Wp/nys/Racism in AFL
Australian Football's premier professional competition is the Australian Football League (AFL). It is THE Aboriginal sport, but that has not protected it from having some racist supporters. An article in The Age provides a quick overview of many of the more notorious past incidents of racism in AFL (up to 2017). This bibol is not meant to be simply a list of racist incidents, but to provide context about some incidents, to applaud positive steps against racism, and to highlight when the AFL has supported or not supported players who have been racially attacked.
The most significant comparison of the treatment of Aboriginal people in Australia today would be with the treatment of Māori people in New Zealand. But this sentence itself is problematic, since although it is meaningful to talk of the treatment of Aboriginal people in Australia today, talking about the treatment of Māori people in New Zealand is meaningless today - it is not just that it is a non-issue, it makes no sense as an issue for New Zealanders.
On the 17 April 1993 in a match for St Kilda against Collingwood in Round 4 of the 1993 season, Noongar man Nicky Winmar was racially abused by members of the Collingwood cheersquad, who yelled at him to "go and sniff some petrol" and "go walkabout where you came from". At the conclusion of the game, which St Kilda won by 22 points, Winmar lifted up his jumper and, facing to the crowd, pointed to his skin. The following day, a photo (for copyright reasons the photo is not published here, but can be seen at the English Wikipedia page on Nicky Winmar) of Winmar's gesture, taken by Wayne Ludbey, was published in the Sunday Age under the headline "Winmar: I'm black and proud of it", with the Sunday Herald Sun publishing a similar photograph under the caption "I've got guts". Winmar's gesture, described as a "powerful statement", an "anti-racist symbol", and one of the "most poignant" images in Australian sport, has been credited as a catalyst for the movement against racism in Australian football, and compared to the black power salute performed by American athletes at the 1968 Summer Olympics in terms of impact. The event inspired Aboriginal singer-songwriter Archie Roach to write the song "Colour of Your Jumper".
A life size statue showing Nicky Winmar at the moment that iconic photograph was taken was unveiled at the new Optus Stadium in Perth on Saturday, 6 July 2019. Mr Winmar made a speech at the unveiling.
Mr Long played for Essendon Football Club between 1989 wer 2001. He did his "Long Walk" to meet the then Prime Minister John Howard in response to ATSIC being shut down and the continuing disempowerment of Aboriginal people. Mr Long received great support from the AFL community and leadership on his walk and afterwards. Every year, prior to the Dreamtime match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), people walk from Federation Square to the MCG as part of a community celebration called "The Long Walk" to promote reconciliation. The walk has grown in stature. In 2016 it was done by the then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten.
See also Whadjuk Nyungar Clinton Pryor's "Walk for Justice" from 2016 - 2017 to protest about the continuing disempowerment of Aboriginal people.
On 24 May 2013, during the AFL's annual Indigenous Round when Adam Goodes was playing for Sydney Swans against Collingwood, a 13-year-old Collingwood girl supporter called Goodes an "ape". Upon hearing the abuse, Goodes pointed the girl out to security, who ejected her from the stadium. After the game, Collingwood president Eddie McGuire apologised to Goodes on behalf of the club. McGuire said that Collingwood had a zero-tolerance policy towards racism, but also said that the girl, who also later apologised to Goodes, did not know that what she had said was a racial slur. Goodes said that he was "gutted" and that he had "never been more hurt" but nevertheless called on the community to support the girl instead of blaming her.
The immediate reaction was support for Goodes, but over the following years, and especially in 2015, Goodes was repeatedly and loudly booed by opposition fans. The booing was motivated by racism, but not primarily because Goodes was Aboriginal (after all other Aboriginal players weren't repeatedly booed), it was because he stood up and dared to challenge racism and thus challenged the racists' view of what place in Australian society Aboriginal people should take. The AFL's weak-kneed non-response encouraged the booing of Goodes, and Aboriginal elders had to plead vainly with the AFL to take direct action to stop the booing. Even those who booed Goodes just because they thought it was a fun part of the game gave cover and support to racists. And what to make of people who say he should just "man" up and take the racist insults? N.B. criticisms of Goodes for the way the police interviewed the girl without her parents being present are off the mark since Goodes had no influence on how the police interview was conducted.
On 29 May 2015, again in the AFL's annual Indigenous Round, when the Swans demolished Carlton Blues, Goodes did a war dance with a spear throwing celebration towards the Carlton fans after kicking a goal. As usual he had been booed by opposing fans during the match. This celebration did not go down well with the radio broadcaster Alan Jones who accused him of "provoking people" - although clearly it was Goodes who could claim to have been provoked by the consistently appalling and bullying behaviour of opposing fans. Goodes said after the incident that the dance was based on one he learned from under-16s indigenous team the Flying Boomerangs, and that it was intended as an expression of indigenous pride during Indigenous Round, not as a means of offending or intimidating the crowd. On 26 July 2019 Goodes copped another torrent of abuse from opposing fans during the Swans' match against West Coast Eagles. Goodes' teammate Lewis Jetta performed a war dance and threw an imaginary spear at a section of the West Coast crowd in support of his friend. Goodes took personal leave and almost retired after the West Coast match, but decided to come back after seeing on TV the outpouring of support for him by Swans' supporters.
An interesting comparison was drawn between reactions to the Haka and reactions to Goodes spear throwing goal celebration by an Aboriginal health expert with RMIT University, assistant professor Aunty Kerrie Doyle, which highlights how Māori are a welcome part of New Zealand culture but Aboriginal people are marginalised in Australia:
|“||Indigenous people around the Pacific all have their own ‘war dances’ in the form of the popular Haka and it is interesting no one is offended when these Indigenous people threaten harm to opponents. Yet when two Aboriginal men perform a modest war dance, they are booed by the same crowd that would have supported the other tribes.||”|
Importantly given the crisis with young Aboriginal suicides, Doyle also said:
|“||Racism is one of the most salient determinants of mental health and having young leaders like Adam Goodes and Lewis Jetta booed for being overtly Aboriginal affects all Aboriginal people. To live under constant disapproval from state and people for merely ‘being’ is stressful, and a cause of such high levels of psychological distress in all Aboriginal people.||”|
Adam Goodes Indigenous Round goal celebration - not acceptable?
Goodes did retire from AFL at the end of the 2015 season, tired of the constant racism and lack of support from the AFL leadership, and having lost his sense of fun in playing AFL. He always got tremendous support and respect from Swans' supporters and players, and in the end much needed visible support from other AFL teams and players, and even the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott and opposition leader Bill Shorten.
When he was named a brand ambassador for the department store David Jones in 2015 after his retirement, the racist abuse quickly followed. It proved what many have been saying: that the booing on the football field wasn't because of how he played the game.
In 2019 a documentary film "The Final Quarter" by director Ian Darling has been made entirely from archival footage of Goodes and the events that preceded his 2015 departure from football after the booing episodes. The film premiered at the Sydney Film Festival on June 7 2019. A second film on Goodes's departure from footy, titled "The Australian Dream", will premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August 2019.
|“||Adam, who represents so much that is good and unique about our game, was subject to treatment that drove him from football. The game did not do enough to stand with him, and call it out. We apologise unreservedly for our failures during this period. Failure to call out racism and not standing up for one of our own let down all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, past and present.||”|
"The Australian Dream" is difficult viewing because you can see and hear about the effect of the booing on Goodes. This documentary had interviews with Goodes about the booing, unlike "The Final Quarter". The documentary, despite being difficult viewing, is a positive step because it starts the conversation about ongoing racism in Australia. Goodes said the booing controversy changed his view of the game:
|“||It [the football field] actually became a place I hated to walk out onto.||”|
2019 AFL season
During the 2019 AFL season several incidents of racism using social media against AFL players hit the news. That this many incidents made the news is a sign that the AFL has become much more aware of racism and its effects on its Aboriginal players and supporters and that the AFL has decided to make a stand against racism. So the number of incidents reported is actually a good sign! Racist attacks using social media were reported against:
- West Coast Eagles forward Liam Ryan
- Adelaide star Eddie Betts
- Geelong midfielder Tim Kelly 
- West Coast player Willie Rioli
Use of the term 'monkey' or 'ape'
The scientific evidence is clear that all people evolved from a common ancestor with chimpanzees around 6 to 8 million years ago, and all humans today are descended from hominins who originally evolved in Africa. Insulting someone by calling them a 'monkey' is clearly ignorant since the insult applies as much to the name caller themselves as to any one else. So why do it?
The insult is actually about the way Europeans have tried to differentiate themselves, biologically and culturally, in an effort to maintain superiority over other people. It is an attempt to justify indigenous dispossession and other benefits of colonialism. It is no surprise that this racial supremacist view is associated with slavery in the Americas, where it was economically advantageous to enslave Africans to work on plantations, and with Terra Nullius in Australia where it was economically convenient to ignore Aboriginal people's rights. This racial supremacist view ironically arose partly to counter the growing anti-slavery movement and the idea that all men are equal, as highlighted in the history of the United States with the contradictory position of the Slave States allowing slavery whilst supporting the Constitution of the United States which proudly proclaims:
|“||We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness||”|
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