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Goodes' iconic moment will help change Australia for the better

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When Adam Goodes was abused by young Pies fan

In May 2013 Swans star Adam Goodes was racially abused by a 13-year-old girl at the opening match of the indigenous round against Collingwood. This is how he and the team coaches reacted.

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This week we're talking about the extraordinary power that sport has to change the social fabric for the good. I have long reckoned that when the deeply admired Ian Roberts – far and away the toughest footballer I've ever seen – came out as gay, it was worth any number of anti-homophobia campaigns. From that moment, the wretched schoolyard epithet "Yer a poofter!" lost a lot of sting. When the AFL footballer Nicky Winmar was playing for St Kilda against Collingwood in 1993, and was abused by the Magpies fans, who yelled for him to "go and sniff some petrol!" and "go walkabout where you came from!" he famously lifted his jersey to point at the black skin he was so proud of, and it created Australia's most iconic black pride image of all time.

And this week, of course, we have had another iconic sporting moment that dinkum will help change Australia for the better. I refer of course to what happened in the last moments of the Swans/Collingwood match at the MCG last Friday, the Indigenous round no less, when Adam Goodes heard someone in the crowd calling him an "ape", and turned to see it was a 13-year-old girl.

What to do? Just cop it sweet? Ignore it and pretend it didn't happen? Or actually take a stand – this far and no further? Of course, we all know what happened.

Back into it: Adam Goodes during a Sydney Swans training session at the SCG. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Back into it: Adam Goodes during a Sydney Swans training session at the SCG. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Goodes made a stand. As the cameras rolled – in a scene we will see for years to come – he called security and the girl was ejected. “Let the word go forth from this place and this time,” that we don't do that in Australia any more. And if you do, you will be called to account.

Though completely shattered, Goodes was all class, with not an ounce of vindictiveness in him towards her. Instead he showed genuine concern that she not be vilified, but educated to understand how hurtful such an insult could be to indigenous people.

"How can that happen?" he asked. "This week is a celebration of our people and our culture. She has no idea how hurtful her comments are. It cut me deep. I couldn't even stay on the ground to celebrate the victory. The person that needs the most support is the little girl. If she wants to call me and apologise, I'll take that call and explain how much it hurt me. It's unacceptable and it hurts. Not just me but my family. It's embarrassing it still happens. There needs to be more education. I hope me taking a stand helps. People need to realise there's no place for racism in sport and society. If they want to do that, they can piss off."

Iconic moment: Adam Goodes points the finger after being called an 'ape' by a young Collingwood supporter during the AFL's Indigenous Round.

Iconic moment: Adam Goodes points the finger after being called an 'ape' by a young Collingwood supporter during the AFL's Indigenous Round. Photo: Andrew White

Inspiring, no? It started a national conversation as to just where we're at when it comes to racism, and though the answer is obviously "still a long way to go", at least the stand taken by Goodes really has helped, and on Sunday he made a far more important action on the field than any mark he'll ever take or goal he'll ever kick, grand finals included.

And yet, inevitably, Goodes has also borne the brunt of a backlash, with two basic themes: firstly that he should not have made a big deal of it, and secondly – and this is the most amazing part – that to call an indigenous man an "ape" is not even racist in the first place.

I strongly disagree.

As I put it to a mate of mine, who has black hair, it's like this. Just supposing that for a good chunk of the last 200 years or so in this country, all those with black hair had been dispossessed of all their land; that they had been vilified, discriminated against, and treated almost like vermin by a lot of those with white hair, and not even allowed to vote up until 50-odd years ago. Just suppose a frequent insult hurled at those with black hair, for generations, was that the black hair made you look like a monkey, the cruellest kind of taunt of all, claiming that those with black hair aren't even human.

But now it's the 21st century and it's a far more enlightened age, as education, particularly among the young, has taught how wrong it is to discriminate against those with black hair. So enlightened, that in your chosen sport, there is even a black hair round where all those with black hair, past and present, are celebrated – a day you thought would never come.

Now, on this very day, the day where this new dawn of enlightenment is shining more brightly than ever, say you do something spectacular on the field, and then you hear, "You monkey!" So you turn, and see that it is a ... 13-year-old girl with white hair.

Seriously, under those circumstances, could you really say, "It's no big deal, it's just one of those things, and I'm sure she didn't mean to call me a monkey in a racist way?" Could you? Or could you only hope that you could muster the class and strength that Goodes has, to do what he has done, and the sheer magnanimity to point out, as he did the next day at a press conference, that the problem is not the girl herself, noting: "She's 13, she's still so innocent. I don't put any blame on her."

Bravo, Adam Goodes.


  • "Bravo Adam Goodes"?
    Adam Goodes who thought the girl who called him an ape was 14 yet still chose to publicly humiliate her. Who after a night to calm down and consider what he had done then says" Racism has a face and it's a 13 year old girl". A obvious joke by Eddie McGuire yet his heartfelt apology not accepted, instead going for a cheap belittling. One of my favourite ALF players I can say I no longer like or more importantly respect.

    Forest Hill
    Date and time
    May 29, 2013, 5:51PM
    • Ahh brendan. where to start. the 13 year old was trying to humiliate Adam Goodes, and got what she deserved and needed. As to Eddie Maguire, he's an idiot. its not news, that he is an idiot, but its a worry that such a person should be at the head of the collingwood football club. What he said was Racist, therefore he is a racist, maybe just a casual racist, but he thinks his little joke was funny anyway. I chuckle at jokes that I should not, but I don't go round pretending to be a saint to a guy like Adam Goodes, and then turn around five days later, and pretty much spit in his face. And as to the loss of respect you have for Adam Goodes, with the way you think, I seriously doubt he would care, because actually you never had much in the first place. If you don't respect a persons right to stand up for themselves, you don't respect them at all.

      Date and time
      May 29, 2013, 9:53PM
    • "Chose to publicly humiliate her"? A choice? Really? This clearly shows how 'white Australia' still doesn't 'get' racism, something even South Africans understand.

      Wow, I wish I am never again faced with a 'choice' of pointing out or confronting racism. How liberating that must guys should tell us. The day that I can submit my resume and be faced with the same chance of getting an interview as others equally qualified. Racism affects 'people of colour' almost every week, it is almost an accepted part of the Aussie environment.

      But I appreciate overt racism more than hidden or sub concious racism, at least I know where people feel free to call me an ape anyday, as an indication of 'how much less of a person I am, perhaps it is not so bad after all. At least I then know who the bogans are I shouldn't associate with.


      Date and time
      May 29, 2013, 10:11PM
    • Sounds like Brendan is trying to defend the indefensible. Clearly there are more "faces of racism" in Australia than just a 13 year old girl. I suspect Brendan only needs to look as far as the mirror...

      Date and time
      May 29, 2013, 10:15PM
    • Yerkiddin.
      Perhaps Adam Goodes doesn't care that me and thousands of others no longer respect him. That when we think of him it won't be as a champion, dual Brownlow Medalist and Premiership player, but as a thin skinned bully who shamelessly and publicly not once but twice humiliated a 13 year girl to 'stand up for himself'. I can understand more so his frustration at Eddie McGuire but what he did to the young girl was unforgivable and will dog his once stellar reputation forever.

      Forest Hill
      Date and time
      May 29, 2013, 10:31PM
    • I guess it's hard to understand a world that you've never lived in

      Reminds me of the brown eye / blue eye experiment - especially this one in England -

      brown eyes
      Date and time
      May 29, 2013, 10:48PM
    • Geez @Brendan, it seems you just don't get it. Are you saying that because she was 13 she should be able to say whatever she wants, or are you saying its ok to be racist at the footy, or that she wasn't be racist? Calling a black person an ape is racist, that is generally accepted universally around the world so that can't be it so it must be options 1 or 2?

      Date and time
      May 29, 2013, 11:14PM
    • Racist views are unconsciously absorbed and come out in an offhand joke, or bullying.

      Then the boiler plate defence: "ONLY JOKING!!"

      ... "where's your sense of humour??!"

      Anyone who objects is bullied into acceptance. This is a cultural problem.

      The 13 year old holds up a mirror to her social environment, and it ain't pretty.

      Eddie McGuire? After all the training and finger pointing and apologies on behalf of the girl, incredibly he was not fully conscious of what he was saying.

      He thought he'd play it for a cheap laugh and get away with it?? C'mon!

      A slip of the tongue? Hardly. The mask slipped and we got a view of the unconscious mind. After all the carefully turned out words about others, he didn't realize he has the infection of racism himself.

      If this nation is to have any chance at reconciliation, people have to face that racism is about people's conditioning, it's our unconscious responses which require a good hard look each time it rears it's ugly head.

      It's NOT personal BTW. It's cultural. BUT it has massive personal impacts.

      Got it Eddie? No I don't think he does after all that training he was excusing and defending himself. Applying pressure on Goodes to forgive. It's not going to help you Eddie, you have to do some work on yourself.

      People will defend McGuire but deep down we all know the ugly truth about him and about ourselves. We will hide from it and lie about it because we refuse to believe we are capable of it.

      It's not "out there" people, it's in us. It's ugly and it has to be dealt with. The first step is taking responsibility and being honest with ourselves.

      Ask yourself 'where did that come from'?

      Date and time
      May 29, 2013, 11:19PM
    • Ummm would you like to explain what he "did" to this girl that was so terrible? Calling her out for a racist comment? At what point is Adam allowed to take action, in your world? When someone spits on him?

      Date and time
      May 29, 2013, 11:25PM
    • Brendan I agree. I can't see how a girl referring to a grown man as an ape is racist. If I was Adam goodes I wouldn't get so upset about it. Why is it ok for an indigenous aust to refer to him/herself and other indigenous aust as "black fella" but if a white person said it they are racist. I walked out on a meeting where an indigenous aust kept on referring to white fellas as scum and us black fellas should stick together.

      Date and time
      May 29, 2013, 11:48PM

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