Sharp was rapidly shuffling backwards when this column contacted him via Instagram to see if he had any comment.
“If it is regarding the blake furgusson [sic] abuse I have sent it is wrong and a horrible representation of who I am,” he replied. “I am not racist and a drunken slur to an opposition player went horribly wrong as you have seen. I regret it deeply and now it has been brought to my attention I have sent Blake another message apologising. As you have seen with the Latrell case its horrible mate. Enjoy your day Andrew.”
Asked if he was aware the NRL was investigating the matter, and if the integrity unit had been in contact, Sharp replied: “No further comment.”
The grog made me say putrid, racist things on social media directly to a player … but that doesn’t make me racist!
The message is threatening and makes several graphic references to petrol sniffing but the Herald has chosen to not publish the full message because it is so offensive – to Ferguson and all Indigenous people.
It’s online trolling at its worst and has come to light just days after Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell exposed another racist troll, Jeff Maddock, who said via the safety of Facebook that he hoped Mitchell “broke his black neck” while playing.
Maddock has deactivated his Facebook account. Unsurprisingly, Sharp has deleted his Instagram and Facebook pages following our inquiries.
The reaction to Mitchell shining a light on the racial abuse was overwhelmingly positive, mostly from fellow players. But the most pleasing response came from Roosters coach Trent Robinson, who got on the front foot and publicly condemned the attack on his 22-year-old centre.
“We’re in the middle of a season . . . but you can’t just let this stuff go,” he told The Australian. “It is unacceptable. You know what I would do to protect our energy heading into the next couple of months. But it is not a choice. You can’t choose not to address this . . . It’s shocking to see it happen. I can’t understand what it would be like for an Indigenous person to get abused on their land and then for them to just go on and say that’s OK, I’ll move on.”
How many coaches would’ve spoken out so strongly, preferring their vilified player keep the matter private?
Doubtless, each of them would back their player and be appalled by the racial abuse. But most would want to avoid the distraction caused by the story.
Not all of the responses to Mitchell’s courage have been particularly nice, though.
“Harden up princess” is a common cliche I’ve seen tossed up on some social media platforms, usually by a white male, furthering the long-held belief that black athletes should just shut up and play.
The same tired response is reserved for anyone who calls out homophobia, sexism or just your average troll behaviour, like the death threats that Cowboys enforcer Josh McGuire and many athletes before him have received.
There’s also a belief that it’s best to turn a blind eye to racial abuse so the offender isn’t given the oxygen and platform that he or she craves.
Not everyone agrees with that line of thinking.
They drag it out into the light, they start an uncomfortable conversation, they expose the bullies and the racists, who then back-pedal and delete their social media accounts, as Maddock and Sharp have, fearing the storm that’s about to hit.
It means the next racist troll will think twice about tapping out some venomous post from the security of their armchair while watching the footy.
Black athletes are standing up for themselves. They are finding their voice. They are talking publicly about issues important to them, just as Cody Walker and others did about singing the national anthem.
They are doing so in greater numbers and with greater strength.
If there was any good to come out of Adam Goodes taking a stand at the MCG that day in 2013, when he stopped and called out racial abuse, this is surely it.
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.