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Two stories of Adam Goodes


One of the most enjoyable parts of being a sports fan is telling stories about what happens on the playing field. A victory can be lionised as a tale of redemption or the realisation of a lifelong quest. A loss can be described as a great fall from grace or a tragic tale of what nearly-was. Fans celebrate loudest when there's an ending we can appreciate, such as when a favourite hero achieves a fairytale victory, or when a perceived villain gets their just desserts.

Adam GoodesThe problem with creating stories around sport is that we can sometimes lose sight of the real human beings involved. At worst, a particular story can be damaging to an athlete's life.

Over the weekend, Adam Goodes announced his retirement from AFL football. There have been two competing stories being told about Adam Goodes in recent years.

One is of a player with a unique set of footballing gifts, who achieved everything that a person could want to achieve in his chosen endeavour and became a role model for many Australians both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

He was outspoken on racial issues, calling out racist remarks whether they were made by club presidents or people in the stands. This provoked the ire of those who didn't like their sport being politicised, and perhaps didn't like their racist attitudes being challenged, and so he was booed relentlessly by sections of the crowd each week. A great player, and an exemplary person off the field, he was undeserving of such treatment.

A second story contained some of those details, but emphasised different points. It made pains to point out that the fan Goodes singled out in the stands was just 12 years old, and didn't understand what she'd said. It ignored his subsequent statements discouraging people from victimising the girl, and the many other times he'd been racially abused by adults who knew exactly what they were saying.

Instead of seeing a player adapting his game to cope with his diminishing physical attributes, this story focused on particular aggressive acts and staging for free kicks to label him a 'dirty player'. The boos were justified because they were directed not at him as an Aboriginal, but at his on-field actions.

The two stories came to a head a few weeks ago, when the detrimental effect the booing was having on Goodes and his fellow Indigenous players became clear. The AFL did everything it could to encourage fans to stop. Yet despite these urgings, the booing largely persisted. Last Saturday night, even as Goodes lined up to take his last kick of AFL football in a game his team had already lost, the boos of the North Melbourne fans could be heard on the television.

Shortly after news of his retirement came reports that Goodes had declined to take part in the AFL Grand Final Day lap of honour traditionally reserved for retiring greats. The dual premiership player and dual Brownlow Medal winner was reportedly driven away by the prospect of being booed again.

The news has cast a pall over the remainder of the season and the fan bases that are still in the mix. North Melbourne might have won some neutral supporters for its pro-refugee banner in their elimination final, but lost those same supporters in their reaction to Goodes on Saturday night. The people of Perth might be ecstatic at the possibility of having two teams in the Grand Final, but they've been as tainted by the Goodes saga as any city this year, with supporters from both fan groups ejected from the ground for racially abusing him this season. Hawthorn fans have booed Goodes relentlessly in their matches both this year and last year.

No matter which story about Goodes a person chose to believe, the fact that the booing had such a profound personal effect on him should have at least given spectators pause. As I've written before, if someone continued to boo Goodes after everything that had been said they were at best a bully, and at worst wilfully perpetuating racism. That the boos continued right up until the last game of Goodes' career is an indictment on all AFL fans.

Despite the stories we tell about our game, the concept of justice rarely factors into what happens in competition. We might argue that one team or player deserved to win because of what they went through to get there, but in the end there is just the result of the match. Justice, in this regard, is confined to how we spectators respond to what happens on the field.

It will be just for us to celebrate Adam Goodes on Grand Final Day, whether he's at the ground or not, for his achievements in football and in life. It will also be just for us to celebrate the winning players and club, as all of the remaining teams and players have been strong in their support of Goodes.

But whoever the winning team is on Grand Final Day, there will be many of us who will find it hard to celebrate the fans. We'll know that among those cheering for the win will be people who participated in the relentless victimisation of one of the game's great Aboriginal ambassadors. And there will be no justice in their happy ending in this story.

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

Topic tags: Michael McVeigh, Adam Goodes, racism, AFL



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Existing comments

In a word: SAD!

Patricia Taylor | 23 September 2015  

Although AFL is not my favourite sport, I am a Sydney Swans fan. Even to the extent of being unable to watch a game if they are being thrashed. If it's a close game and they are beaten I can watch. I'm not sure what that says about my loyalty. Adam Goodes' achievements in life, and sport, stand as a testimony to his character. He has stood tall for his people, for his country and for his team. And what else would we expect from a fine human being than to react as a human being to intense booing. It hurt and he showed that it hurt. Adam still has much to contribute. I look forward to this.

Pam | 23 September 2015  

Thank you for your insightful article. I regret that Adam will not get the send off he thoroughly deserves after a brilliant career. That's an indictment of the racist mob who have. Made his life miserable in recent months. I don't agree, however, that it is an indictment of all AFL fans - the great majority of them applaud Adam Goodes in the face of a loud-mouthed minority. I hope we get to see Adam playing a role in public life into the future.

Frank Golding | 23 September 2015  

Vale 37. I too have suffered from racism firstly on my birth certificate 79 yrs ago then scared/burnt with a cigarette as a 3 yr old in Sep 39. My parents were italian migrants. So it continues even today. It is very hurtful and I understand Adam fully. I now do as Adam does and will not put myself in a position to permit bullies to offend me. May he enjoy the rest of his life as I do,.

Maria fatarella | 23 September 2015  

Is it possible that the bullying of Adam Goodes is the very high profile face of a culture of bullying that is endemic in Australia? From home to school to workplace both corporate and government the degree of bullying, mostly unreported for obvious reasons, has the potential to shatter those bullied both physically and psychologically. It is time now for an independent full enquiry into workplace bullying not in just selected departments here and there but starting at the top management level of all government and commercial sector businesses. Maybe if this is accomplished a flow down effect will be less bullying in homes and schools.

Anna E W | 23 September 2015  

Footy was his work place. Causing harm through bullying and harassment is an offence eg trolling on Facebook causing distress and even loss of life. People can be charged for this. Surely the AFL can at least fine or penalise the clubs for th behaviour of their supporters. The way players and teams are praised for aggression, and the profit raised by alcohol sales are all contributing factors. If we can't control it by appeals to decency, the we can control it by taking away points, or closing down a game. It can be done if there is a will.

Pauline Small | 23 September 2015  

A very important article. Thank you. I agree that, 'No matter which story about Goodes a person chose to believe, the fact that the booing had such a profound personal effect on him should have at least given spectators pause. As I've written before, if someone continued to boo Goodes after everything that had been said they were at best a bully, and at worst wilfully perpetuating racism. That the boos continued right up until the last game of Goodes' career is an indictment on all AFL fans.' Both Fremantle and North Melbourne fans continued to boo Adam Goodes during the finals. Their teams should be penalised in some way, shape or form. Unfortunately, racism against Indigenous Australians is still very real. It's an extremely sad situation.

robert | 23 September 2015  

I think the whole tragic story of the relentless victimisation of Adam Goodes casts an immense shadow across the AFL and Australia. To think this could happen in the 21st Century! There is something very nasty lurking behind the facade of sport in this country. No trite answers, no simple excuses can brush it off. So many of our 'sports fans' and the sports commentariat should hang their heads in shame. These should hearken to the words of John Donne: '...never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.' Do you hear Eddie, Sam and all the others?

Edward Fido | 23 September 2015  

AFL fans are notable for the support they give the other 74 indigenous players who presently play the game.

Peter | 24 September 2015  

I say good on you Goodsey for not going to the parade of champions. What this says is that your actions will always speak louder than the words of those swimmers at the shallow end of the gene pool. They can dress up their comments however they like in an attempt to justify their infantile behaviour, but just racism.

Genevieve O'Reilly | 28 September 2015  

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