful memory when he witnessed teammates racially discriminating former Dally M player of the year Preston Campbell.
“I’ve kept this secret for all these years,” he Blacklock says in the interview.
“But the reason I lost my passion for the Dragons and left the club was because of racism.
“It came from the worst place possible – within our team environment.
“The vast majority of those I played with and was coached by were great – not a problem – but there was an element there that hurt me.
“I remember them talking about my good mate Preston [Campbell] and he would say, ‘Get that little black c***’.
“That was like a dagger to my heart. I kept that pain to myself.
“The person who had the [racist] streak knows who it is.
“I don’t know if he knows it drove me away from the club, but I saw him at a function recently and he couldn’t look at me.”
The Dragons responded to Blacklock’s claims through a club statement on Sunday evening, with chief executive Ryan Webb issuing an “unreserved” apology.
“Racism has no place in society, in rugby league and certainly not at the St George Illawarra Dragons,” Webb said.
“Everyone at the club were saddened to read over the weekend that racism played a contributing role in Nathan’s departure from the club in the early-2000s, and commend his bravery in speaking out.
“We have come a long way as a club with addressing matters pertinent to not only players of indigenous background but across all cultures.”
Blacklock also said he remains disappointed at being overlooked for selection for NSW at the peak of his career — another reason he jumped ship to the Waratahs in 2003 before returning to the Dragons in 2004.
The report states Blacklock has a belief that racism may have been involved in him being overlooked for State of Origin selection.
Brett Hodgson, Robbie Ross, Mark Hughes, David Peachey and Tim Brasher were among the fullbacks picked ahead of Blacklock at the time.
He says he never called it out at the time because he was brought up with values of sticking his head down and proving himself on the field.
“I wanted to play first grade and didn’t want the attention that speaking out then would have brought,” he added.
“My dad always told me to just keep my head down and do my job, but I feel times have changed now.
“I work with people from all races and all areas in my job with suicide prevention.
“It’s time to be true to myself and speak up in case anyone else is going through it.
“Those boys shouldn’t worry about their positions in the team. And I hope race never, ever picks a team.”