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EXCLUSIVE: Tony Armstrong on fame and finding his voice

The ABC News Breakfast star on his new gig.

By Stephen Downie
No-one is more surprised to see Tony Armstrong on the ABC's News Breakfast than Tony Armstrong.
"As of two years ago, I hadn't even thought of it," the affable Tony, 31, tells TV WEEK of his blossoming TV career since leaving AFL.
Last month, he was announced as News Breakfast's sports presenter, replacing Paul Kennedy, and admits all the attention is "very humbling."
"I had a few days of people saying really nice things to me," he says, before jokingly adding, "I felt weird."
Tony joins the ABC News Breakfast show. Image: Instagram
Truth is, Tony, a proud Barranbinya man, is a fresh and vital voice in the media landscape, uniquely positioned to offer insights on AFL – and sport in general – as a former player, as well as on Indigenous issues in the game.
Oddly, Tony doesn't think much of his AFL career, going so far as to say he "failed", despite playing 35 games over seven years for the Sydney Swans, the Adelaide Crows and Collingwood.
"I wasn't much of a player," he says self-deprecatingly. "I never really saw myself as one. So when the opportunity came up to start at the ABC about a year ago, I thought, 'Why not?' I've done something before that hasn't worked out. And a year later, here we are."
Tony playing for the Sydney Swans. Image: Getty
Tony is passionate about fighting racism in sport. Recently, he described an incident in which former teammate Taylor Walker racially sledged a player as "disappointing."
He says he'll continue to "speak up when I feel like I have to." Tony also wants to see more cultural diversity on screens and behind microphones.
"We've seen several conversations and perceptions of situations on Indigenous issues get away from what the truth is, because they're being commentated on by people who don't properly understand them," he says.
Tony has received major support for speaking out. Image: Supplied
Growing up in south-west Sydney with his mum, Tony was a rugby league fan who dreamed of playing for the Manly Sea Eagles. His mum thought he was too "slight" for the sport, so she steered him towards AFL.
After his AFL career wound up, he got his break in broadcasting on the National Indigenous Radio Service. That led to him being the first Indigenous person to call live games on radio station Triple M. He also hosted Yokayi Footy for NITV and SBS. What does he bring?
"I'm bit of an everyman," he says. "Playing AFL, you talk to all types from all walks of life, from a CEO to a member of the cheer squad. That helps you become really relatable ... that's a strength of mine."
Tony goofs around on-set. Image: Instagram
He also likes to have fun and is, he says, "the right amount of silly".
"I think I've found a balance," he says. "Maybe I'm wrong, though. It could be a short tenure – who knows?"
Not likely. Tony is more in demand than ever, often appearing on Network 10's The Project – although he refers to an awkward interview, in which he was jokingly accused of flirting with this season's Bachelorette Brooke Blurton, as a "stitch-up".
"Obviously, it's great to see an Indigenous woman doing so well, [but] once you say you're not flirting, everyone thinks you are," he says of the incident.
Tony poses with Waleed Aly and Nazeem Hussain on The Project. Image: Instagram
Tony has also appeared on The Weekly With Charlie Pickering and is keen to work on things outside of sport.
One thing he's not keen to do just yet is lose his healthy moustache.
"But it might just happen when I'm shaving and I cut off too much and have to shave my whole face and start again," he says.
News Breakfast airs weekdays, 6am, on ABC.

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