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Booing Adam Goodes


Adam GoodesEvery time Adam Goodes has walked onto a football field over the past few months, he has been booed by sections of the crowd. The booing has nothing to do with how well or how poorly he conducts himself on the field during the game. It starts from the first time he approaches the ball and continues every time he gets it, often building as other fans join in.

In its best light, this unrelenting campaign, aimed at destroying one player's ability to do their job, is bullying. Those who boo Goodes should be ashamed to participate in it for this reason alone. However, there is a strong argument that it is worse than that.

Some justify the abuse of Goodes because of the way he plays his football these days. As his immense physical gifts decay with age, he's become more of a wily craftsman on the field. Opposing fans argue that he snipes at other players behind play, stages for free kicks and gets an unfair run from umpires.

These people don't like being called racists when they boo Adam Goodes. They'll point to past actions on the field and say they don't boo him because he's Aboriginal but because the way he plays the game is not they way they believe players should conduct themselves.

Yet there are other players considered 'dirty' by opposition fans. Joel Selwood wins more free kicks than any other player in the game. Ryan Crowley and Hayden Ballyntine have made a career out of niggling opposition players and fans. All have been booed at times, but none of them are booed on a weekly basis, from the start of the game to the finish, like Adam Goodes.

There are others who boo Adam Goodes because of the way he acts off the field. They see someone who's been gifted with a career and honours most would dream of having. Rather than just expressing gratitude for those gifts, Goodes uses the public platforms he's been given to call out ugliness where he sees and experiences it. He's not afraid to use the word 'racism', and to challenge how Aboriginal people are seen and treated.

These people don't like being called racists when they boo Adam Goodes either. They point to what he's said about racism in Australia and argue that they don't boo him because he's an Aboriginal. They boo him because they disagree with his view of Australia, and because the way he acts in public life is not the way they believe people should conduct themselves.

Those who boo Goodes because he's outspoken on Aboriginal issues will dislike him whether he's a dirty or clean player. They don't care that Goodes has been subjected to racial vilification on and off the football field, and may even be angry at him for pointing out a fan who abused him. They boo him because they want him to know that speaking out about racial issues won't be tolerated. They might believe they are championing free speech, but they are in fact undermining it by attempting to bully someone they disagree with into silence.

These people might argue that they aren't racists, but what they're doing is aimed solely at keeping an Aboriginal person silent about the discrimination and marginalisation he and others of his race have suffered.

What is the difference between people who boo Goodes because they disagree with his statements on Aboriginality, and those who lined the streets of Selma to abuse Martin Luther King and his companions on their marches? What they are doing is designed to further marginalise and alienate Aboriginal voices brave enough to speak out against the status quo. If we are a society that is tolerant and serious about being a welcoming place to people of all races and creeds, the actions of those booing Goodes need to be called out for what they are - racism.

When Adam Goodes made the spear-throwing gesture (replicated by Lewis Jetta over the weekend), he called out those booing him for what they were - racists. This offended those doing the booing. Here he was again - making everything about his Aboriginality. But the difference in how the public responds to Goodes and how it responds to other players is obvious to Goodes, even if it's not apparent to many of those who are booing him.

When Adam Goodes and Lewis Jetta made it clear how the boos were impacting on them (and all Aboriginal players), those doing the booing had two choices. They could respect their feelings and cut out the abuse, or they could double-down and continue unrepentantly. Sadly, it seems, many have taken the latter option.

Those wanting to marginalise Goodes and his calling out of Aboriginal discrimination will feel encouraged by fans booing him each week. They'll feel free to continue to express themselves, hoping to bully into silence anyone who might dare to give voice to the anxieties and concerns of marginalised Aboriginal people in Australia.

Others who choose to still boo Goodes might continue to think they're only doing so for footballing reasons. Seen in the best light, these people are bullies. But worse than that, the booing encourages and perpetuates a form of racism. Either way, the people who do it should be ashamed of themselves. It is not how we would expect people to conduct themselves, on the field or in public life.

Michael McVeigh is the editor of Australian Catholics magazine and senior editor at Jesuit Communications.

Adam Goodes image from Wikimedia Commons.

Topic tags: Michael McVeigh, racism, sport, AFL, racism, tolerance



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Existing comments

Excellent analysis.

Mary Long | 28 July 2015  

It seems that the once-latent racism is becoming less so.

Darryl Thompson | 28 July 2015  

There is the theory that Aussie Rules is the real religion of Victoria. In that "theological analysis" Adam Goodes could be seen as "profaning" the "purity" of the game by "introducing politics". I think this view is rubbish. Adam Goodes gets into trouble because he calls racism out for what it is.

Edward Fido | 29 July 2015  

Tall poppy syndrome?

Peter Goers | 29 July 2015  

And where are the loud voices of our leaders telling these racists to pull their heads in and give a great footy player a fair go. I can't hear them saying that this man who has had the guts to speak up for his mob has a right to be respected. Instead I hear the carefully moderated chosen words from media urrr maybe his dance was threaening to the crowd urr maybe he could have said things differently urrr it is maybe not nice. I am sickened by the mealy mouthed media. I am ashamed that our political leaders and so silent but most of all i despair for this nation and its growing intolerance and hatred for difference. We are losing something precious here and giving our children a toxic future.

pamela | 29 July 2015  

Waleed Aly, on Julia Zemiro's Home Delivery a few weeks back, said, "We are a nation with a high level of low-level racism. It's probably characterised more by a determined insensitivity than it is by some seriously dangerous malevolence. And I say this fully cognisant that that is probably a hard argument to sustain in the case of Indigenous Australia." Well the malevolence isn't far from the surface, it seems. But a society that gets its information largely from the Murdoch Press and has its baser attitudes encouraged by shock jocks is not going to be noted for sensitivity and tolerance. Decency is up against it, certainly, in our Australia Fair. But there are a lot of wonderfully fair and good people out there who have been formed by better forces. Our hope is that each of us loses no chance to show justice and empathy in whatever occasion offers itself.

Joe Castley | 29 July 2015  

People are not booing the Aboriginal race. they are booing an Aboriginal man who is baiting them - just as his team mate did last weekend, "in support", doing his aggressive war dance, threatening the crowd in mime. It's all play acting. I suppose the boys will get over it and grow up when they stop playing a game and get a responsible job! The booing crowd I would suggest are simply joining in the game. It is far removed from racism. And after all, is not an Aboriginal an Australian just like all the Anglos, continental Europeans, Asians who all belong to this Australian "race". Time for all of us to grow up!! Life, and particularly football, is not so serious.

john frawley | 29 July 2015  

There's a clear dichotomy on this concerning issue between the in-depth understanding of most journalists and social commentators and the shallow victim-blaming views of the booing spectators and former players in the media.

John Murphy | 29 July 2015  

I learnt at a seminar a couple of weeks ago that I simply don't have to worry being categorised as "white" when I walk out of my front door. EVERY person of colour is pre-judged (aka...prejudice) when they step into the public arena. Boo the Ref....boo the individual...but DON'T boo the colour

Stephen Clark | 29 July 2015  

Well said, Michael McVeigh and other comment writers, particularly Joe Castley. I think Waleed Aly's comment about the high level of our low-level racism is spot on. "I'm not racist, but...." - so often heard these days. And all currently defended and exploited by our oh-so-high-minded Liberals. Just what sort of country are we becoming? Certainly mateship and fairness are things of our nostalgic past. Or at least, not for everyone, just the 'usses' and none of the 'thems'. And gosh, there are more and more 'thems' all the time, aren't there!

PaulM | 29 July 2015  

I played rugby league from the age of 10 to the age of 24, then I started to referee and fortunately selected to officiate in some excellent games. I have officiated in games with indigenous players. Not once have I heard inappropriate things said to those players and class many of them now as friends. I have never heard of or seen anybody boo in a league game because they are aboriginal. It is disgusting what is happening to Adam Goodes who is a great ambassador in sport and personal life. Stick with it Adam for your family's sake, show them you are better than the cowards who boo you, I'm 73 years of age and admire what you have achieved in life. Listened to your Mum on TV and felt real sad for her, please hang in there for your team and fellow race. Is it a Melbourne thing, hope not as I have not heard that type of behavior at Storm games. Again Adam stick your chest out, play strong and proud and try to ignore those in the crowd that have probably never played your game.

Barrie Keenahan | 29 July 2015  

Good article. I can't believe the fuss over a little war dance to throw some of the abuse back at the abusers. Good on Goodes and Jetta. Honestly, what is wrong with these people?

Kate | 29 July 2015  

Nicely balanced and deeply meaningful article. Footy fans it's time for repentance and reform; maybe even restitution . . .

Marty Rice | 29 July 2015  

I stopped following the footy when nicky winmar pulled up his jumper and pointed to his skin back in the 90's, then was also vilified for 'being political', being black was already bad enuf! --- so disappointing that the fundamentals(and the ists) haven't changed/developed/learnt. but then, why would we , when, as a society, we refuse to even look at our actions, let alone atone for them?

caitlin coleman | 30 July 2015  

Adam's actions regarding the girl on that Friday night at the MCG were not appreciated by many. What ensued probably had little to do with the player, but inflamed the anger of those already not happy. The girl's treatment by security and the AFL's turning a blind eye to the outrageous racist comment, also directed at Adam Goodes, of an experienced commentator in Eddie McGuire fuelled the fire that has burnt since.. If the booing was racist why is it directed at just one player in one code? Rightly or wrongly(almost certainly the latter) Adam has been blamed for the whole situation involving the girl and the media man the AFL has never called to account. In this instance justice has not been seen to be done.

grebo | 30 July 2015  

I am devastated that Adam Goodes has had to endure racial abuse from footy 'fans'. Twice a Brownlow medallist and a role model for his Sydney Swans teammates, an Australian of the Year and a fine spokesman for his people. No amount of booing by infantile bullies will take that away. Do not walk away, Adam - there are many more people who applaud you.

Pam | 30 July 2015  

I think that sadly again this situation is stressing the divide between the racists and the others, those who not only abhor racism, but admire Indigenous Australians for their integrity, staunchness and tolerance. The more the ugly lot pick on the Adam Goodes' of this country, the more I admire and respect the First Australians.

Eveline Goy | 30 July 2015  

This is a striking read and nails the issue on the head. Love it. Thanks for helping me articulate what I have believed but not been able to express.

Teresa Hudson | 30 July 2015  

I seem to remember there were people who jeered Jesus when he was at the top of his game, too. As James Alison points out, he gave his life to us in the position of victim to wake us up to the evil we humans do by picking out scapegoats whom we can torment together to make us feel secure and united. This is a very good Aussie example of just such evil group dynamics, born of the dualistic and competitive nature of our nation's sports fanaticism. I suggest that any team playing against the Swans should simply close the game down by walking off the field if Goodes or any other player is booed, just to show that such spectators are not welcome at AFL matches.

John O'D | 30 July 2015  

It is good to see that even most of the comments are taking a stand against racism and the demeaning of a national icon. I feel deeply embarrassed by the core of redneck racist idiots who feel empowered by the disgusting refusal of our national leadership to take a stand against this abuse. Congratulations to the Premier of NSW for speaking out. The "Christian" federal front bench is loudly silent.

Bilal | 30 July 2015  

Yes, John Frawley - they are booing an Aboriginal man for baiting them by daring to express his Aboriginal identity with his "aggressive" war dance. Do you realise his dance hasn't caused any broken bones or black eyes or spinal injuries like other aggressive gestures in AFL and other codes of football? This attitude is a disgrace and I'm glad I don't associate with sport.

AURELIUS | 31 July 2015  

All victims of bullying, whether it has a racist component or not, need the same thing--someone to stand with them. If all football supporters who oppose bullying in any form stand and applaud Adam Goodes at the first sign of booing, he will no longer feel alone against a mob.

Anna Summerfield | 31 July 2015  

Well said Pamela

Linda | 31 July 2015  

The spectre of a grown man pointing people out in the crowd for calling him a bad name conjures up connotations of the the cry-baby kid doing the same thing. Doing it once might be accepted, but continually doing so was always going to backfire. It's a case of political correctness going too far and Goodes trying to milk the situation for all it's worth. I am from an ethnic backround & know what it is like to be called all sorts of names, but if you as a player don't like the sledging, get out of the arena.

Marc Willis | 31 July 2015  

Thanks Michael for calling it for what it is. The racist deniers in this booing saga e.g. Bolt in the Herald Sun, are yesterday's people, living and thinking a falsehood, and sadly reflecting poorly on AFL whose leaders seem powerless to do anything to stand up to this bullying

Fulvio Frijo | 31 July 2015  

It’s hard to believe this is based on something that happened two years ago. Adam Goodes did nothing wrong in pointing out the young lady who abused him from the crowd. How the AFL and security handled it after that is another matter and one outside Goodes’ control. Clearly the treatment of the young lady and her family can be seen as bullying and abusive, but why target Goodes for it? Racial abuse is not accepted in any sport – not just the AFL but cricket, soccer and rugby have taken strong stands against it. The players can’t do it, why should the fans? The persistent booing of Goodes goes beyond the tribal fun of the contest. It is juvenile and wrong. And really, when you look at what Goodes and Lewis Jetta have actually done, where is the harm? Nobody is being hurt by it. It is no worse than Greg Inglis doing the “goanna” when he scores a try or cricketers celebrating a wicket. Time to grow up and enjoy the game for the skills and entertainment we see on the field and cut out the garbage.

Brett | 31 July 2015  

thanks for this very clear article - I'm appalled at how a great Australian, a terrific footballer and a leader of his people is being treated - makes me ashamed to be an AFL supporter. Good on all his friends for standing up for him - I'm waiting for the PM to make a statement.

Heather | 31 July 2015  

It saddens me, as an Australian resident in the UK, that the deplorable prejudice against our indigenous people still persists.

Joan Thomas | 31 July 2015  

I agree with John O'D. At some international sports games the players walk off the field and the play stops. Simple. I must admit, as a woman I find myself pondering over why there isn't the same outrage and level of discussion about the hidden scourge of violence in our homes. We have a high level of low-level sexism too in Australia. I stand against racism and sexism. Fair go? Australia lost that value a long time ago.

Mary tehan | 31 July 2015  

One of the horrific things of this whole saga is that it seems to have started - at least as far as the media are concerned - with a 13 year old girl screaming out loud at a match that Adam Goodes was an "ape". The thought that a 13 year old thought she had permission to do this because of "footy culture" is horrific. This and other similar incidents remind me that some "footy fans" are our version of soccer hooligans. These people are the nasty underbelly of our society. Comments by Eddie McGuire, Andrew Bolt et sim should be seen as the rubbish they are.

Edward Fido | 01 August 2015  

What about Jobe Watson? He has been booed for years now surrounding the drug scandal at Essendon. He's on personal leave too, and tempted to quit the game because of bullying. James Hird is in a similar position.

Phill E | 01 August 2015  

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