Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Editorial: It Stops With Us In Football

EDIT: Note the praise of Ed McGuire in this was before his on-air gaffe, as covered in this guest post

This weekends football was intended to be about events of 20 years ago, and the journey that Australian Football has undertaken over that time. About reconciliation with Indigenous Australians. About acceptance. About a societal change of attitudes.

The weekend was preceded by media coverage about a famous footballing photo.
Image Courtesy The Age
The key image was of Nicky Winmar of St Kilda, playing away at Victoria Park. The opposition that day, Collingwood.
That famous photo, at right, shows Winmar professing his pride at his achievement in front of fans that derided him all day.

The fans derision was not against his skill or ability, but about his heritage, upbringing and culture. The pride came from within, and accompanied a protest against their derision, bigotry, and hate.

It was a football culture-shifting moment that was a long time in the making. At that moment racial hate in football was brought into focus. Later the following year, Micheal Long would also take a stand, and the AFL would also act.
Over that 20 year period, Australian Football has come to think of itself as a model of respect. A leader in the field of understanding. And it would be fair to say that indeed they have taken the lead in issues, particularly around racial vilification

One such example of the AFL and its member clubs taking the lead was highlighted by Caroline Wilson in The Age on the eve of Indigenous Round. It involves the extension of acceptance and understanding beyond the players and officials, and into supporter groups. In this instance, into the Richmond Cheer Squad and beyond.
It's more than a theme
"...significant in terms of the Dreamtime game was the second of two unusual cultural-awareness sessions at Punt Road after Richmond cheer squad members put up their hands to learn what it was the club was trying to achieve.
Delivered by Tigers executive Belinda Duarte, the move has now seen cheer squad president Gerard Egan looking to educate all cheer squad presidents in a bid to eliminate racial abuse from behind the goals.
Tiger supporter Brett Beattie set the ball rolling after last year's Dreamtime game, approaching Duarte and Richmond chief Brendon Gale."

As is well known now, that celebration of where we are, and the change from 20 years ago, was soured. Pointing out another generations' failings in understanding and acceptance, was Sydney's Adam Goodes.
In the first game of the special Indigenous Round, he made an emphatic statement on the nations biggest stage, the M.C.G. In TV's prime time, broadcast nationally, and again against the nations most popular sports club.  
Image courtesy aflphotos.com.au

There are so many 'unfortunates' about the events of this weekend. 
That the offensive comment was made. That the girl in question was publicly identified, and identified on such a grand scale, both on the night by the 7 Network, and later by the print and other electronic media. That media people such a A. Bolt would downplay the offensiveness of the comments. That the girls' parents would wonder what the fuss was about.

The first positive action from this whole unsavoury moment was the very timely intervention by Eddie Maguire, Collingwood President, who acted promptly to console Adam Goodes, apologize, and condemn racism. As much as Eddie cops flak from the media and public about his persona, this response is admirable and exemplary.

The other was the comments from Adam Goodes. His press conference transcript is a lesson in humility, understanding and decency.
Adam Goodes full press conference transcript as he addresses racist taunts
"...personally I don't think I've ever been more hurt by someone calling me a name than I was last night. Not because of what was said, but from where it came from. It just hit me that it wasn’t a Collingwood issue or an AFL issue, but a society issue and it’s an issue of what our parents are teaching our kids."

Friday was also a reminder that these events are not isolated.
At the same game vision was captured of a man vilifying players from the stands.
Earlier this month, Majak Daw was vilified when playing against Hawthorn.
A year earlier, the same player was again vilified, this time in the VFL.

And as Adam Goodes said on Saturday, its more than just about Australian Football and the culture it engenders. Its a societal problem.
Its vilifying people on buses for singing in other languages.
Its about vilifying people of different religious beliefs because they don't concur with yours.
Its about the vilification of people with different colour skin... be they those that were here first, or came later, or still arrive by boat to seek a life without the everyday threat of torture and death.

And it all must stop. Football fans, the media, political figures. Everyone.

As much as we think football had come a long way, on Friday night under the glare of the stadium lights and TV exposure, the nation had it pointed out that we are still a long way away from true understanding.

Post Script: We have tried to use images and web sources that do not identify the young girl in question, as there is more than enough available elsewhere. Further, it is a sad indictment on the 7 Network that the telecast of the match showed the girls face nationally. Yes, 7 were not to know who and how old the offender was, but equally we believe they should have made some effort to protect the offender from the immediate public humiliation. There should have been better editorial control to determine the events that happened and consider the implications (all 'off air') before broadcasting them. 

Additional Reading 1.
Finally, with all the hubbub and twitter discussion swirling about on the night and next day of the Goodes incident, the following blogpost was written leading up to the Saturday nights game, by a football fan who (seemingly) doesn't write much about football.
Nicola captures more than just the good spirit of Indigenous Round, but the love and regard those players receive from their people...
"I think it is worth remembering not simply what Indigenous players mean to the AFL, or to the teams’ supporters, or to the game itself, but what football means to Indigenous people."
Please continue reading "Reflections on the Dreamtime round and an inadequate explanation of the meaning of football", By Nicola Castleman.

Additional Reading 2.
Racism: It Stops With Me.
Understand the campaign.

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