Goodes, AFLPA, Fans, Media – where to from here?

Commenting on race requires us to look through the prisms that exist around us.  The prism of our own situation and standing in life, not to mention that of others, means a certain empathy or tenderness is required.

Commenting on an issue concerning race and racist attitudes in Australia, and also Australian sport, can be a daunting prospect. Unless you’ve lived the experience as an indigenous person or someone of ethnic or religious minority, don’t profess to “understand” what that person has gone through.

Just don’t. It’s teeth-clenchingly awkward to read at best, almost to the point that you can empathise with them suffocating at the bottom of the inevitable “stacks on”. Maybe the closest analogy is the spate of men (*cough*) parading themselves as “meninists”.

So let’s get the solipsistic disclaimer out of the way: I am a white, middle-class, “mid” 30s, male, employed, married Hawthorn supporter.

It is an acknowledged position of privilege, and one not dissimilar to that with which the Hawthorn Football Club, some of its former players and, let’s face it, most AFL media commentators find themselves in.

The most successful on-field club of the past 50 years has created an enviable position through canny recruiting, exceptional business planning, development of “best practice” training facilities, along with plans to scale-up again from Waverley to Dingley.

To mangle the famous quote from Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben, with great privilege comes great responsibility; and this week two prominent Hawthorn FC people have demonstrated an abrogation of that responsibility.

In 2011, Dermott Brereton, amongst others, reflected on the 1991 premiership in a Channel Nine documentary. Aside from the interesting insights into the “too old, too slow, too good” premiership win against the Eagles, Brereton spoke candidly about his on-field racial abuse directed towards the Eagles’ Chris Lewis.

Words such as “shame”, “regret” and “ignorance” were used by Brereton about his attempt at mental disintegration to Lewis, who also spoke of Brereton’s attempt to apologise and explain his actions years later.

So to read today of Brereton, in addition to the likes of Jason Akermanis and the deity of Collingwood FC’s cheer squad, Joffa,  say the jeering of players such as Adam Goodes doesn’t have a “racial element” seems disingenuous and at worst, ignorant. Surely it is self-evident that the origin of the crowd jeers at Goodes was from his public speeches on race following his Australian of the Year award in 2014. Or is it an attempt at “clickbait” commentary?

Regardless, the footballing public listen to and pay close attention to the words of Brereton and others. It is clear that on-going education of indigenous and ethnic/religious minority issues is a must for not just active AFL players (programs for which I understand are improving each year) but also former players and identities who are unconstrained by the press conference cliches of current players.

The second Hawthorn FC person that warrants scrutiny on “the Goodes issue” is Andrew Newbold. There’s no disclaimers here on the success of the club, financial profitability, etc. – this is a point of hiding in plain sight since the 2014 Grand Final.

The jeering of Goodes that day was downright embarrassing. There’s anecdotes of an area in the old Northern Stand called M4 where there was some vile abuse directed towards Goodes. I sat on Level 1 of the Great Southern Stand and observed some dribbling bile coming from suited up corporate function attendees who clearly followed the Hawks intently during the Judge/Schwab years.

Yet in the aftermath of that day, and the Round 8 match this year where there was audible jeering of Goodes, Newbold seemed to dodge the obvious.  Even after Caroline Wilson’s critique of Hawthorn’s reactions on the issue, Newbold and others were was conspicuous in their (relative) silence.

The position of President of arguably the most successful professional sports team (on- and off-field) demands better for punishing its supporters for ignorant abuse towards opposition and racial/religious minority players; and also for advancing the process of indigenous cultural awareness so lauded by the AFL.

The buck stops with you, Andrew Newbold, and it doesn’t mean just the monetary one.



  1. Apologies if the headline is a bit misleading, this post was meant to reflect my disappointment at Hawthorn FC’s inaction (not necessarily deliberate negligence).

  2. Well said! The Eagles have shown the way on this.

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