It’s too little too late.
Taylor Walker’s apology, something that felt like a horribly scripted PR job, has ignited fresh conversations about racism in the AFL.
If you missed it, Walker made a racist slur at a SANFL game a few weeks ago that was aimed at North Adelaide’s Robbie Young. An Adelaide official overheard it. The AFL has investigated it. Walker is now banned from playing for the Adelaide Crows for six games.
This week Walker gave a brief statement flanked by Young, who even consoled him when the Crows forward couldn’t say his name properly, which made for cringe-worthy viewing.
“What I’ve said was racism. And it’s totally unacceptable,” Walker said. “I’ve lost trust and respect from everyone. I’ve got work to do. There’s no place for racism in society.”
Walker looked stuffy and uncomfortable. But that’s irrelevant.
Spare a thought for the Adelaide official who was brave enough to bring this to light. Most players now call out racism. But for an official to do it at a game is groundbreaking.
Spare a thought too for Robbie Young, who had to endure Walker’s spiel. He had to sit there calmly listening to how Walker is going to transform himself, educate himself and lean on the AFL and Young for support. That would have been hard to do.
For Indigenous footballers this is a nightmare stuck on repeat. But though we’ve sadly been here too many times before, this week was different.
AFL players are usually accustomed to racist abuse and vitriol from faceless trolls on social media, but this time it was an AFL player who did the damage. It was a player who should’ve known better. Walker has played alongside Indigenous legend Eddie Betts, who played 132 games for Adelaide and has received racist abuse every year he’s played in the AFL.
In Walker’s apology he says he’s taking time away to get educated, which is “going to take some time”. Did he learn nothing all those years playing with Betts? Did he not see the trauma Betts went through? Clearly he wasn’t paying enough attention or didn’t think it was important enough to understand what real racism looks like.
Racism is bigger than football. It’s going to take huge efforts from governments, sporting codes and fans to come together. But until then there’s oodles of information out there to educate people on racism. The sad part is people like Tex Walker aren’t trying hard enough to educate themselves to begin with to understand how casual racism is still racism and how non-Indigenous people can become allies.
The AFL has become a clearing house for information on racism. The AFL Players Association actively calls out racism and shares information on anti-racist campaigns. More and more players are calling out racism on social media.
More recently the Ripple Effect documentary went deep into the lives of Indigenous sports figures and revealed just how much damage racism can do to one person.
In that documentary Nathan Lovett-Murray talks about the enduring hurt caused by being racially vilified. His first encounter was when he was nine years old running laps around a school oval. He said every time there’s a media report on racism in sport it takes him back to that moment that happened some 30 years ago. Ask anyone who has been racially vilified and they will say the same thing: racism sticks with you.
Former AFL player Tony Armstrong was asked how he felt about Walker’s comments, considering he’s known him for 16 years. Armstrong said Walker was someone he was close with.
“That really hurts, being a black fella,” he said. “It’s really hard to reconcile that on a personal level. To be quite frank, we’re all pretty angry.”
Without much protection from social platforms like Twitter and Facebook, where most people can register more than one account under fake names, we’ve come to expect racist taunts from trolls. But where is the game at if an AFL player is the one spewing the vitriol?
Armstrong said harsher penalties were needed for racial vilification given not much has changed since Peter Everett’s penalty of $20,000 and four weeks suspension 23 years ago.
On the weekend Eddie Betts wrote “no room for racism” on his wrist tape, and he told media we are going backwards.
“He needs to learn from this. He needs to own it,” he said. “Doing that is the only way we’re all going to move forward on this.”
Everyone still has work to do: Walker, AFL clubs, the AFL, all sporting codes, all sports fans and the Australian government. A collective approach is what’s needed to squash racism. But, for Walker and his apology, saying sorry doesn’t erase the hurt.