In partnership with Centacare and the Department for Education, the club was about to break new ground in the AFL by launching a respectful relationships program for teenage boys, and Russell wanted in.
By his own admission, he had much to learn about gendered drivers of abuse, but he recognised there was primary prevention work that needed to be done in classrooms and he was keen to play his part.
Russell took us into the inner sanctum at Allan Scott Headquarters, introducing friendly faces along the way.
He joked with the kitchen crew that Robbie Gray would be around later to do the dishes and thanked long-time boot-studder Alfie Trebilcock for cleaning mud from his own wheels back in the day. These were the real club legends, Russell said, not him.
Ever-humble, he shrugged off his legend status, preferring to think of it as a way to use his influence – in this case, to open young minds around domestic violence, a hidden phenomenon when he was growing up.
“What is happening now is disgraceful, unacceptable and foreign to the way that I was brought up,’’ he’d later say of the national scourge in a 2018 research report on the Power to End Violence Against Women (PTEVAW) and Northern Territory-based NO MORE programs.
“It starts small, it might be a comment, a little push, a trip, a derogatory comment. That’s where it starts…. If you allow that to happen and not pull it up, well, what’s it going to be next time?’’
Every question we had about footy, Russell returned with one about Centacare and the role of community services in keeping women and children safe.
Later, during a workshop in the club’s lecture theatre with the entire playing group and senior coach Ken Hinkley, Russell listened intently as then deputy director Pauline Connelly unpicked the cycles of abuse and the club’s role in starting conversations around domestic violence and respectful relationships.
From that day on for the next six years, in the community and classrooms, at statewide vigils or other awareness-raising events, the Ebert family presented a united front to challenge ideals of masculinity and gender-based attitudes.
Russell often spoke of their strong values and beliefs around how you treat others, reminding students of their own important role as future leaders and how they could chip away at gender norms that can potentially lead to unhealthy decision-making.
“When you were with Russell, the air was clear. He was real. There was no fancy footwork with Russell when you met with him – he left that for the field,” director Pauline Connelly said.
“When we first met to speak about the PTEVAW program, Russell recognised this was an area for him to discover more about, and he did.
“Russell became one of our greatest advocates and role models in this area, and we needed him.
“I will be forever grateful for the experience of working with Russell.”
At year’s end, the PTEVAW program will have visited more than 120 schools and engaged nearly 9000 students.
The enormity of Russell’s contribution cannot be underestimated. Vale Russell Ebert.
Dr Jonathon Louth, executive manager of Strategy, Research and Evaluation at Centacare, shared the following about Russell:
What it means to be a man and to ‘man up’ is a focal point of the Power to End Violence Against Women program.
As the then lead researcher on the evaluation of the program, I was fortunate to spend time, observe in action and interview Russell Ebert.
He was clearly a man of integrity, a man of his club, and man of strength.
But what was also clear is that he had undergone his own journey from footballer, family man, to community program leader.
Here, he shared his own insights about manliness with the boys in the program around how the ‘becoming’ is as important as the ‘being’.
From my observations, this was also a personal journey.
He grew up in a different era and his imperfect insights and his own growth and passion around what it is to ‘be’ and to ‘become’ a man provided a near perfect mirror.
The soon to be young men could look into their own power to affect change, to grow and be passionate about a world that says no to violence against women and girls.
Russell Ebert played no small part in holding up this mirror and showing that change is possible.Jump to next article