I'm going to do something I've never done before. Chances are I will never do this again. I am going to write about football. Australian Rules Football to be exact. This is unlikely to be a "popular" post, or even of interest to most of my regular readers, but I wanted to record my thoughts somewhere public.
As a matter of disclosure, I will say that I have been a fan of the Sydney Swans for a number of years. For the past few years my family has held a membership and we go to every home game they play. We like the sport, we like the team and we like Adam Goodes. As a matter of principal I will say that even if the issue I am going to write about today wasn't involving a member of my favourite team, I would still be angry about it.
Some background, in case anyone unfamiliar with what is happening is reading.
For some time now Adam Goodes, a key player in the Swans team, is noticeably booed by fans of opposition teams when he has possession of the ball during a game.
Booing is a part of the fan "culture" in AFL games, and is used as a way of protesting a bad play made, a poor umpire decision, or any behaviour the crowd deems unacceptable (an example would be if a tackle results in a player being knocked unconscious).
The discussion around the booing of Adam Goodes by the people who do it largely centres around their belief that Goodes is a "flog"- a colloquial term used to mean that someone is a lousy person for one reason or another. Some say it because they think he is rough or overly aggressive on the field. Some say it because they think he is a whiner. Some say it is because he is a bully; specifically that he bullied a teenaged girl. The situation came to a head a couple of months ago when, during the "Indigenous Round", Adam- an Indigenous man- celebrated scoring a goal with an Indigenous war cry dance some young Indigenous players had taught him. And, as a couple of major news outlets have stated, the country imploded over an imaginary spear. Since then, the booing has increased, and the discussion about racism in our nation has intensified.
I am not the first person to write about this, of course. In fact, I suspect this post would be fairly considered as arriving late to the party. So, I doubt I'll have anything new to add. But here I am. It bothers me that this is happening. Here is a man, who has been an amazing footy player since before my now 19 year old was 8 and loving cheering for Goodes. Back then he wasn't booed. So what changed?
Well, in the past 10 years, Adam Goodes has moved on from being "just" a footy player, and has become an advocate. He advocates for the right of Indigenous people in our country. He mentors young Indigenous people, future players in the AFL. He has entertained our sports fans for more than a decade with good strong football, but once he began to point out some of the privilege and prejudice that exists in our country, suddenly he is labelled a bad person.
That teenaged girl he "bullied"? What happened was he called her out for calling him an ape. From what I can tell from media reports the young lady phoned him later and apologised. Goodes accepted that apology by publicly acknowledging it and asking people to show the young lady support. But ever since there have been people who have attacked him for his reaction to being called an ape. Essentially, we have an Indigenous man who stood up for himself and has been vilified for it each time he turns up to work ever since.
The arguments that he is rough on the field? I can tell you now that his team mate Lance Franklin, who is also Indigenous, is more aggressive on field than Goodes is. He is not booed ever time he touches the ball. There have been many other (non Indigenous) players over the years known for their aggressive style, and to this day are considered heroes of the sport.
How about the "lousy person" argument? There are other sportspeople who are actually known criminals who receive more respectful treatment than Goodes does.
What we are really seeing here is not an objection to aggressive play of the game, or any personal failings as a bully. What we are seeing is exactly what journalist Waleed Aly identified. Adam Goodes has shown he is an Indigenous man who does know know his appropriate place in our society as part of a minority group. He challenges people on their prejudices, their racism, and they will not put up with that. He is not perfect- no one is. But Adam Goodes is being bullied, and the crowd is allowing and encouraging it. They will proudly boo him, shame him, until he retires, and they will justify it with all sorts of unjustifiable nonsense as they down their beers and celebrate 'Straya and its values of mateship.
I am pleased and cautiously hopeful to see the AFL leadership beginning to take a more noticeable stand on this following Lewis Jetta's show of solidarity over the weekend as he performed his own war cry dance. But I don't think the booing is going to stop.
For all our self congratulatory back patting over how accepting and mate oriented and champions of the fair go we are here in Australia, we are incredibly racist and extremely intolerant of diversity. Just as Adam Goodes is howled down for advocating for Indigenous rights, so others are silenced when fighting for the rights of other minority groups. Our treatment of disabled students in schools, our attitudes to Asylum Seekers (people who are genuine refugees), our fear and hatred of Muslim people, our skepticism toward anything not considered "like us" overwhelmingly confirms that we do not like, or even tolerate, diversity. The booing of Adam Goodes is just the tip of the iceberg. The fact that it has been going on so long and is still justified by so many is something we should all be ashamed of.