For those who don’t follow AFL, the booing of Adam Goodes at every away game must be confusing.
He is, outside the ground, a well known helper in the community who is gentle, kind, loves his mum and is good bloke. Such a good bloke that he was made Australian of the Year. But with Goodes, there is something about him that has switched him from being a sporting champion to being someone with booing.
Racism is at the heart of it. Maybe not everyone who boos Goodes is a racist, but they are contributing to a phenomenon that started with racist attitudes towards an Indigenous man who decided that enough was enough. The #goodesgate campaign is akin to what we have seen online with #gamergate – with people joining into something because it’s now considered cool.
Not that you’ll see that admitted to online all that often. That’s because what has happened is similar in some ways to the Gamer Gate phenomenon in the US, where people who attack others on the net in relation to the issues deny that they are sexists, instead that they insist that the issue is about “ethics in gaming journalism”. These mostly white men on the internet are now continually howling that it’s about ethics in booing.
I remember the game where it turned for Goodes. It was the time when a 13-year-old Collingwood supporter screamed that Goodes was an “ape”. Goodes, unlike most Indigenous footballers who would have heard such insults hurled from the sidelines, decided that such behaviour was unacceptable. Ever since that moment, however, the boos started.
I remember that to start with, the loudness and persistence with booing wasn’t consistent across the league. I distinctly remember an Essendon game, a later Collingwood game and, of course, the 2014 Grand Final with Hawthorn. They weren’t around before the “ape” moment, but suddenly, there they were. And this year, it’s grown and is more persistent than ever.
It’s been a curious phenomenon watching how the booing has been explained, excused and justified from a variety of sources – the development of Goodesgaters, claiming that this is all about ethics in booing and that it’s fine to do it. It appears that amongst mostly white male sport fans from Victoria and the other Southern States that a consensus has been built about Goodes and what he “should” have done plus what he is like as a person. This consensus view seems to have been built, on social media at least, on Twitter and through forums on the Big Footy forum, which is to this movement what 4Chan was for the Gamergate movement.
This consensus view that has been built states that his calling out of the 13 year old girl was Goodes’ “mistake”. He should have “kept quiet” about it and not “drawn attention to his colour”. This continues to the idea that “others get booed and they get on with things, so why not him”. It’s the response people provide to the bullied when they speak out.
“You’re just drawing attention to your skin, Adam, stop it”. In other words, racism exists amongst sporting crowds and always will – why make it worse by trying to make a stand against it?
One of the main problems with this is that I’m not sure that people who don’t experience lifelong, persistent racist insults and institutionalised racism can really tell someone who does how to act. White privilege is an actual thing, but it is not recognised by most who attack Goodes for how he is reacting to the situation. Worse still is the accusation of “reverse racism” and that Goodes hates white people. Pretty sure the entire Swans football team, most of whom aren’t Indigenous, would disagree with that one.
The ethics of booing
Then, a couple of months down the track, there were other ethics in booing excuses emerging about why people booed. “He’s a stager for free kicks” was one. “Umpire’s pet” was another. My favourite justfication – “he’s an arrogant flog” became a standard response – for them, it’s like “just because”. There’s no need to go any further with their justification for that belief. These excuses were convenient, especially for those who refused to concede that a consensus predicated on racism had emerged.
The problem is that Goodes rarely stages for free kicks – no more than Joel Selwood of Geelong, for example, who is rarely booed. As for “umpire’s pet”, Giants fans can tell you that there’s plenty of those around (*cough* Gary Ablett *cough*) and they are rarely booed every single time they touch the ball.
There are also various false equivalence arguments about booing raised. One is the case of Essendon captain Jobe Watson’s treatment at the hands of West Coast supporters in the height of the ASADA drug situation – which was also poor, but not as sustained and sprung from a perceived piece of sustained cheating. Goodes isn’t the captain of a team accused of performance-related cheating. Then there’s the case of Stephen Milne of St Kilda, who was booed in the wake of rape charges [Editor’s note: Milne pleaded guilty to assault]. Again, not really a good comparison as rape is a bit different from asking racists to stop calling you an ape.
Another element of the problem with this “Goodes is a Flog” argument is that Goodes, outside the football field, is one of the friendliest, most gentlemanly people in football. Rarely does one hear in Sydney of anything he does that is less than dignified. Not a “flog”. Just a player who wants to play football well.
The consensus view of Goodes as an uppity Indigenous man who should have kept quiet was made even more entrenched when Goodes decided to unleash a post-goal celebration learnt from an Under 18s team. Then the Melbourne football media and the forums had a field week saying how he shouldn’t be so “hostile” and inflaming what was already a poor situation. He should have left it alone! Those of us in the SCG crowd, however, watching on saw a pretty cool celebration along the same lines of Greg Inglis’ post try celebrations in the NRL, which elicits a different kind of response.
So, this issue will bubble along as the white men – the Goodesgaters of Big Footy will continually cry that it’s about ethics in booing. People boo for whatever reason. Allow them to boo. They aren’t racists, they are just people booing because they believe Goodes is a… (fill in whatever convenient excuse).
These people will even ignore the likes of Mark Robinson, Jonathan Brown (yes, the large boofy bloke on Fox Footy), Gerard Whateley (though he’s a lefty, isn’t he?) and the like – mainstream men who don’t generally aren’t known for their “lefty views”. Problem is for Goodesgaters, Adam Goodes was already successful and will continue to be despite whatever the Goodesgaters have decided about him. He will continue to play until the end of the year, retire and be considered an utter champion of the game in Sydney.
Fans of football in Sydney (both of red and orange persuasion) will be lucky to have him around to help in Indigenous communities and generally in society.
If others in the nation want to invent problems about him, then that’s their delusion. And will continue to be either racists or the enablers of racists.
Because even if you aren’t racist outside the arena of football, if you are booing Adam Goodes, you are telling the racists who started this that it’s ok to boo.
And it’s not.
* Mark O’Sullivan is a high school teacher from the Blue Mountains who dabbles in a range of interests and aspires to one day meet Warwick Capper. This guest post originally appeared on his website, The Preston Institute.
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