Leniu banned for eight games for racial slur on Mam

Scott Bailey |

Spencer Leniu arrives with Sydney Roosters head coach Trent Robinson for his NRL judiciary hearing.
Spencer Leniu arrives with Sydney Roosters head coach Trent Robinson for his NRL judiciary hearing.

Spencer Leniu has been banned for eight matches by the NRL’s judiciary after they rejected claims the Sydney Roosters prop did not know he was racially vilifying Ezra Mam when calling him a “monkey”.

Leniu admitted on Monday night he told Mam to “f*** up you monkey” during a verbal stoush in the Las Vegas season-opening double-header against Brisbane.

During a 90-minute hearing, Leniu said he thought he was “one brown man saying something to another brown man” and did not realise the racial connotations of the comment.

Mam argued players of colour in NRL squads regularly called each other names including “blacky”, “monkey” and “black c***”.

“At the time I thought it was one brown man saying something to another brown man,” Leniu told the panel of Sean Hampstead, Bob Lindner and Geoff Bellew.

“The use of words is so common.

“This game happened so fast and in that split second I said a word, I didn’t know any meaning to it.

“I didn’t know how much that meant to the Indigenous community and his family.

“It was just one of those things. I tackled someone, they said something to me and I said something to them.”

In a statement provided to the panel, Mam said he saw red after the incident and was “angry” and “disappointed”.

The Indigenous star detailed the hurt felt by him and his family, something the panel said they took into consideration when handing down the ban.

Ezra Mam at Broncos training.
In a statement, Ezra Mam wrote of the hurt and pain felt by him and his family after the incident. (Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS)

The panel took into account that Leniu was apologetic to Mam, and hoped to fly to Brisbane and address him in person once the Broncos five-eighth was open to a meeting.

“There is no room for racism in this game,” Leniu said.

“I’m glad he brought this thing up. I had no racial intent towards Ezra and the Indigenous community.

“I love them and their culture. I don’t think there’d be a game without those people.”

In an embarrassing blunder for the NRL, counsel Lachlan Gyles referred to Samoan Leniu as Tongan, and referred to him as “Spencer Luai” at the beginning of the hearing.

Gyles asked Leniu if he was aware of incidents such as those involving Adam Goodes at the Sydney Swans, or other racial slurs involving references to monkeys or apes.

When Leniu said he was not, Gyles suggested that “most people who have been in Australia for 15 years would know it would ordinarily be racism to call someone a monkey”.

The prop said post-match comments in which he labelled the incident “banter” came because of a lack of knowledge, and that he was only made aware of the history around the word “monkey” when contacted by an Indigenous woman the next morning.

But Bellew said the panel “did not accept the player’s claimed ignorance” and rejected calls from Leniu’s lawyer James McLeod for a four-match ban.

Roosters CEO Joe Kelly said after the hearing all players and staff would be put through an education program, while his NRL counterpart praised the response of Mam.

“I have spoken to Ezra to commend him for speaking up and taking a stand,” NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said.

“It has been warming to see the game rally around him during this time.

“I also acknowledge Spencer Leniu’s genuine remorse and apology and ask everyone to consider his wellbeing after a testing time in his young career.

“We are human beings and we make mistakes. That is how we all learn and grow.”

Leniu’s ban means he will miss the return match against Brisbane in round nine and make his comeback the following week against the Warriors on May 12.