Adam Goodes was being a sook. He wasn’t humble enough. He’s playing the victim. And he’s polarising Australians.
Goodes should just get over it.
You only need to type in Adam Goodes into Twitter’s search bar to find lines like these scattered online in response to the Swans legend rejecting the AFL’s invitation to join a list of football greats in the Hall of Fame last week. Some argue there is no greater honour in football.
Goodes, gracefully, said no.
Let’s not forget: Goodes was booed into retirement. It was hostile. He was also racially vilified by a 13-year-old girl. And Eddie McGuire, a president of one of football’s largest football clubs, referred to him as King Kong (and not punished by the AFL for it).
Think about that for a minute. The real concern is not Goodes accepting or not accepting his Hall of Fame invite. It’s how, six years on, the 41-year old still lives with the trauma of his racial vilification and how the AFL failed him. This is something he can’t forget. Racism leaves scars. And they clearly haven’t healed.
If you have watched the Ripple Effect documentary, which aired after the Dreamtime match in Perth, it examines the lasting effects of racism and the traumatic impact one experience can have on indigenous AFL players and people of colour.
Nathan Lovett-Murray explains his first incident when he was in Grade Four, almost 30 years ago, when an older kid spouted vile insults at him while he was running laps at school. It crushed his confidence. It made him angry. At one point, Lovett-Murray says, he even contemplated taking his own life.
Being vilified questions things like belonging and identity. It can fracture careers.
Since 2015 when Goodes left the game, the AFL has struggled to challenge the football landscape to keep Indigenous players safe from vilification. And in that time Twitter has emerged as the latest vulnerable entry point for racist abuse.
While recent steps are being made by the AFL to work with social media platforms Twitter and Facebook to create stronger reforms, it won’t be the silver bullet.
Significant steps to create change will only come with an all-hands-on-deck approach: changes to curriculum and education in schools, new laws that allow prosecution from online abuse, and football fans banding together to call out racism.
You only have to check your Twitter feed from the weekend to see Paddy Ryder was called ‘Blacky Ryder’ and mocked for depression. Liam Ryan was called a ‘black dog’.
One football fan went as far to say “I’ll admit I called him (Liam Ryan) a black dirty ape just in the heat of the moment.” These are the ones we know of publicly.
Of the Indigenous players I have spoken to in the last month, almost all of them receive death threats, racist abuse, monkey emojis daily. These threats spike if they try to speak out against racism or simply if they post a photo on Instagram of their family.
All of them said the threats – and large volume of threats – leave mental wounds.
Graham Cornes wrote in The Advertiser that “it’s hard to know what else the AFL can do to make it (the Adam Goodes situation) better” and also asked the question: “Can he forgive us?” I hear Cornes. He wants what every football fan wants: that Adam Goodes should be celebrated. But it’s complicated.
Only, at this point, can Goodes decide what direction the relationship travels in. Goodes needs to be at peace with how the AFL failed him but if that day doesn’t come we all have to accept that. Some fences just aren’t meant to be mended.
The danger is that if AFL executives give us lip service on a transformative approach to make change, but fail to deliver. Last year when football resumed and players took a knee to show solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement, some saw it as an inspiring move, never seen before in the AFL. Yet, 12 months on, what’s become of it? Since then Eddie Betts has received monkey emojis.
The Do Better report leaked earlier this year acknowledged Collingwood’s struggle with its racist culture. There’s a scrolling list of players that have been targeted racially.
The knee moment was a player-led idea backed by the AFL, but there was an opportunity to keep the conversation going, like what the English Premier League (EPL) did this year when they kneeled before every game.
But like the EPL, there needs to be more than a symbolic knee to create real change.
It’s hard to say what, if anything, will change in the next five to ten years. The worst thing the AFL can do right now about Goodes is to say ‘ah well, we tried’. If they want him in the Hall of Fame they need to change the culture of the game.
Goodes sees the game differently. He sees it as a toxic racist culture. As fans we need to understand that. We need to understand real damage has been done.
If the AFL can get to work in fixing the systemic issues in the game so that other indigenous players feel safe, then perhaps, just maybe, in time Goodes might have a change of heart.
And if not, we – the greater football community – have to respect his decision and continue to make the game a safer place for Indigenous footballers.