Former NRL player Tony Williams has been sacked by a US rugby league team for comments he made in support of his former teammate Jarryd Hayne after the latter was jailed for sexual assault.
Williams, who represented Australia and New South Wales during a 10-year professional career in Australia, claimed Hayne was innocent after he was sentenced to a minimum of three years and eight months in prison on Thursday.
Williams posted the comments on Instagram, targeting Hayne’s victim, questioning the woman’s truthfulness and the justice system.
His NARL club, New York Freedom, responded swiftly, announcing on Friday (AEST) that Williams’ contract had been torn up.
“We cannot control what others do, but we can control how we respond,” the club said. “In light of the comments made by Tony Williams, his contract with New York Freedom has been terminated.”
Williams has since posted on his Instagram account: “To anyone that I may of [sic] offended I speak from the heart and most of time it’s out of anger a [sic] brother had been convicted it isn’t easy to take.
“People that know me know that I’m loyal and loving and sometimes gets the best of me but will never leave a brothers [sic] back when he needs me to hold him up. I apologise for the choice of words I used and to anyone that I have caused hurt. Especially to people that support me. Sorry.”
Another of Hayne’s former Eels teammates, Krisnan Inu, who currently plays in the UK’s Super League for Salford, also shared on Instagram views similar to those held by Williams.
Both players’ comments were widely condemned as the broader issue of NRL culture was again brought into the spotlight.
Former Wallabies player, author and journalist Peter FitzSimons tweeted: “Hayne is a rapist and does not deserve public support. Players still playing catch up on how to hold each other accountable.”
Williams, who played with Hayne during his debut season in the NRL at the Eels in 2008, had yet to play a game for the American club, which is one of the founding members of the NARL. The inaugural season is due to kick off on 19 June.
“His opinions are not the opinions of New York Freedom or any party involved with the club,” a club statement read. “Tony spoke for himself via his own social media channel of which the club has no control.
“New York Freedom understands the hurt caused by these comments and takes this issue very seriously. As a club we are dedicated to growing the great sport of rugby league and are committed to it always being an inclusive, safe and family-orientated environment.”
Hayne was convicted in March of two counts of sexual intercourse without consent for an incident in 2018.
In delivering Hayne’s sentence on Thursday, the judge said she had to send Hayne to prison because non-consensual sexual intercourse was an extreme form of violence.
Hayne on Friday lodged his intention to appeal his sentence. His legal team now has 12 months to lodge a formal appeal.