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When it comes to respect, window dressing is not enough

Age columnist Caroline Wilson (Photo: Nine)
Expert
20th June, 2016
36
1484 Reads

Doing Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC and Dreamtime Round stuff while turning a blind eye to figures in the football world doing blackface would turn the whole thing into a farce, right?

Blackface and other racist “jokes” aren’t an epidemic in the AFL. We’ve come a long way since Doug Nicholls felt he had to get changed on his own when he started at Fitzroy because of the way Carlton players had treated him. Hell, we’ve come a long way since Allan McAlister told Aboriginal players to “act like white players” and Nicky Winmar had to take a stand at Victoria Park in 1993.

There’s still a problem, of course, a race problem a little more sophisticated than what we used to see. With Adam Goodes, the people booing him because he was a proud and vocal Aboriginal man tried to scrape together plausible deniability. They could say “I don’t boo the other, less political black players” or “he dives for free kicks” – even though the first line of argument is bullshit and the second one is statistically unsustainable.

More:
» Eddie McGuire apologises – what they said
» Fantasising about murdering Caroline Wilson, on live radio
» Get the story straight about Eddie

If you feel like reading more about my thoughts on Goodes I’ll post a link in the comments. The point I’m making now is that the AFL community, the fans and officials and the players, are generally united around the idea that racism is as toxic as it is stupid, and we don’t want it in our game. If we are fair dinkum about that, then we need to make a stand when the chips are down. Every time.

When it comes to homophobia the sporting world has been a little slower off the mark. When Jason Akermanis suggested there were quite a few gay players in the league who felt obliged to remain in the closet, the reaction was mixed and confused. We condemned Harbhajan Singh for calling Andrew Symonds a “big monkey”, but ignored the fact he’s said it after Symonds had called him a “f***ing faggot”. But we are getting there, whether Sam Newman likes it or not.

One old timer once said of Bachar Houli – “it doesn’t matter if you have to pray a lot”. The same can be said of gay players in footy. Who you bring as your date to the Brownlow has no connection to your ability as a player, or your value as a human being. Unless, of course, you bring Brendan Fevola to the Brownlow.

The thing is we can talk about being enlightened all we want, but it doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t walk the walk.

Case in point. The AFL has enthusiastically embraced White Ribbon day and campaigns against violence against women. Rightly so. Since 2009 more women have been murdered in this country than Australian soldiers were killed in Vietnam. AFL is a massively popular code and has cultural weight. Our sport is a strong force for good – whether it’s on race, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse… We can make a positive difference.

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Some have questioned the “rehabilitation” of Wayne Carey. In the late 1990s he grabbed the breasts of a passing woman in the street. In 2007 he smashed a glass into the face of his partner, Kate Neilson in Miami, then fought with security guards. In January 2008 he attacked police when they intervened at a domestic dispute.

Carey could have received 15 years in prison for the Miami offence. Channel Nine and 3AW sacked him. He’s now back on telly. He’s been careful, he’s been quiet.

Caroline Wilson cops a lot of shit. She’s a woman in a long-time male-dominated world and she doesn’t pull punches. No journalist should pull punches. If you do, you’re not doing your job.

When Eddie McGuire joked about putting in extra money if she drowned during a charity challenge, James Brayshaw said the promise would draw money “piling in everywhere” and Danny Frawley said he’d “jump in and make sure” she wouldn’t come back up after going under water.

Carey didn’t comment, but McGuire sought him out: “is Duck there?”

“Yes, I’m here mate.” And everyone was having a giggle.

What the hell?

It’s White Ribbon weekend. The comment about Wilson would have been out of line at any time, to any people, but to say it on that particular weekend – to Wayne Carey – showed the sort of callous disregard that McGuire demonstrated with his King Kong “joke”.

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Brayshaw was an accomplice and Frawley particularly gross. Frawley, to his credit, has been apologetic. He not only apologised on telly on Sunday night and Monday, he contacted Wilson personally to do so – which is different from the usual “sorry if anyone was offended” crap.

McGuire, on the other hand was initially dismissive of concerns, calling it “playful banter”. Turn it up.

Whether it is race, gender, sexuality or violence – window dressing is not enough. It’s not about being “correct”, it’s about showing respect.

It’s time for McGuire and others to think about what they’re saying before the crap flows out and stains the carpet.

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