Critics of Latrell Mitchell’s appearance with the Aboriginal flag in an NRL ad can “get nicked”, leading sports pundit Peter FitzSimons says, likening the superstar to baseball icon Jackie Robinson.
Mitchell has again copped racially-charged backlash due to the appearance, in the new Simply The Best campaign for season 2020.
While the Rabbitohs superstar’s role was branded “divisive”, FitzSimons said it was a significant moment for the promotion of Indigenous identity.
He compared Mitchell’s impact on public discourse to what happened with Robinson, who overcame entrenched racism to become the first African-American man to play in major league baseball.
“That image there of Latrell Mitchell with the Indigenous flag … somebody made the point to me that without Jackie Robinson, who was the first black American baseballer in the major leagues, there was no Barack Obama,” FitzSimons said on Sports Sunday.
“It was sport that was at the forefront. Fifty years before Barack Obama, this man called Jackie Robinson breaks all the barriers, plays Major League Baseball and he’s not only good, he’s great.
“Latrell Mitchell, being a proud Indigenous man with the Indigenous flag, bravo, good on ya.
“To all the angry white men shaking their fists at the clouds, get nicked.”
Former Australian netball captain Liz Ellis said that the people likely offended by the ad were those who could not see themselves represented within the message of inclusivity; a message being pushed to attract new fans to rugby league, rather than appealing to existing ones.
“I reckon with that ad, you like where you see yourself, [where] you’re reflected,” Ellis said.
“I like the bit about little girl. When I was a little girl, I used to cheer for the Penrith Panthers and I desperately wanted to play rugby league for the Penrith Panthers.
“So I saw myself reflected in that little girl and it gave me goosebumps, because I thought, ‘Oh my god, how awesome is that, now little girls can see a future for themselves in this game’.
“I suspect the people who don’t like this ad don’t see themselves reflected as much in it as perhaps they saw in that initial [Simply The Best, 1990] ad campaign. But the NRL, I can see what they’re trying to do.
“They’re trying to appeal to a wider base of fans, because as you [FitzSimons] call them, the slobs up the back or the boofheads or just the people who simply don’t like that ad, they’re probably loyal fans who are going to watch rugby league anyway. So why not take the opportunity with a different ad to try and appeal to a greater base.”
The Rabbitohs are reportedly angry over Mitchell’s role in the ad, feeling that he was made the target of further racism by the NRL. The Test ace has copped torrents of racist online abuse in the past.
Yet FitzSimons said that the ad was successful in celebrating diversity and promoting inclusion rather than division.
“That ad is not just good, that ad is great. That ad is something for rugby league to celebrate,” FitzSimons said.
“Instead of being the slobs up the back of the bus, always being retrogressive, they’re progressive and they’ve put themselves in the future.
“The rugby league story is not just about big hits and great tries. It’s about a social movement and rugby league can take a deep bow on the international stage.
“That was a great ad rugby league can be proud of. It’s inspirational across the board.”
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