Stop and Listen, AFL: The Goodes Debate

The Age released a poll with this question:
Is the booing of Adam Goodes racism?

The poll at the time of writing?

50% ‘Yes’, 50% ‘No’.

However, if there were a third option of ‘It’s Complicated‘, it most likely would’ve emerged head and shoulders above the simpler answers.

Indeed, even the AFL’s figurehead wouldn’t be drawn into dispensing accusations. Asked on Monday if the boos were emblematic of racism, Gillon McLachlan replied: “I think it’s a complicated question and I am not avoiding it but I don’t think I have a clear view about what it is.”

The key part of McLachlan’s answer are the words “I’m not avoiding it“.

Regardless of their position, an overwhelming majority of AFL officials (and commentators) have labelled the booing of Goodes as racist, unhealthy, and shameful to Adam Goodes and this great game of ours.

But those who try to stray even a little from conventional ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers are ridiculed, cast aside as racist and ignorant to the issues we as a society face.

No one person can ever claim to know what’s going through the heads of thousands of people at any given time, that kind of power reserved for super-powered characters in comic-books and fairytales.

There are undoubtedly some sheep-like supporters who boo Adam Goodes for no other reason than peer pressure, feeling the need to replicate the actions of those around them in order to feel accepted.

There are undoubtedly some who boo Adam Goodes because of their outrage at his supposed ‘precious’ nature and ‘staging’ for free kicks.

And there are undoubtedly some who boo Adam Goodes for no other reason than a pathetic disliking of Aboriginal culture. These toxic individuals see Adam Goodes as one of the figureheads of resistance to suppression of minorities in society, and the thought of his potential success (success acknowledged by his Australian of the Year award in 2014) scares them with the possibility society has moved on from its abhorrent mistreatment of Aboriginals and their culture.

But what there is not is a communal desire to racially vilify Adam Goodes, and the insistence of many that all booing are inherently racist is incredibly nonsensical.

In a society sighted for its multiculturalism, it’s incredulous to suggest all those who boo a particular player are cowardly racists at their core, mere sheep adhering to a particular mentality.

Players like Joel Selwood draw audible criticism from countless supporters, their insistence that he ‘stages’ for free kicks reflected in their loud boos when he comes into possession of the ball or receives a free-kick for head-high contact.

The issue of whether Selwood does indeed stage is irrelevant.

Supporters are a stubborn bunch, and will continue to believe and publicise their viewpoints until they’re proven to be completely wrong (and even that might not stop them).

Call me idealistic, but I like to think that only a minority of the boos towards Adam Goodes are fuelled by cowardice and racism.

A growing amount of the others are fuelled by infuriation at the increasing insistence of many AFL officials and commentators that all booing are racist at their core.

Add another reason for booing to the list, then.

As of 2015, there are 71 listed Indigenous players, and of them there are only two audibly booed at AFL matches on a regular basis: Adam Goodes and Lindsay Thomas.

Thomas, like Goodes, has also gathered criticism across much of the league for his supposed staging and ducking for free kicks.

Again, rightly or wrongly, these are the views held by many in the AFL public, and are reflected through their vocal disapproval during matches.

Unquestionably, not all of those booing these two players are doing so for reasons related to the way they play the game.

There can be a multitude of reasons due to a multitude of moments in a match or previous matches that draw crowd disapproval.

However, what there cannot be is a universal fix-it button, the idea that any who react in a certain way to a player do so for the exact same reasons.

The assumptions (and blatant insistence of some) that there’s only one reason for such reactions are inaccurate and unhelpful, effectively acting as petrol would if one threw it on a fire to try and put it out.

With every insistence of mass-scale racism being the cause of all boos towards Goodes, another swig of petrol is tossed onto the fire, its flames now raging.

When Adam Goodes comes into possession of the football this week, some of the boos will originate from racist views and toxic personalities.

But an increasing number of them will come from a public that are frustrated and enraged at the attempts of officials and media personalities to shoehorn them into an ideology they have and will never stand for, their boos the easiest and most effective way to reach AFL headquarters and media outlets, such has been the attention given to the issue in recent times.

The AFL powers-that-be and several football commentators are creating unity amongst AFL supporters.

But, ironically, they’re unifying them for all the wrong reasons.

UPDATE 30/7/15 – Amongst the wealth of feedback I have received for this piece, some have insisted I haven’t given a concrete view on the matter.

I believe the booing of Adam Goodes is not 100% sourced from racism, and the suggestion it is continues to bewilder me, such is the difficulty (and near impossibility) of reading the minds of thousands at any given time.

However, I do believe this has become an issue now inseparable from race, and those booing (regardless of their original and varied intentions) are now actively harming the wellbeing of individuals who are clearly disturbed and distressed by the audible reception they are receiving. 

Hopefully, those previously booing can ice tidy and understand this, and will strongly consider whether or not to boo the next time they have the chance.

David Zita


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David Zita Written by:

Born and bred in Melbourne, Australia. Passions: AFL, Tennis, Writing, Presenting Goal: Sports Journalist Quote to live by: 'Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.'

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