Luther Burrell: Former England centre opens up on racism from team-mates throughout his career

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

Former England centre Luther Burrell has opened up on racism he has experienced from his team-mates during his lengthy career.

Burrell, who played for multiple clubs, including Leeds, Northampton Saints and Newcastle Falcons, revealed that he had been called “n—-” and been the subject of “slave” related jokes.

Must be made public

The former England player refused to reveal names, and he believes it essential for the next generation to make these experiences public.

“Things get said in jest without any thought. Every week, every fortnight. Comments about bananas when you’re making a smoothie in the morning. Comments about fried chicken when you’re out for dinner,” Burrell told the Daily Mail in an interview.

“I’ve heard things that you wouldn’t expect to hear 20 years ago. We had a hot day at training and I told one of the lads to put on their factor 50. Someone came back and said, ‘You don’t need it, Luth, put your carrot oil on’. Then another lad jumps in and says, ‘No, no, no, he’ll need it for where his shackles were as a slave’.

“Excuse my language but, what the f—? Where does that come from? Some players shake their head and others laugh along with it.

“People greet you as, ‘What’s up my n—–?’ It’s not meant in a bad way but when is it going to change? It’s a very, very raw subject. Over the past few years, it’s happened a lot. That’s the environment.

“It’s normalised because I allowed it to become normalised. I’d laugh it off. I’ve been a coward by not speaking up. Over the years, I’ve become thicker skinned. You know how long I’ve thought about talking about this. I will never name names but it’s gone on for too long.”

Burrell consulted several people before going public about his experiences and received mixed responses. The 32-year-old admitted he was prepared to lose his contract to speak out.

“All the black people I spoke to about this said, ‘Yes, do it’. The white people were all supportive but they said things like, ‘Ooh, do you not want to get your next contract sorted first?’ If that’s the attitude then I don’t want a contract at those clubs,” he said.

Burrell also highlighted how difficult it is for young players to speak out in these situations of discrimination and hints that change should be made on a structural level to mitigate the problem.

“The young guys aren’t going to say anything, are they? There’s seniority in rugby environments. If you’re a 20 year-old you’re scared of getting told to shut the f— up,” he added.

“After a few beers, I’ve said, ‘Mate, you’ve got to stop saying that’, but it never changed anything. You just get, ‘We love you really mate’.

“If I was 10 years younger, no way would I be sat here doing this. You want to fit in. You want to be liked.”

READ MORE: Australia v England: Five storylines to follow including the Marcus Smith-Owen Farrell axis and Wallabies resurgence

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