Tim Watson says former coach Kevin Sheedy never sanctioned on-field racial abuse

Essendon legend Tim Watson has launched a strong defence of former coach Kevin Sheedy, declaring allegations he instructed players to engage in racial abuse “didn’t happen”.

Sheedy was named among a group including former Essendon players in a class action launched in the Supreme Court of Victoria by former North Melbourne stars Jimmy and Phil Krakouer, and five others who played between 1975 and 2022.

The iconic Indigenous duo have made significant allegations about the psychological and physical harm they endured amid widespread racial abuse from players and fans during their career.

Among the allegations were that Sheedy, who coached the Bombers for 27 seasons from 1981, instructed players to target the Krakouers, allegations the legendary coach and champion of Indigenous players in the game vehemently denies.

Watson, who played 13 seasons with Sheedy as coach, including during the period of the allegations, was adamant that at no time did his former mentor urge players to use race as a subject for abuse.

“I’ve got great empathy and sympathy for anyone who has ever been vilified. I have to say, with my hand on my heart, I never, ever heard Kevin Sheedy say in a meeting to players to go out and racially vilify anybody to try and get under their skin to get a competitive advantage,” Watson said on Tuesday.

Coach Kevin Sheedy embraces Tim Watson after the 1993 grand final.Source: Herald Sun

“I never, ever heard him say that. Ever. And I was in every meeting, I was hanging on his every word. I never heard him say that to the players categorically, ever.”

Watson conceded Sheedy said some “brutal” things as coach and encouraged his players to “niggle” the opposition.

He also conceded he didn’t hear “everything on the field”, with allegations also levelled at former teammates, but was adamant there was no instruction from Sheedy that is believed to be central to the Krakouers’ claim.

“He’s no wallflower, Kevin Sheedy,” Watson told SEN.

“But in terms of the issuesism and instructing players to go out there and say something racist to get under their skin, I never heard him say that. And he would talk for an hour.

“He’d tell players to be as physical as they possibly could be to the point of brutality. But never, ever did I hear him say something about race as an instruction to players.

“I didn’t hear everything on the field. I heard some shameful things said by other players and to our players on the field.

Indigenous champion Michael Long with Sheedy speaking in support of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Andrew HenshawSource: News Corp Australia

“But I don’t think there’s been anyone in the history of our game and in Australian sport who has ever done more and is genuinely passionate about Indigenous players, their place in the game, the fact we needed more of them, they needed to be nurtured, they needed to be encouraged. He went out of his way to learn more about the culture of Indigenous players … the whole Dreamtime at the G game. That’s one side of it.

“The issue itself, I have to say, it just didn’t happen, it didn’t occur.”

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