The recent release of one documentary and the pending release of another about former AFL star Adam Goodes have resulted in rave reviews, hand wringing by the elites and reinforcement of the view that Goodes was a heroic fighter for Aboriginal rights, whose football career was cut short by racist Australians booing him out of the game. This official ‘narrative’ is best exemplified by Fremantle coach Ross Lyon when he stated in 2015 that “If you continue to boo Adam Goodes, you’re a racist and a bigot”. Anyone who holds a dissenting view is held to be a “racist” – the worst insult that can be given by elite society. Nevertheless, allow me to offer one anyway. But first, some history:
In 1993, St Kilda champion Nicky Winmar was racially abused by Collingwood supporters during a game. Winmar’s excellent response to the morons in the crowd was to raise his jumper and point to his skin. The photograph of this incident is one of the most famous in Australian sporting history. It was seen as a catalyst for the AFL tackling the issue of racism in the game.
In 1995, another champion Aboriginal player, Michael Long, playing for Essendon, was racially abused by Collingwood’s Damian Monkhorst during a match. Long reported Monkhorst to the AFL. The flawed ‘reconciliation’ process that followed forced the AFL to do more to combat racism and confirmed Long as a champion of Aboriginal rights. So much so that post football, Long initiated a protest march from Melbourne to Canberra to protest John Howard’s refusal to apologise to the so-called “stolen generation”. The march was called off at the halfway point after the Prime Minister agreed to meet with Long. Howard (quite rightly) never apologised, however in the minds of many, Long was cemented as the AFL’s prime Aboriginal activist.
Since then, the AFL has been very welcoming to Aborigines. AFL clubs are one of the safest of safe spaces for them. Every team has several Aboriginal players on the books and the AFL holds an annual “Indigenous round” to celebrate Aboriginal culture. Racism has died out on the field and with the exception of the odd gormless twit at the ground or on social media, has largely disappeared among fans.
Adam Goodes, the son of a white father and an Aboriginal mother, strode into the AFL safe space in 1997 when he was drafted by Sydney. He made his debut in 1999, the year he won the first of his many awards; the AFL Rising Star Award. Goodes was one of the greatest players of his generation. 372 games, two Brownlow Medals, two premierships, three times Sydney best and fairest, four times All Australian and numerous media awards. He was the most decorated and arguably the greatest Aboriginal player of all time.
By 2013 Goodes’ football career was coming to an end. Respected as he was as a footballer, he wanted more. Goodes wanted to join Winmar and Long as an Aboriginal activist. In 2009 he and team mate Michael O’Loughlin established the Go Foundation – a charity which gave scholarships to Aboriginal children. However, that wasn’t enough. He needed to directly confront “racists”. Unfortunately (for him) there weren’t too many racist incidents occurring at the footy by 2013. Goodes would have to make do with whatever racism he could find, no matter how trivial …
Enter a 13-year-old girl sitting behind the fence with her grandmother at the MCG supporting Collingwood against Sydney. She was close enough for Goodes to hear her call him an ape. Here was his chance! He reacted immediately and pointed the girl out to security, who removed her from her grandmother. She was detained in a small room for two hours until she was eventually interviewed by police without a guardian present. Goodes left the field claiming he was too “gutted” to continue playing. As ridiculous as it seems, he wanted to be seen not just as the victim of evil racists, but an Aboriginal warrior with the guts to fight back. No, seriously. However, the image of a large, fit, rich, athletic male – a member of the top 1% of society – denouncing a 13-year-old girl from way down near the bottom of the social scale, as a racist, is damning.
Rather than being a victim of racism, Goodes himself was guilty of bullying a little girl. Nevertheless, confident in the knowledge that no one in the media (or the AFL administration) would call him out for it, he milked the incident for all it was worth. The next day, while purporting to urge people not to blame the girl, he stated that “Racism has a face. It’s a 13-year-old girl.”
Here we pause, for a comedy interlude. Eddie McGuire the Collingwood president, media personality and try-hard social justice warrior was strident in his support for Goodes on the night, going to the Sydney change rooms after the match to apologise and stating that “We have zero tolerance at the Collingwood Football Club on this.” A few days later on his radio show, McGuire suggested that Goodes should promote King Kong the musical. Woops! Goodes was ‘gutted’ yet again and McGuire was forced to apologise, however he is still the president of Collingwood because “people don’t resign because they make a slip of the tongue. It’s as simple as that.” So maybe not quite zero tolerance, right Eddie?
The Goodes saga then subsequently degenerated into farce. He was awarded the (allegedly) prestigious title of 2014 Australian of the Year. His effort to be recognised for his ‘fight against racism’ had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. He was lauded by the press and organisations such as the Australian Human Rights Commission. However, sensible Australians saw it as a national embarrassment, a reward for sooking and bullying. Goodes’ acceptance speech was polite and benign, though it is interesting that in it he made the point that “[We] can choose to be offended. Or not.” Obviously in his case, Goodes had made that profitable choice.
A month or so later, Goodes watched a John Pilger documentary, Utopia, about a remote Aboriginal settlement. Where a wiser man would watch the film with a degree of scepticism, Goodes became angry enough to write the following passage which appeared in newspapers around the country:
“Imagine watching a film that tells the truth about the terrible injustices committed over 225 years against your people, a film that reveals how Europeans, and the governments that have run our country, have raped, killed and stolen from your people for their own benefit. Now imagine how it feels when the people who benefited most from those rapes, those killings and that theft – the people in whose name the oppression was done – turn away in disgust when someone seeks to expose it.”
What ahistorical, ignorant rubbish. At this point many like me chose to take offence. Goodes had abused his privileged position to insult the founders of the nation and all the great Australians that followed. From this point on, Goodes was shown the same respect from football fans as he had just shown our founders and ancestors. Of course, we weren’t given space in the media to vent our feelings, so we protested in the only way possible.
During the indigenous round of that year Goodes scored a goal and performed a “war cry” which included a simulated spear throw at Carlton supporters. Apparently simulating the murder of opposition supporters must be respected as a show of Aboriginal pride, however as even Goodes would have known, the Carlton supporters took great umbrage. Unsurprisingly, the boos did not stop. Towards the end of the season, Goodes couldn’t take it any more and had a week off. He came back, but retired at the end of the year without taking part in the grand final parade of retiring champions.
Thus, Goodes had an entirely self-inflicted sad end to an otherwise great career. Goodes’ aim was to become an Aboriginal activist in the style of Winmar and Long. If he has achieved that, it is at the cost of alienating a significant number of his fellow Australians. Be careful what you wish for …