by Molly Stapleton

When Neville Jetta isn’t busy playing football with the Melbourne Football Club, he is working with the Korin Gamadji Institute (KGI) as a facilitator and role model for Indigenous youth.

Jetta began working with the KGI in February last year, providing positive support for young Indigenous people aged 13-18.

Over the next few months he will focus his attention on the Institute’s Laguntas Program, which is now in its second year.

Laguntas is a high performance football development program for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men aged 16-18, which also aims to support cultural strengthening, leadership, health, education and training and employment pathways.

His role in the program goes beyond the football field. He has been working closely with fellow KGI facilitator and Richmond midfielder, Dustin Martin, to prepare and deliver personal development sessions for the Laguntas.

Their sessions are tailored to provide guidance through elite pathways and share strategies on successful approaches to personal growth.

“It reminds me of myself going through the ranks, that’s why I do it,” Jetta said.

“If I can help them in any way to take them to the next step, I’ll do it, because I didn’t have that when I was their age.”

When speaking with the Laguntas participants at the KGI, Jetta is able to share his own journey and reflect on the challenges and success he has had as a young Indigenous player.

Having been made the target of an angry racial slur by an un-identified supporter earlier this season, he is dedicated to educating others and ‘stamping out’ racial stigma.

“I was just really disappointed about the situation because they (my family) wouldn’t have faced something like that before in their life, or come across something like that,” he says.

“As for me, I’ve sort of grown up around that stuff and it’s not an uncommon thing that I’ve heard on the football field or off the football field.”

Jetta was just sixteen when supporters of a rival team bellowed racist comments toward him from across the field.

“We’re doing a lot to stamp it out. The message is starting to get across now with supporters, they’re starting to catch people out when they’re doing it. Whereas before, they would let it go. That’s why the public and the media didn’t hear about it a lot, because people would let it go, they thought it was okay to say that stuff.”

Despite being the subject of racial vilification, he remains passionate about the game and committed to its Indigenous links.  During the 2014 AFL Indigenous Round he played against Port Adelaide in Alice Springs, an experience that he says he will never forget.

“Being a younger player and playing in the Indigenous Round meant I was representing the past players that have come through,” he says.

“Not only them but also my family and the struggles they’ve gone through to get me where I am now. It was also my culture and my beliefs that I was representing and I just tried to play to the best of my ability.”

During Indigenous Round Richmond joined the AFL and other clubs in declaring its support towards the Recognise campaign, a movement to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the constitution.

“It would be a great start and a great step for not only the AFL, but the whole country,” says Jetta.

“It sort of underlines everything that this country is still going through and why racism is still going on.”

When it comes to moving forward, Jetta’s message is simple.

“Any sort of education towards the public and spectators is going to go a long way in educating everyone. We’ve just got to keep persisting and hopefully it will stop one day. “

“I just wish it was Indigenous Round every week.”

The Laguntas Program is a joint initiative by the Korin Gamadji Institute and AFL Victoria, and is supported by the Victorian Electoral Commission.