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Goodes’ response to race slur should resonate forever

10 August 2013 No Comment

TONIGHT, Adam Goodes, one of Australia’s finest indigenous players, will not be out on ANZ Stadium when his Sydney Swans (now second on the ladder) take on my beloved Collingwood (currently sixth).

Goodes’s absence is a shame, for he is magnificent to watch, even for Collingwood tragics like me. But from the sidelines with a wounded knee, Goodes should still have a significant impact on this evening’s proceedings.

The day after a naive young Collingwood supporter slandered Goodes as he captivated the MCG during the AFL’s indigenous round 8 in May, calling him an “ape”, he responded with words so clear they should resonate with Australians from every walk of life, from scholar to schoolchild.

“Hopefully today people hearing this message can understand that it’s unacceptable and it hurts.

“It doesn’t just hurt me, it hurts my brother, my mother, it hurts my family, it hurts my non-indigenous friends. They’re embarrassed … They apologise because it still happens and we’re not educating our children, we’re not educating people enough about how it is hurtful.”

The eloquent Goodes continued: “I hope standing here and telling people how it has affected me helps people out there. Helps people who have done it in the past to know that a simple name, a simple word can cut so deep. Because it happens everywhere; it happens in the schoolyard, it happens while playing sport.

“People need to know it’s hurtful. It’s up to the media, it’s up to myself, it’s up to the AFL, it’s up to society, it’s up to parents to join in and say there’s no place for racism in our society.”
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Predictably, not everyone agreed.

But while some chose to deride Goodes – 33 years old, 100kg and 191cm – for standing up to his attacker, aged just 13, those who did missed Goodes’s profound and valuable message.

How better to drive home the effects of racism by describing how the words of even the most innocent young girl could cut so deep a man more than twice her age, height and weight?

For every person, including talkback radio callers, that saw this is as a reason for Goodes to “harden up”, there would have been thousands more who learned a lesson about racism in this country and exactly how damaging it is for the all too many victims.

While playing against the Magpies 20 years ago, St Kilda’s Nicky Winmar demonstrated, by lifting his guernsey and pointing to his skin, that indigenous people would no longer stand for racial slurs, whether from inside or beyond the boundary line. Goodes did that, too.

At the time, some of us commented that Goodes’s press conference on May 25 should be played in every school in every part of Australia. And it should, because his message is so simple. It should, because it is hard to imagine that anything that could resonate better with youth than a sporting hero describing exactly how flattened and damaged they have been by someone’s words.

We should ensure the message is not left behind in the news cycle, but carried forward to tonight’s crucial clash as the Swans and Collingwood renew acquaintances for the first time since the “ape” incident. And then it should be repeated again and again.

Sport has a great potential to serve and enhance the greater good. It is important we again take heed of Goodes’s words and remind ourselves that our efforts to stamp out racism must be ongoing and not be restricted to the various codes of football.

Goodes’s actions may be the catalyst we needed, but we cannot and should not leave him to fly the flag alone. Sydney’s dual Brownlow medallist and dual premiership player has done the lion’s share of work in bringing the issue to the forefront of our minds. What happens next is up to the rest of us. As Goodes contends, racism is a societal problem.

Collingwood president Eddie McGuire’s clumsy follow-up days after the initial incident proved the problem rests as much with middle-aged men who live in Toorak as it does with 13-year-old girls sitting in the front row at the MCG. Racism is everyone’s issue to address.

While the young Magpie supporter might not have realised the implications of what she was saying, the same couldn’t apply to McGuire, who five days after the incident – on his morning radio show – linked Goodes to King Kong, the musical which was about to open in Melbourne.

Some 50,000 people will attend tonight’s match at ANZ Stadium and a million more will watch this crucial contest on TV. As it should be, Aussie rules football will be the star of the show, but the opportunity for a large section of our population to sit back and for a moment to think about their attitude to racism and that of those around them is an opportunity too great to ignore.

There’s no need for the Swans marketing department to come up with any punchy taglines, and we don’t need to play for the Adam Goodes Cup.

But every time the Swans play Collingwood, I intend to think and speak about the racism that still infects our society. That is something we can all do, including the army of Magpie supporters who attend footy games across our vast and remarkable continent.

Goodes’s esteemed place in the history of Australian football is already secured. But the way he has carried himself throughout this year’s racism controversy has ensured his legacy will transcend sport. For all the medals on his mantelpiece, this may well be his finest achievement.

Ross Fitzgerald is contributing co-editor of the recently released ‘Australia’s Game: Stories, Essays, Verse & Drama Inspired by the Australian Game of Football’, published by Slattery Media in Melbourne.

The Weekend Australian August 10 -11, 2013, Inquirer p.24

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