An Illawarra teenager has apologised to NRL star Ben Barba for a racial slur on social media.
The Canterbury fan sparked an Instagram row with Barba last Friday – the night the fullback made his Brisbane NRL debut against the Bulldogs – when he racially abused the ex-Dally M Medallist.
The 18-year-old, who plays for Dapto in the Illawarra Rugby League competition, will undergo a cultural awareness program and meet indigenous elders after meeting with NRL officials on Tuesday.
The NRL will wait until after the program is completed before they consider penalties.
However, the man contacted Barba via phone late Tuesday afternoon to apologise and express his remorse at his actions.
“I appreciate that people can make mistakes and I accept the apology offered,” Barba said.
“I was once a teenager and made mistakes. I believe as long as this young man receives some education on racial abuse and the effects it has, he can learn from the incident. I certainly don’t want him lost from our game.”
Broncos teammate Sam Thaiday – himself a victim of racial abuse on Twitter in 2012 – baulked at what penalties should be imposed on the teenager, saying the uproar he had caused should have sufficiently embarrassed him.
‘‘I think everyone talking about the issue is punishment enough,’’ he said.
‘‘He is probably sitting there knowing he has made a bad mistake. I feel for him a little bit.’’
The NRL stepped in after Barba’s father, Ken, called on the governing body to crack down on racism; he said his son was spat on during games for the Bulldogs last year and was sick and tired of the abuse.
Thaiday said Barba was initially ‘‘pretty gutted’’ by the slur but believed his teammate would have his head right by Friday’s derby with North Queensland.
‘‘It is pretty rough to read those things about you,’’ said Thaiday.
‘‘But Ben is a pretty positive guy and he got through training pretty well. Hopefully he is bubbling to go on Friday night.
‘‘The NRL will deal with it but I think Ben handled it really well and is keen to move on and play good footy.
‘‘There is no place for racism in league or society in general. Hopefully we can move on and get the focus back on footy and the great game Ben had last Friday.’’
NRL chief operating officer Jim Doyle considered the abuse ‘‘a serious matter’’.
‘‘Racism will not be tolerated in any form,’’ he said.
‘‘Rugby league is an inclusive game. There is no excuse for behaviour that vilifies any member of the game or the community.
‘‘We are in the process of speaking with the individual involved and his family.’’
Thaiday believes the anti-racism message is sinking in.