Film reveals racial abuse we try so hard to deny
By Beryl Rule
August 14 2019Elite sportsmen and women are celebrities in Australia. So how do we account for the fact that footballer Adam Goodes, a dual Brownlow Medallist, an All-Australian and a winner of three Sydney Swans best-and-fairest awards, was hounded out of the game after three years of relentless booing?
Goodes blames racism, while his detractors insist he brought his unpopularity on himself by making an unnecessary fuss. In the moving – and horrifying – film The Final Quarter, Ian Darling documents the last three years of Goodes’ football career and looks for answers.
Three events stand out: Goodes’ exposure in 2013 of a young Collingwood supporter who was calling him an ape; his 2014 role as Australian of the Year; and his “war dance” during the Indigenous Round Swans/Carlton match in 2015.
Goodes explained at a press conference that the 13-year-old girl’s “ape” jibe had taken him right back to the abuse he had suffered at high school, and throughout his life. He made it clear he didn’t blame the girl, asking the media to “give her a break”. She was a child, an innocent, who was simply repeating what she heard. She needed to be educated.
Despite this speech, critics such as journalist Andrew Bolt and broadcaster Alan Jones continued for the next two years to cite what they regarded as Adam Goodes’ over-reaction to and victimisation of “a child barely out of primary school”.
Collingwood President Eddie McGuire had sought Goodes out after the match to apologise on behalf of his club, but a week later made what he explained as “a slip of the tongue” on his radio program, joking that Goodes could be used as a stand-in for a King Kong advertisement. Did “a slip of the tongue” mean Eddie had inadvertently revealed what he was really thinking?
As Australian of the Year in 2014, Goodes saw a chance to talk about the 40,000-year-old culture of his people, and to campaign for recognition of Indigenous people in the Constitution.
Broadcaster Neil Mitchell said the sooner Goodes resigned as Australian of the Year the better, while The Footy Show’s Sam Newman denounced “using the competition as some political agenda”.
Goodes’ critics argued that of 71 Indigenous AFL players, only he was being booed throughout every match, so the fault must lie with him. They ignored the fact that only Goodes had stepped from the confines of the “good Indigenous player” box, with which everyone felt comfortable, to actively campaigning for social and political change.
During the 2015 Indigenous Round, with booing now excessive, Goode celebrated a goal by performing a spirited war dance in front of the Carlton cheer squad. Reactions varied from Age journalist Caroline Wilson’s appreciation of an exciting spectacle to Eddie McGuire’s comment that he hoped he would never see anything like it (at the football) again.
Questioned by the media, Goodes said the performance had been inspired by the under-16 Boomerangs team, and that both Carlton and Swans players had enjoyed it. It was, after all, similar to the Maori haka, which was regularly danced before rugby matches.
But after 17 weeks of relentless booing, when he was sidelined by injury, he thought about his situation and made the decision to retire, declining even to take part in the past players motorcade before the Grand Final because of the possible crowd reaction.
Too late, the AFL, his teammates and fans realised what a lonely battle Adam Goodes had fought over the past three years and how much he had been damaged by the vitriol of critics such as Sam Newman, who told him he was being booed not because of his colour, but because he was “acting like a jerk”.
TV commentator Waleed Aly has a more discerning explanation: “Australia is generally a very tolerant society until its minorities demonstrate that they do not know their place.”
The Final Quarter can be viewed online at www.tenplay.com.au