By Simon Thomas
Ashton Hewitt has had plenty of people tell him he should just stick to rugby and not express his opinions on anything else. But the Dragons RFC winger is not about to be silenced.
Hewitt has come in for some horrendous abuse on social media over his efforts to combat racism and inequality. He admits it shocked him and got him down, but he is determined to keep on doing what he can to try and make a difference.
As part of that commitment, he is backing the United Rugby Championship’s ‘Take on Tomorrow’ programme which aims to use rugby as tool for community impact and social change.
Speaking about what he has been through, Hewitt said: “We had the protests following the murder of George Floyd and the massive collective that brought, bringing everything to the forefront of conversations.
“I started using social media to defend people and express my feelings and my experiences because I felt it was important to get people to understand.
“With that just came a whole heap of abuse that really shocked me. It got me down a lot of the time. My family, my friends, everyone was just in complete shock. It was a huge eye opener for how big an issue racism is.
“We have got a platform where people can just deliver that abuse and racism. It just goes to show how much of a problem it is.
“The amount I was getting for someone who is really not that famous and popular at all, the number of insults and disgusting things I was getting on social media was such a shock for me.”
Hewitt continued: “I have had a lot people tell me to stick to rugby and not talk about politics or any sort of societal change because that’s not my expertise.
“Apparently, I am trying to stay relevant by speaking about things other than rugby, which is just complete nonsense. Sportspeople are just normal humans with opinions and experiences.
“If you look at the political climate at the moment and how many people are unhappy with everything that’s going on, if nobody spoke about these things then you would just be leaving everyone to carry on doing what they want to do unchecked.”
The aim of the URC’s ‘Take on Tomorrow’ programme, which Hewitt is supporting, is to inspire change through the power of rugby and provide a platform that recognises the impact players and teams make off the field. It will oversee projects aimed at engaging directly with communities across the territories that make up the cross-border competition.
This is the story of Ashton Hewitt – a rugby player determined to make a change.
The @dragonsrugby star has faced horrendous abuse over his efforts to combat racism and inequality, but undeterred he is intent on trying to make a difference
— Nation.Cymru (@NationCymru) March 30, 2023
Speaking as part of the campaign’s Player In Focus series, the Newport born-and-raised Hewitt provided a fascinating insight into his own back story.
“As a kid, I never saw myself as a rugby player. I wasn’t that mould. I was all football, football, football because your favourite player was someone who looked like you. I could relate to them and I aspired to be them,” he revealed.
“I was seeing people who looked like me in the Premier League on a regular basis. When it came to rugby, it’s not a hugely popular sport in the inner city. It’s a lot more in the valley areas that rugby is the main sport and, for me, that was something very obvious growing up.
“Being a young teenager playing rugby, for a long time I felt different to the rest of the team compared to what I was used to in my inner city environment.
“But I was lucky enough that Aled Brew was playing at the Dragons when I was growing up. I sort of saw myself in him and he was my go-to favourite player. He was my hero as a child.
“I wasn’t really too interested in the national squad because I didn’t see many people who looked like me and I didn’t feel as though I was represented there. But when it came to my local team, I saw that representation and it gave me that little bit of inspiration and ambition.”
Hewitt added: “I grew up in inner city Newport, a pretty deprived area with a load of social issues.
“We need to engage with young people as much as we can, especially those that are often disadvantaged and come from difficult backgrounds and circumstances.
“A lot of young people get told they are one thing and they can accept those sort of stereotypes and fall into that role they are told they should fall into.
“I don’t know many young people coming from where I come from, with the same background as me, who are aspiring to be board members or those sort of things. They sort of fit into the stereotypical roles that are forced upon them or expected of them from a young age.
“It’s massively important there is visible representation from all areas of society in absolutely every sector.”
Still only 27, he has plenty of seasons of rugby ahead of him, but he is already considering the kind of positive role he can continue to fulfil once he does hang up his boots.
“I just want to make a difference in as many places as possible, helping out where I can in terms of community, diversity, inclusion and equality,” he said.
“I am hoping I will be here, there and everywhere trying to make a difference.”