North Queensland Cowboys and former Maroons star Johnathan Thurston has been awarded the prestigious Human Rights Medal by the Australian Human Rights Commission for his work to improve the life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
Thurston was honoured at the AHRC Awards at Sydney's Westin Hotel on Friday afternoon by Human Rights Commission president, Professor Rosalind Croucher.
"Johnathan Thurston is a superstar in the National Rugby League. He is also a role model to thousands of young Australians and a mentor to Indigenous students," Professor Croucher said.
"The Human Rights Medal honours Johnathan's achievements, particularly his commitment to improving the educational opportunities available to young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people."
The 34-year-old's community work includes a commitment to NRL Cowboys House, which provides supported accommodation for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from remote communities in north-west and Far North Queensland, with a goal of helping them access secondary education options in Townsville.
"It is truly humbling to receive this medal," Thurston said.
"I am fortunate to be in a position to work with Indigenous youth from early childhood through to young adulthood, and believe it is my responsibility to ensure our future generations have equal access and opportunity to live their best lives.
"While I am only one person in a community of leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators who are working to create better lives for Indigenous Australians, I am honoured to be recognised and can only hope that the award will bring valuable attention to closing the education gap for all Australians."
NRL Indigenous Pathways Manager Dean Widders was with Thurston at the awards and told NRL.com it was a proud moment.
"As an Indigenous person and someone who works in rugby league it makes you proud to know that he's one of ours," Widders said.
"We've never had a player like him but I don't think we've ever had a person like him in our game either. It was amazing to be there and see the passion. He got emotional, he had people in tears in the room, there were people in tears everywhere and his passion shone through.
"He got a standing ovation. In a room like that, to go through the list of nominees and award winners it's pretty humbling to sit and listen to what some people go through.
"He gave one of the greatest speeches you'd ever hear, he talked about all the things that are important to him, that's he's proud of, that he's been able to achieve away from rugby league and what that means to him."
This article first appeared on NRL.com