Recent incidents in the AFL have brought the way the League deals with Indigenous issues into the public domain. This is a season which should be making all sorts of football related headlines, not ones based on racism and mistrust.
I’m not one to see conspiracies in everything, and I believe the AFL Commission does the right thing by the game most of the time. However, the game has at times come up short when it comes to handling matters involving Indigenous Australians.
Whoever is at fault for the Matt Rendell and Mark Neeld scenarios, whether it be the AFL, Jason Misfud or unnamed sources, does not matter. The AFL’s handling of the situation has been abominable. Jason Misfud cannot be allowed to stay in his job as liaison to the Indigenous community. As Dean Rioli said last night, no one will go to him with an issue or a problem. After the Rendell issue, no one from the other side will talk to him now either.
Two weeks ago, the panel on the Marngrook Footy Show suggested that it was time for an Indigenous commissioner. Later that week, it was again suggested by Martin Flanagan of The Age. At the time I still wasn’t sold on the issue as I don’t like the idea of commissioners being appointed to fill a quota or minimum requirement.
You’d like them to be selected on merit and respect. However, with the AFL Commission proving it simply cannot deal with indigenous matters, I’ve since had a change of heart.
Take for instance, the numbers of indigenous players that get into trouble or simply give up and go home, never to resurface in the AFL or even the football world. That has been highlighted this year by Andrew Krakouer and Liam Jurrah among others. Throw in the Rendell and Neeld incidents, and you can see that the AFL is failing to handle the situation in a proper and dignified manner.
We need a commissioner who understands the cultural aspects of AFL football, has the respect of everyone involved in the game and has made it at the top level. There are three standout candidates for mine.
Michael Long – four times St Marys premiership player in the Territory, West Torrens best and fairest winner for 1988 in the SANFL, twice AFL All Australian, twice Essendon premiership player and 1993 Norm Smith medallist. Long was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame in 2007. Already a well known advocate of all things aboriginal in football, he has all of the above attributes. And the AFL is building an academy in the territory that bears his name. He would have to be considered a front runner.
Micheal McLean – Originally recruited from Nightcliff in the Territory (where he played rugby league as well as Australian Football), McLean played 11 seasons in the VFL/AFL for both Footscray and the Brisbane Bears, where he won the best and fairest twice. McLean returned to Nightscliff as coach , before moving to the Queensland State League to coach Redland. Later he would coach the Southern Districts NTFL club to their first premiership. He is currently the head coach of the Northern Territory Thunder and was named to the Indigenous Team of the Century. He was key in starting the Indigenous All Stars concept.
Andrew McLeod – originally recruited from Darwin by Fremantle, he was traded to Adelaide without playing a game, where he won two premierships, two Norm Smith medals, five All Australian awards (as captain in 2007), was named in the Indigenous team of the century, and was three times a member of the indigenous All Stars side. In 2011 he played for the Northern Territory Thunder, but only part time.
Im sure there are others who could do the job, but in all honesty, Michael Long has to be a front runner for this. Then again, maybe the AFL will just sit on its hands until Adam Goodes retires.