Dances with wolves

I met Adam Goodes very briefly in a restaurant in Randwick in 2000. He was then not well known but my sports-mad son Oliver noticed him and pestered me to let him request an autograph. I eventually relented and, when he trotted over, I signalled to Adam my apology at interrupting his dinner but he was very gracious and gave Oliver more time than I might have in the same circumstance. I had no idea he was aboriginal at the time, not that it was relevant. Anyway, I am predisposed to like him.

Goodes first became strongly associated with aboriginal politics, in the public mind at least, when he pointed out a girl in the crowd, who had called him an “ape”, to security staff. Over the next 24 hours he appeared to step back from his anger of the moment. I have no doubt that his anger was spontaneous but his actions were regrettable for two reasons.

First, there is an expectation that players do not interact with the crowd at all – certainly not adversely – to avoid the possibility of the violent crowd reactions that have been seen in other codes. Any incident of violent crowd invasion would result in a fence around the boundary and I think that none of us want that. The days of Plugger giving the FU arm pump to the opposition cheer squad are over.

Second, there is a very good chance the girl was not being racist at all. I grew up in Melbourne in the 60s and the term “ape” was commonly used. We were all white though so our use of the term was not racist. It basically meant someone who was bigger than you but less smart or skilful. The term would be most aptly deployed against a bully. It was synonymous with “gorilla” which could be used the same way. “Get off me you big gorilla!” So I think there is every chance that the girl was using it in this way. Goodes is a big guy who knows how to throw his weight around. A passionate supporter who knew the word could easily call him an ape if he was monstering players on her team (though it you think about it, it is a poor epithet because Goodes is big and skilful).

Following that incident, Goodes was named Australian of the Year. I thought this was a terrible idea at the time, since his main claims to fame were (a) being an outstanding footballer and (b) the Ape incident (which of course was called Apegate). Neither of these is a qualification. True he has done some work with aboriginal youth groups but lots of footballers do community work. Certainly, the reason cited by the committee was “his advocacy in the fight against racism.” The appointment was clearly conceived by those with a (benign) ideological agenda. It was partly an FU to Andrew Bolt who has criticised Goodes and his reaction to the Ape incident. It was a partisan appointment which Goodes decided to embrace.

Now to the main point.

Aboriginal players are not routinely or specifically boo-ed. Goodes is routinely boo-ed when other aboriginal players are not. This obviously requires explanation and more or less proves that the booing is not racist per se.

The reason Goodes is boo-ed (only by some people we should stress) is not that he, as a member of a minority, must be a grateful supplicant as Waleed Aly suggests.  It is, in my opinion, because  he has broken a sacred covenant, the covenant that sport should be separate from politics. That is why sport is such an important social glue in this state. Green and coalition supporters can discuss the game and the rules around the water cooler and they know that they are united in their love of the game and a recognition of its unifying influence.

To be fair to Goodes, it is the AFL that has been consciously politicising the game for a decade. You may have noticed that Andrew Demetriou was boo-ed every time he was seen as well. Did you really not know why? Blind media commentators feigned ignorance of the reason for that as well, or put it down to the good old Aussie contempt for authority or to the tall poppy syndrome. Yes, there is some of that. But anyone who has participated in footy blogs will know the answer. It was his aggressive insertion of a leftist political agenda into everything AFL. I should say that some of the political agenda I support, but not as part of football. He was routinely referred to as Vlad or The Communist on these AFL blogs. It will be interesting to see if Gill McLachlan attracts the same ire.

Adam Goodes has, of his own free will, decided to use his football fame to promote a political cause. He is entitled to do so. It may even be a good idea in the bigger picture. However, if you enter politics then you enter a battle field that is different to the football field. The main difference is that your opponents may not respect you and that you will polarise people. I think he understands this and accepts it.

The latest instalment in the saga is the “war dance”. Commentators are still claiming Goodes did not plan it. There is so much bad faith in public discussions of anything around aboriginality! Goodes even contradicts himself on this point:

Yeah, it wasn’t something that was premeditated….

Lewis Jetta and myself had a chat on Thursday that we wanted to represent on Friday night and we wanted to do a dance …

Of course he planned it, not for that precise moment perhaps, but because he was annoyed by the booing and wanted to make the point that he would not be cowed. He can’t admit as much because that would be admitting that he was challenging the crowd which is against the AFL code.

For sure now, the booing will redouble because politics is like that. Anyone who has commented on blogs will know this. If you go in hard against a troll then you get heaps back. The point of going in hard is not to stop the troll but (at least most charitably interpreted) for the benefit of other people who are watching/reading and might be persuaded. Goodes will be hoping to polarise some supporters as well as detractors. I expect that he is happy to see the booing increase to keep the issue on the front page.

What are the AFL going to do about it? Ban booing? I wouldn’t put it past them. But I suggest another course of action.

How about everyone who thinks Adam Goodes is in the right cheer him every time he gets the ball and try to drown out the booers? I suspect the booers will be outnumbered and will tire of it. And it will take the wind out of the sails of all those commentators who make their living saying what a sick racist society we are.

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23 Responses to Dances with wolves

  1. Pappinbarra Fox says:

    I am not sure about the football/politics dichotomy and never the twain shall meet. I recall the arguments along just those lines following the return of the Wallabies from South Africa in 1968. I am convinced that shunning South Africa by sporting teams as well as trade contributed enormously to the end of apartheid. And conversely the support Nelson Mandela showed to the Springbok team contributed to the healing of the political divide in that country at the time. So I don’t agree that it is always best for sport and politics to not mix, it is not black and white situation and really depends on each particular circumstance.

  2. Chris Lloyd says:

    Yes. i did think of South Africa when I wrote this. I am not necessarily saying that Goodes is wrong to do it, though personally I would have preferred him to wait until his football career was over. But I am suggesting that this is why he is being boo-ed.

  3. Pappinbarra Fox says:

    Yes Chris you are probably right – but there will always be someone in a crowd (any crown not just a sports crowd) who will boo someone who stands out by standing up for something that they believe in.

  4. Tony Tea says:

    Ape was not all the 13 year old shouted.

    • Stephen Bounds says:

      @Tony Tea: What else did she shout? Nothing was reported in the media I can recall and I think the perceived “bullying” of a girl is a large part of the reason for booing.

  5. conrad says:

    I grew up in Melbourne later than you, and I don’t remember ape being used non-selectively. Alternatively, it and other monkey words are now routinely used as abuse in the soccer, for which the British clubs spent quite a lot of effort trying to stop people doing it (and as Tony Tea says above, that appears to be the sanitized version).

    Also, in case you hadn’t seen it, this may be of some humor: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/02/thanks-a-lot-racists-now-i-cant-boo-adam-goodes

  6. derrida derider says:

    The reason Goodes is booed… is, in my opinion, because he has broken a sacred covenant, the covenant that sport should be separate from politics

    Bullshit. Who created this “sacred covenant”? Plenty of sportspeople have been politically active – in fact notoriously in Australia they often leverage their popularity to end up as MPs. They didn’t get booed.

    If you think Mr Goodes would be booed had he been as active on Mr Bolt’s side of politics then I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. Nope, these people think he’s an uppity black poking his nose in where it’s not welcome, and that’s why they’re booing.

  7. Chris Lloyd says:

    Raise your bullshit to emotional leftist bullshit.

    The word “covenant” is just a bit of rhetorical flourish. It means an expectation, of those who like their footy for its own historical sake, that it will be kept separate from the other vicissitudes of life. Who created the covenant? No person did. The culture did. No question that the covenant is looking pretty bent and broken these days though.

    Most sportspeople who go into politics do it after they have finished. And AFL is special in my opinion anyway. Nobody would really care if a surfer made a political statement.

    If Goodes had been outspoken right wing I reckon he would get boo-ed by left wingers, as Jason Akermanis was (for writing a pretty reasonable article about how homosexual AFL players should probably not come out). And he would also be disciplined by the AFL.

  8. Alan says:

    Are you then suggesting that athletes can advocate only if no-one will listen to them? Surfers yes, footballers no? Except in South Africa.

    Certainly your proposed codicil to the alleged sacred covenant would preserve us from the simpwy fwightful prospect of an AFL player who is both gay and aboriginal ever saying anything alarming.

  9. Objective says:

    No, he’s not suggesting any rules as to what certain sportspeople can or can’t do. He’s merely pointing out that an AFL footballer who makes a political statement will attract more adverse publicity than a relatively less well-known surfer.

    I think Chris has made a point that shouldn’t be dismissed. Sure, there is an element of racism, or at least discomfort at the racial content of Goodes’ political stance, that contributes to the boo-ing. But the fact that he is a player who is outspoken on politics at all, especially a divisive issue such as this, also disgruntles fans.

    I’ve heard laypeople complain variously about Goodes or Lumumba, declaring, “You’re a bloody footballer, not a politician/philosopher/the Dalai Lama’. People like their footy players to only be footy players, and not complicate their public image with political views that may be polarising.

    In any case, Goodes doesn’t get boo-ed every game. He got boo-ed against Hawthorn, and now all of a sudden people are talking about him like he gets boo-ed every time he walks onto the field.

    • conrad says:

      I’m willing to bet that there are many other divisive issues that wouldn’t attract nearly as much attention depending on who comments on them. For example, if Adam Goodes was white and had said “I feel very sorry for children kept in refugee centres and we should do something about it” or “kids from low SES backgrounds need educational help and better role models” (and say even set up a foundation to do this) the amount of flack he would have copped for it would be far less. So whatever proportion of the booing is really due to racism, it is a decent proportion.

      Apart from this, the fact that some of the abuse has been distinctly racist basically shows that there is a fair bit of racism in Australia. Given this, it would also be very surprising if this sort of abuse was entirely separate from other types of racism people display, both unconsciously and consciously, and therefore that he was not being treated as somehow special simply due to who he is. (for an alternative Goodes free version of this, have a look at the results from the study that Paul Fritjers got in trouble for on bus riders).

    • Chris Lloyd says:

      Actually I have been thinking about Harry Lumumba. He has been an agitator for all sorts of causes (but mainly within his club). To my knowledge he has not been boo-ed. So he is a counter-example to my theory. I like the way my theory explained Goodes and Demetriou (which is more than Waleed Ali can do) but it should predict booing of Lumumba as well.

      I guess I could claim that he has not been sufficiently prominent. He has not done anything on field and he has not been made Australian of the year. But his not being a target does give me pause.

      • conrad says:

        If you want non-footy examples, Cadel Evans used to have prominent pro-Tibetan stuff and made it no secret. I didn’t see anyone say anything bad about that, even after he won the TDF.

        • Chris Lloyd says:

          As I thought I made clear in my post, I think AFL is a bit different to cycling. But thanks for the example. I did not know of Cadel’s views (and I suspect very few people do).

        • Hrgh says:

          “I think AFL is a bit different”

          I suspect it’s this level of intellectual rigour generating so much cynicism.

      • Simon says:

        Lumumba was booed every time he touched the ball on Monday. Collingwood supporters are an unforgiving lot. But I don’t know whether they treat others who have left (e.g. Thomas, Wellingham) the same way when they line up against their old team.

  10. Hrgh says:

    I’ve never heard David Pocock being booed by a crowd, he’s been willing to be arrested for locking on to mining equipment. But he’s white.

    There’s an undeniable racial (and class?) aspect to the difference in how crowds react to Adam Goodes as opposed to Pocock. You’re hypothesis is very thin.

    • Chris Lloyd says:

      I have never heard of David Pocock. OK. Just googled him. Rugby player. Not sure how well publicised his politics are. Is he lauded by the ARL? Did he make a stand on mining during a game? Was he made Australian of the year? Would he be booed if he was black? Not really a strong counter-example.

      • Hrgh says:

        Pocock has captained Australia, and barring injury has been considered amongst the top handful of players in the world. His activism have been front page of the major metro papers, and sporting headlines.

        As was his mid-game complaint about a homophobic slur, which led to an opposition player receiving a $20,000 fine.

        Side-note: One of Pocock’s colleagues was on the lead flaot at Mardi Gras.

        Just because you personally haven’t heard of David Pocock doesn’t mean it can be dismissed as a relevant example.

        To be honest, I’m surprised by the ‘stick my finger in the wind and make some definitive sweeping comments’ nature of this post. I’ve come to expect much better from Club Troppo contributors over the years.

        • Chris Lloyd says:

          Well nobody knows the real reason why people boo and of course there will be a range of reasons. Not everyone in the crowd is booing for the same reason. Some are just doing it because the AFL don’t want them to.

          I do not think my theory is any less plausible than other theories. If it is just about black politics, why isn’t there booing when Michael Long appears?

          Your Pocock example is pertinent and thanks for raising it. I will do some research on him. If my theory were true (for all sports) then I would expect him to be boo-ed as well.

  11. Antonios says:

    Goodes is a dirty player. He deliberately trips players, he raises elbows, he will throw a fist to the back of a head. This is not necessarily a bad thing in a typical AFL fan’s mind — although tripping definitely is thought of as beyond the pale.

    Goodes is also a stager for free kicks. This is deplored.

    And Goodes is a bit of a do-gooder who likes to get on his moral high horse. Getting on your moral high horse is not a sin — but it is when you’re roundly considered a dirty stager. It’s considered hypocritical.

    That’s why Lumumba is not booed. He certainly gets on his moral high horse, but he’s a very honest, direct player. That’s respected.

  12. Chris Lloyd says:

    I don’t agree with your assessment of Goodes on field. But for all I know, you’re assessment might be commonly held and be part of the reason for the booing.

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