The Adam Goodes story.
Coming to terms with the racism that our Australian AFL crowds directed toward Adam Goodes has been a difficult exercise; one reinforced in two recently released documentaries – The First Quarter and the Australian Dream.
The First Quarter didn’t make for easy viewing, with the case of racism lobbed at Goodes presented through mainly archival news and sports footage.
Despite not being an AFL fan, I found both documentaries were riveting to watch, in the same way as Asif Kapida’s Maradona kept me in thrall despite not being a particular fan of the Argentinian football superstar. The booing of the 60,000+-strong crowds for Maradona and similarly large crowds for Goodes showed that mob rule continues to exist in society. I found it terrifying.
Not admitting what they were booing Goodes for, some perhaps agreeing with the former Footy Show commentator Sam Newman that they were booing because he was a “jerk”, whatever they were piling on the jibes for was unnecessary. Goodes is a dual Brownlow Medallist, the highest honour bestowed in AFL for the best and fairest player. It was in the year following his second medal that Goodes began to experience the racism highlighted in the film.
The Final Quarter built the case for racism, highlighting Newman, News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt and Collingwood Football Club president Eddie McGuire as they made strong comments about Goodes while trying to downplay the racist card. The Australian Dream explained why these actions were racist and how they made Goodes feel. The Final Quarter should be seen before The Australian Dream to give the context to the Australian Indigenous story.
In The Australian Dream, interviews are given by Adam’s family – his mother Lisa May, his brother Brett, his cousin and fellow Sydney Swan Michael O’Loughlin. It’s a well-researched documentary which gives the Indigenous point of view about racism – and why the words really do sting. Journalist Stan Grant, who narrates the film, knows Goodes and he knows racism only too well.
Respected sports commentator (and Grant’s wife) Tracey Holmes speaks eloquently on the subject, Michael O’Loughlin and Gilbert McAdam speak with an understanding of racism, having experienced it, though not to the same extent as Goodes.
Both films show the public treatment of Goodes changed dramatically after he called out racism following a slur cast by a 13-year-old Hawthorn supporter. Goodes said he didn’t blame the girl but felt that it was evidence of racism being ingrained in our society. However, this action polarised the crowds – he was an Aboriginal man calling out racism.
From this moment, the crowds turned en-masse against Goodes. Each time he ran onto the field, touched the ball, and kicked a goal the boos would start. At times they were deafening. For even the strongest character, this would be hard to ignore. For someone who had grown up amid racist taunts, with family who had not been treated as citizens and even humans as they made their way in Australia pre-1967, this treatment brought back strong memories.
When Goodes called it out as racism, it was an opportunity to see that damage caused by any racism, even unintentional. That this didn’t stop the behaviour became a sign that people didn’t care how they made the footballer feel.
Newman continued to deny the behaviour could be racist, Bolt was vitriolic in his blame of Goodes singling out the girl, and Maguire, perhaps the most dangerous of them all, behaved in a racist way while believing that by saying he wasn’t racist made things ok. It is men like Maguire who are just having fun, being knockabout blokes who normalise bad behaviour.
For those who follow AFL, the treatment of Goodes was on display for some time, so the film shouldn’t surprise. For those who don’t, there has been coverage beyond the front page. That Goodes left the game before his time was another sign that all was not well; it raised questions. It wasn’t purely that he was Aboriginal, according to Grant, but that he spoke up as an Aboriginal.
Both films left me feeling sad; the first that this behaviour is (and continues to be) promulgated by ignorant and inflammatory media commentators who are encouraged by their employers and by those who follow them. That there were so many at the games who behaved in this ugly manner to anyone, for any reason, is immoral. To behave in that way to someone for their beliefs, colour or creed or indeed any differentiation, should never be accepted behaviour.
The second film left me with a little more hope as it explained who Goodes is, where he comes from, and indigenous history in Australia, both recent and 225 years ago. Understanding what racism is, and how and why the behaviour affected Goodes are steps towards eliminating that behaviour, and that’s where my hope springs eternal.