Adam Goodes: A Game At Its Crossroads

As the years roll by and hindsight takes its toll, who knows how we’ll look back upon the last two weeks in AFL.

In 2015, the everyday Australian is perfectly reticent when discussion comes to the settlement of our country and the subsequent decades of horrific genocide. The same probably goes for the everyday AFL fan.
Certainly, the average modern day Australian could be considered pro-humanitarian. There would be very few of us who would be happy to be thought of as racist. We’re a largely pro-same sex marriage population with many who have protested the human rights infractions committed by successive Governments against asylum seekers on Christmas Island and Manus Island. Yet there’s still something different and highly uncomfortable about the continuing plight and suffering in our Indigenous communities. For many, this author included, such an issue is – literally and metaphorically – close to home, close to the bone.

So the booing of Aboriginal Sydney champion and Indigenous campaigner Adam Goodes by thousands of supporters across many different teams, different cities and different states has become a very personal, serious issue.

It would be a huge exaggeration to say that the actions of these spectators and the slow (but eventually definite) reaction of the AFL is proof that Australia is a racist country. Australia is a big country. Only a small portion of its inhabitants are AFL supporters and a mere fraction of those supporters boo Adam Goodes. This is not, then, an issue that finds our country looking at an existential crisis. For the AFL, however, it’s a different story.

For ten years, the Indigenous Round and its centrepiece Dreamtime at the ’G match has been a celebration of the contribution of Indigenous players to Aussie Rules. Beyond that, it is also a display of reconciliation and fraternity between AFL players – and, by extension, Australians – of all walks of life.
We accept you. We welcome you. We treat you as equals and we look forward to a happy future together. The Adam Goodes saga is threatening to render that a fallacy.

We accept you, so long as you’re happy to forgive over 200 years of deprivation and cultural ruin.
We welcome you, so long as your idea of ‘Indigenous pride’ doesn’t mention anything nasty.

If we don’t stop booing Adam Goodes, the message is loud and clear: some in the AFL community are offended by Indigenous people who prick our conscious over our nation’s history, that elephant locked out of the room. And the rest of us are prepared to tolerate those who bully Indigenous people into silence. And no one is still buying the excuses that attempt to separate these boos from racism.

“Goodes stages for free kicks.” So does Joel Selwood. Dylan Grimes. Anthony Miles. Even fan favourite Jimmy Bartel went through a stage where the footy public was catching him out for diving. No one boos these players for any longer than the few seconds when they’ve ‘earned’ those dubious frees.

“Guys like Wayne Carey were booed their entire careers and never complained.” Carey was charged with indecent assault, which I’m sure we can all agree is a bit worse than doing a war dance. Moreover, Carey had a career void of any racial issues; the booing was of the more traditional, hate-him-because-he’s-so-good kind.

“As soon as an establishment organisation like the AFL tells Australians to not do something, they’re bound to do it more.” As childish and simplistic as this is, it could be an interesting social experiment. The AFL should release a press statement requesting that all fans refrain from mass displays of man-love.

“Goodes didn’t deserve his Australian of the Year Award and was rude in his acceptance speech”. Those who accuse Goodes of stirring up trouble and undoing repaired relations in his Australia Day Award acceptance speech are taking his statements out of context and kidding themselves. He wasn’t harping on about bygones and he was speaking from decades of personal experience. I’ve been to Alice Springs, the centre of this country where many Indigenous people have been marginalised since white settlement. For many, poverty and hardship are a way of life. Alcoholism, domestic insecurity, unemployment and health problems both mental and physical abound. The average Indigenous life expectancy is 10 years below that of a non-Indigenous counterpart, a quarter of Indigenous children show signs of clinical emotional or behavioural difficulties, a quarter of Indigenous people have a physical or mental disorder and suicide is among the highest cause of Indigenous injury-related death. How can a proud Indigenous man like Adam Goodes pretend that all of the wrongs of the past are behind us when they are still so keenly manifested and felt?

Goodes was granted personal leave by Sydney last Tuesday. With the confrontation escalating between those supporting him and those who look to push him out of the room, it’s hard to see how the centre will hold. Goodes has been hinting for months that 2015 will be the final season of a career entailing two Brownlow Medals, two premierships, three All Australian selections and four Bob Skilton Medals and should also be remembered for distinguished off-field services to our Indigenous communities. And it seems that the end is being accelerated by a loutish, determinedly offended minority.
Adam Goodes will be bullied out of the game, a proud man reduced to a symbol that the AFL is not as reconciled with our past as we had hoped to believe. And if we the fans can’t take it upon ourselves to do what is right and fair, we will look back on these days with a shame that cannot be undone.


About Callum O'Connor

Here's to feelin' good all the time.


  1. Well said Callum.

    For all the opinions floating around last week, and in previous times when Goodesy and booing have been the main talking points from a weekend of footy, the most interesting/disappointing thing for me at the same time was the stark reality that for *some* people, it’s okay to do a welcome to country and acknowledge traditional owners and pay respects to elders and buy the commemorative indigenous jumpers, but anything beyond that truly frightens the crap out of some people when it comes to understanding indigenous issues in the 21st century.

  2. Steve Hodder says

    Callum, I think a large part of the difficulty of understanding racism in this country is in its historical roots and how it is bound up with the theft and occupation of land. Racism was the grease that allowed the machinery of occupation to roll out over the continent. Land became an asset that created wealth. Even if “blackfellas” were white, their land would’ve still been stolen, their culture still ravaged and they would’ve been cast aside and denied access to the new “wealth”. Most of us “whitefellas” have benefited from that theft is some way, but very few seem to acknowledge or understand our prosperity is the source of indigenous deprivation.

    It’s easier to go to a footy game and applaud our teams’ indigenous players and to pay lip service to reconciliation than it is to give back the land (if it is possible). It’s easier to send the troops into Aboriginal Communities and to argue about the effectiveness of welfare than it is to give back the land. If we were to give back the land then we might demolish our own economic foundations.

    So it’s in our own interests to keep the land, to stay affluent, to keep the indigenous peoples poverty stricken and to argue about the rights and wrongs of booing. Even if It means Adam Goodes’ career ends with us, albeit deservedly, hanging our heads in collective shame.

    1835: The Founding of Melbourne and the Conquest of Australia, written by James Boyce and published by Black Inc. is a great read and maps out the legal framework of how we stole the land.


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