We need to talk about Heritier

It’s not entirely clear what happened last week at the Westpac Centre. The media has reported and Lumumba’s manager has confirmed that Heritier took exception to a picture of Scott Pendlebury and Dayne Beams on which an unknown comedian had scrawled “off to the Mardi Gras boys?” He was reportedly also upset at the club’s lack of reaction to said graffiti. Beyond that, no one has confirmed the particulars. Buckley, Lumumba and the club have said nothing on the matter while Eddie has broadly described Collingwood and Lumumba as having “different points of view”.

Seeing as we don’t know enough of the truth of the matter to develop an informed opinion and Lumumba’s manager is distancing them from the notion that the incident is the major cause of disagreement between his client and the club, let’s instead examine the media’s reaction to the incident.

The Fourth Estate
Some are taking the opportunity to sink the boot into Collingwood because, well, they’re Collingwood. Other than that, the general vibe seems to be “sure, homophobia is not on, but Heritier’s constant campaigning on social issues and general prickliness makes him a liability in a team culture like a football club”. To be more specific:

Jon Ralph thinks he overreacted to a small issue and cannot be so precious if he wants to be successful again.

Tony Shaw thinks he is a disloyal hypocrite because he is talking to the club that brought us Rolf and the little girl. He is a high moral ground occupying individual that is putting himself above the club.

Susie O’Brien thinks it is a complete over-reaction to something that could be seen as ‘mildly homophobic’.

Mick McGuane says he is ‘a little bit unsettling, based upon him going politically mad’. He also suggests that his ‘madness’ has decreased the quality of his play.

This range of views leaves me two questions:
·         Was the incident homophobic?
·         If so, is it sufficiently minor that Heritier is overreacting for complaining about it?

Let’s break down the joke first. Unlike the press, tempting as it is, I will not be using quotation marks (e.g. ‘gay slur’) to express my feelings about value of certain ideas – instead I’ll go wild and use words.

Deconstructing a joke (and hopefully killing it in the process)
“off to the Mardi Gras boys?” uses two essential points in its humour. First the unlikelihood that Pendlebury and Beams are gay or would actually be going to the Mardi Gras intends to create a humorous dissonance. Second, that there is something inherently wrong with being gay or, at the very least, that Pendlebury and Beams would consider there is something wrong, therefore would be concerned that others might think they are gay. The humour, here, lies in the anticipation of their mortification. Does the joke treat homosexuality as a foreign and pejorative concept – yes. As a result, is it homophobic? Absolutely!

So, that activates the second question – is it sufficiently minor that an employee of the club is overreacting if they complain about it? The AFL footballer clearly has a very different workplace to the rest of us (well, me anyway). On the grass of the MCG they are cheered and booed. They are adored and despised just for doing their job in different ways and to varying levels of competence. I have no problem with an argument which says that workplace norms on a footy field should be different to other professions.

But the halls of the Westpac Centre? Why should that be any different to any other workplace? That graffiti would be inappropriate in my workplace and would even be deemed inappropriate in the defence forces (being the standard that you literally walk past). So as an employee in a sufficiently standard workplace, in what way is it inappropriate for Lumumba to complain about a homophobic remark and the culture it represents?

Cloudy with a chance of homophobia
While the homophobia could be considered mild (when did we start rating homophobia like cheese and weather?) it does not make it in any way appropriate or acceptable. Its supposed insignificance is being used as an example of why Heritier is a trouble maker and unwilling to conform to a team culture. This is not a fair characterisation of him based upon the evidence to hand. He has raised a legitimate issue with his employer and deserves to have it addressed.

The issue at its heart appears to be more about the way Lumumba expresses himself rather than what he expresses (as well as a rogue reference to his concerns about the Leading Teams system – if anyone knows enough about it to write a critique, boy would I be all eyes). However, Collingwood has said nothing. They have not denied the incident occurred nor have they come out (pun semi-intended) firmly and said that homophobia is unacceptable in their organisation. They have not commented on whether it is true that an employee approached a manager, concerned about the homophobic culture in his workplace, and was advised that he may wish to consider seeking employment elsewhere.

A simple three point plan for the enterprising football club
So how should Collingwood or some other club deal with this situation? Lumumba’s last two seasons have been statistically the most prolific of his career – he is at his prime and on the field would improve pretty much any club. An opportunity exists here if you take the following three steps.

1. Acknowledge the issue – There is, no doubt, still an undercurrent (or perhaps just a current) of homophobia within footy clubs and blokey male youth culture in general. A smart (and just) club would be making a stand against this now and Collingwood desperately needs to distance the issue from Lumumba’s prospective departure, if it is even possible.

2. Stop portraying Lumumba as part of the problem, make him part of the solution – Giving him responsibility for the development and implementation of their equity and diversity policy or similar would bring Heritier inside the fence as it were. That way should something like this happen again, now that he has some level of responsibility for the issue at the club, he would feel it is his role to stay and deal with it.

3. Sit back and reap the rewards – Congratulations, your club is now the most progressive in the league. Sponsors will flock to you, more confident that you will not embarrass them. Your fans will also like you more because they get to enjoy watching a wonderful footballer at the peak of his powers rampaging the ball out of your back line each week.

What do you think? How would you seek to resolve this situation?



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"


  1. Superbly argued, Dave.

    Every club should sit up and take notice about this piece.

  2. I’m guessing you do not work at a mainstream newspaper, Dave.

    A wonderful break-down of the issue without the usual hystrionics.

    Thank you for sharing this article. Made my morning.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Extremely well written and well reasoned article , Dave as a society we are very gradually getting there it was sad that , Ian Thorpe felt he had to hide for so long I am sure this contributed to the rest of his problems , the best part was the majority just went big deal who cares . I fancy tho in the sporting culture we are still a fair way off of who cares , no issue , your own business reaction but v slowly getting there
    Thanks Dave great article ( Go the legs )

  4. What’s Eddie’s email address? Copy, paste, forward.

  5. Skip of Skipton says

    Only a professional offence taker would find a problem with that graffiti.

    Go and help create your Orwellian future on some other planet.

  6. Disagree Skip.
    Love this piece, Dave.
    “Be the change you want to see in the world,” would be H Lumumba’s rationale here, I reckon. And it’s pretty hard to argue with.
    Good on him.

    Years ago (2011?) I was lucky enough to see him and others read their personal answers to the question: “What do men really think about love.” I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but Kim Farrant’s (host) piece was about her confusion being abused as a girl, Tim Rogers’ (singer You Am I) was about self-love and how difficult that is/was for him and how it’s ruined many relationships, Barry Heard’s (Vietnam veteran and now author) about the mismatch between an emotionless upbringing, horrors of war, sex and vulnerability and Heretier’s was a beauty about his father. Link below.
    H Lumumba is/was one of the Dalai Lama’s representatives in Australia.
    As far as I can see, he’s a terrific role model for anyone exploring the improvement of themselves or of the wider world.
    It’s tricky at times, sure, as many are threatened by change.
    But should he turn a blind eye to what he sees an offence?
    Should any of us?
    There’s probably an argument there about knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. Choosing your battles. But I’d like to think that I (& my friends & family) would have H Lumumbas’ strength to stand up for what we know to be right.


  7. and we wonder why no player has ever come out in the AFL? Call me crazy but maybe HL is pissed because he can empathise with others and recognises that deep currents of ‘anti-ness’ (my term) run deep. They begin with humor and they lead elsewhere. And if that dont cut it we need to ask ourselves if we find it funny what are we laughing at? The message on the picture I mean.

  8. Maybe he’s just a crusader looking for a cause Sean. I’ll choose who can operate as my moral compass. Unlikely that anyone in footy will qualify.

  9. Thanks for the comments all. Don’t think I can add much other than:

    You are correct, marc, I do not work at a mainstream newspaper.

    Skip, the thing I love most about the term ‘Orwellian’ is how much Orwell would have hated it.

    Thanks for that link, David.

  10. Skip of Skipton says

    Sorry. Will exchange ‘Orwellian’ for ‘1984-esque’. Did a lot more than just that piece of work.

  11. Indeed. Although I think I would make a poor Big Brother (either of the Orwell or Kruger variety). Was considering writing an article in defence of Terlich and Georgiou, instead. From my perspective there is a huge difference what people get up to in their workplace and the privacy of their own pubs…

  12. Skip of Skipton says

    Speaking of posters on a wall. There was one at Kapooka I recall, and it seems apt in regard to Heretier.


  13. Its interesting how we all decide to live that wonderful aphorism “be the change you want to see in the world.” I think our presence, energy and actions (2 legs/1 mouth) are more important than what we say. In particular what we tell others about how they should live their lives, unless their actions are overtly harmful to others.
    My favourite Dalai Lama story is about the American woman who lined up for a week at 3am to get an audience with him in Dharmasala. When she finally got to see him she was crying, and he asked her what the matter was. She said that walking there in the dark she saw a man beating his dog very cruelly with a large stick.
    The Dalai Lama said “that gives me great sorrow too, what could possibly have happened to that man to make him treat an innocent dog so cruelly?”
    The Buddhist teaching is compassion and kind acts, not self righteousness.

  14. The problem with Heritier is that he comes across as a self appointed spokesperson for various causes, primarily interested in big noting himself..

    To me i look at his actions in comparision to Adam Goodes, who is a champion player, as well as respected by his community as a spokesperson for their grievances and issues. Similarly players like ‘Benny’ Gale, and Luke Ball who are/have been spokespersons for their peers, are undoubtedlty supported by their fellow players, which is why they have held their representative roles in the AFLPA.

    Heritier has never seemed to have this level of support amongst those he claims to speak on behalf of. No one can deny the causes he supports are important, but to me, too much of its about him, not the causes.


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