“He’s a Magic Man …”?

As a long time barracker of the “Mighty Mustardpots” I’ve taken great delight in the fabulous exploits of all our players in the Brown and Gold (It’s gold! Got that? As Alan Jeans once said “… there’s nothing yellow about Hawthorn!”) and with such an array of talented indigenous players at the club at the moment I’ve been especially pleased at the long term success of Bateman, Rioli, Franklin and now Burgoyne.

Only recently have I noticed something irksome about the commentary and analysis that accompanies these blackfellas that wear the most unfashionable of guernsies. Words such as “magic” or phrases like “Rioli wizardry” often flow from the commentators and follow in the footsteps of their play. These are words that you would think I would revel in, that I would embrace the accolades and share in the joy that goes with the reverence that’s held out to my team. But I don’t, I’m finding the singling out of the likes of Franklin and Rioli with this kind of praise deeply troubling. I’ll attempt to let you know why, but it is perplexing and I’m not sure I get all of it.

To me, the seemingly disproportionate high number of indigenous players in the AFL is probably neither an innately good thing nor even a curious thing; it just is. The reasons why are for the social scientists to argue and the pontificators to ponder. I’m just bloody glad that some truly grouse talent plays for my team. I suppose that many whitefellas, “yellafellas” or any other “kindaoffellas” feel that numerous indigenous players in the most elite of Australian football competitions  is a sign of progress, that it somehow rights a wrong handed down to us by our ancestors or such like. But I don’t think there is any such connection, not  between the thunderous applause that greets Buddy booming a monster goal from outside fifty metres and the racism, bloody oppression and cultural genocide that happened and still happens in Australia today.

I think it was Adam Goodes, whom I read, commenting about  Michael O’Loughlin. Goodes opined that when the media said that his team mate was a star because of some kind of indigenous magic, that it implied an unfair advantage. He suggested that this belittled all of the hard work that O’Loughlin had put in over the years. At the time I thought Goodes was being protective of his team mate and perhaps a tad insightful. Now I think he was making one of the most telling critiques of the modern football “industry”! To infer an inferiority or a superiority because of race is to imply racism. Racism is one of the most vicious and cruel human flaws we pass onto our children.

I don’t think the media and others are conscious of this racism, because most of us associate racism with nasty and callous words or actions. Yet when Franklin, Mitchell and Rioli executed a quick triangulation of short slick handballs to get the Mayblooms out of a sticky situation, like they did against Adelaide last night, the television commentator wipes away endless hours of drills and steadfast professionalism as “Rioli Wizardry” or something of that ilk. Sure Rioli, being a star of the super nova magnitude, can carry such compliments with aplomb but I don’t think it’s right, nor is it fair.

It’s not fair to all those indigenous players who put in the “blood sweat and tears” like any other elite professional sportsperson, nor is it fair to the many indigenous players of Aussie rules who aren’t good enough to make it into an elite competition nor the non-idigenous players who are or were bloody inexplicably amazing e.g. Ablett jnr & snr, the Kennedy mob, Leigh Matthews, Hayden Bunton (my old man says he was pretty good but a bit of a pretty boy), Hudson etc. Nor does it help to eradicate racism.

The raptures of a crowded MCG don’t equate to genuine land rights, nor any real opportunities for indigenous communities to gain authentic justice from white legal systems, let alone help readdress those shithouse social indicators of short life expectancy, pathetic income levels or the less than adequate education levels. Not knowing the bloke, I wonder whether Chance Bateman would trade his premiership medallion to turn around some of those crap social indicators in his local indigenous community? Stupid question; as if the mere trading of a sporting moment could eradicate 224 years of  genocidal impoverishment? Both Changa’s place in sporting history and the merciless invasion morality of the non-indigenose still stand strong. Sure some players are born to do it, but when Burgoyne, in the dying moments of the game, stole the footy from the centre and wumped it onto Cyril’s chest; I like to think it was because of the desperation and dedication of a skilled professional and not because of some voodoo magic. That would make that special moment all the more remarkably beautiful.



  1. Hear, hear.

  2. Peter Schumacher says

    But I don’t think that it is racist to single out indigenous sportspeople when they are able to rise above the inherent disadvantage that they have been handed in life and thrill onlookers by playing a game or doing things better than any one else. Was it demeaning to the aboriginal race when we all cheered and willed Cathy Freeman across the line in Sydney, for me this was the most exciting spotting event that I have seen or am likely to see .

    Still hurting over Adelaide’s loss though, so near but so far to sporting glory.

  3. Steve Hodder says

    there’s nothing racist about cheering people on. Good on anyone when they struggle and overcome adversity; but It’s a worry when the implication is made that success is because of racial characteristics and not because of making the most of natural ability through hard nose professionalism etc. Grant Thomas’ comments about Andrew Krakouer were a case in point. They sounded awful.


  4. Steve,

    google Harry Chapin’s “What Made America Famous’ Lyrics.

    Wonderully obscure song that deals with bigotry.

    We can’t change it overnight. I think these commentators genuinely believe that they are doing a wonderful job but their repetitive jargonistic dialogue indicates that they are not quite there in the ‘we get it department’.

    Don’t lose any sleep over it, just feel sorry for them.

  5. It was the town that made America famous.
    The churches full and the kids all gone to hell.
    Six traffic lights and seven cops and all the streets kept clean.
    The supermarket and the drug store and the bars all doing well.

    They were the folks that made America famous.
    The local fire department stocked with shorthaired volunteers.
    And on Saturday night while America boozes
    The fire department showed dirty movies,
    The lawyer and the grocer seeing their dreams
    Come to life on the movie screens
    While the plumber hopes that he won’t be seen
    As he tries to hide his fears and he wipes away his tears.
    But something’s burning somewhere. Does anybody care?

    We were the kids that made America famous.
    The kind of kids that long since drove our parents to dispair.
    We were lazy long hairs dropping our, lost confused, and copping out.
    Convinced our futures were in doubt and trying not to care.

    We lived in the house that made America famous.
    It was a rundown slum, the shame of all the decent folks in town.
    We hippies and some welfare cases,
    Croweded families of coal black faces,
    Cramped inside some cracked old boards,
    The best that we all could afford
    But still to nice for the rich landlord
    To tear it down and we could hear the sound
    Of something burning somewhere. Is anybody there?

    We all lived the life that made America famous.
    Our cops would make a point to shadow us around our town.
    And we love children put a swastika on the bright red firehouse door.
    America, the beautiful, it makes a body proud.

    And then came the night that made America famous.
    Was it carelessness or someone’s sick idea of a joke.
    In the tinder box trap that we hippies lived in someone struck a spark.
    At first I thought I was dreaming,
    Then I saw the first flames gleaming
    And heard the sound of children screaming
    Coming through the smoke. That’s when the horror broke.

    Something’s burning somewhere. Does anybody care?

    It was the fire that made America famous.
    The sirens wailed and the firemen stumbled sleepy from their homes.
    And the plumber yelled: “Come on let’s go!”
    But they saw what was burning and said: “Take it slow,
    Let’em sweat a little, they’ll never know
    And besides, we just cleaned the chrome.” Said the plumber: “I’m going alone.”

    He rolled on up in the fire truck
    And raised the ladder to the ledge
    Where me and my girl and a couple of kids
    Were clinging like bats to the edge.
    We staggered to salvation,
    Collapsed on the street.
    And I never thought that a fat man’s face
    Would ever look so sweet.

    I shook his hand in the scene that made America famous
    And a smile from the heart that made America great
    You see we spent the rest of that night in the home of a man I’d never known
    It’s funny when you get that close it’s kind of hard to hate.

    I went to sleep with the hope that made America famous.
    I had the kind of a dream that maybe they’re still trying to teach in school.
    Of the America that made America famous…and
    Of the people who just might understand
    That how together yes we can
    Create a country better than
    The one we have made of this land,
    We have a choice to make each man
    who dares to dream, reaching out his hand
    A prophet or just a crazy God damn
    Dreamer of a fool – yes a crazy fool

    There’s something burning somewhere.
    Does anybody care?
    Is anybody there?

    Send “What Made America Famous” Ringtone to your

  6. Thanks Steve, a good piece that should be repeated every week.
    Another underlying racist reference is how one Indigenous player seems to be automatically compared to another by footy commentators. When it is a player’s skilfulness that is being observed and analysed, surely the comparison would be to any other player of similar ilk. Too often commentators, so called experts and the community lazily reference the race rather than the qualities and skills quotient. But the change is and will continue to happen. Take Hawthorn for example. It took our club about 80 years to shake the shackles of an unstated racist policy before it had an Indigenous player play 100 games in Chance Bateman. And the club is better for its current approach, no doubt.


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