Michael Long and Damian Monkhorst have spoken of death threats as they remembered one of the most important moments in AFL history.
Two decades after the landmark racial abuse incident during the first Essendon-Collingwood Anzac Day match, their handshake on Wednesday was genuine and full of mutual respect.
In the midst of a heated match, Monkhorst racially abused Long and it sparked a furore.
Long made an official complaint, leading to a long mediation session and then an AFL media conference.
Monkhorst and Long stood at the end of the media event and shook hands for the cameras, but the Essendon star was still clearly upset.
The controversy led directly to the AFL’s groundbreaking racial anti-vilification policy.
Along with Nicky Winmar’s famous jumper lift two years earlier, they proved turning points for race relations in the AFL.
But change did not happen easily.
“There were a lot of things – death threats,” Long said.
“It was mail that was sent, but that was the ignorance.
“It was actually the opposite effect – they were actually doing the opposite of what they were saying, because they were taking interest in what we were saying and doing.
“Deep down, you knew we were going to make changes through adopting the policy.”
Monkhorst also had then-Collingwood football manager Graeme Allan check mail sent to him at the club.
“I got the same letters,” Monkhorst said.
As they did 20 years ago, on Wednesday the pair sat either side of Ross Oakley, who at the time was the AFL chief executive.
They were at the MCG to launch the 11th Long Walk, led by the Essendon great, which happens before the annual Dreamtime at the `G match between the Bombers and Richmond.
This year’s walk and game is on May 30.
On Wednesday Long paid tribute to Monkhorst, with the Essendon legend saying the former Magpies ruckman had shown great leadership in the two decades since their confrontation.
Monkhorst admitted to feeling uneasy about being at Wednesday’s function, given his role in the original incident.
“I feel awkward, actually – Longy has been fantastic for this awareness and I’m here just to support Longy, really,” Monkhorst said.
“It was an embarrassing situation that isn’t what I stand for.”
Oakley revealed immediately after the Anzac Day incident, an AFL investigation showed at least 10 players from six clubs regularly were guilty of racial abuse.
While fans still abuse players at AFL games, the on-field taunts have disappeared.
“We’re not going to totally eradicate it, but gee, I think we’ve put a big hole in it,” Long said.
He added there was never any question about whether his complaint was the right thing to do.
“It wasn’t doubts about decisions, it was who I was, where I was from and culture, history, what you believed in and how you were brought up,” Long said.
“It was the right thing to do.”