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.PT1M50S 620 349
On Friday night, Adam Goodes made a stand that, we immediately assumed, would heighten awareness of a form of racism that will never be eradicated from society. But that, we now expect, will be challenged at our sporting fields where we have come to believe symbolic acts can resonate more widely than elsewhere.
The next day, Goodes fought racism with the most potent weapon imaginable. Pure compassion. He satisfied the media's curiosity by detailing the taunt he had suffered, and expressed his anger and sadness. But Goodes tempered his rage with a considered, gentle concern for the young girl who had uttered the vile sledge.
And that is where we hoped it would end. With Goodes's courage and decency showing the way.
Back to the grind: Swans star Adam Goodes trains at the SCG on Tuesday after his tumultuous weekend. The Swans face fellow high-flyers Essendon on Saturday. Photo: Wolter Peeters
It is certainly where the AFL, and all sporting bodies who believe they can provide a powerful platform for more than just corporate bookmakers, hoped it would end. With a compelling example of "how we can make a difference" and, given the reflexive sympathy for Goodes, "how far we have come"
However, before the Monday morning alarm, the zeitgeist had taken a subtle change. Predictably, the lunatic fringe in the media, social media and on the talk-back lines were twisting a straightforward event handled with aplomb to suit a putrid agenda.
Somehow, through a prism of hate and insecurity, the 13 year-old girl who had called Goodes an "ape" became a victim. The supposed subject of belligerent bullying by the "PC crowd". Merely a gormless girl whose words were born of ignorance rather than malevolence. Which made her a convenient martyr for those whose actions are far more sinister.
Goodes? It was no longer the colour of his skin, but its width, that was the issue. Too thin. Too sensitive. "Come on, Goodesy. You've got the entire crowd behind you. You've played a blinder. Why pick on some little kid who called you a silly name?"
Mischievously overlooked was that Goodes had, with rare empathy for someone who had the right to feel aggrieved, expressed his deep concern for the girl. Mindlessly, he was transformed, by some, into a "bully". One report stated Goodes "has Aboriginal ancestry". Not simply that he is Aboriginal. A wink-wink, nudge-nudge way of diminishing his credibility as a spokesman for his race.
This was not a dog whistle, but a vicious bark. The reaction of the thankfully dwindling and marginalised few who feel threatened and disempowered by even the minimal expectations of a more tolerant society. Those who find even small changes in acceptable language and behaviour towards indigenous Australians somehow demeaning. As if their smug intolerance and historical contortions do not demean them already.
Hopefully, the reaction of the ignorant few will not overshadow what was a remarkable night. One in which the reaction of almost everyone concerned demonstrated – yes – how far we had come.
Twenty years ago, St Kilda's Nicky Winmar pointing at his black skin at Collingwood's Victoria Park was an astonishing act of defiance. But not one that was universally supported. Some still maintained that "what happens on the field stays on the field". It was only after Essendon's Michael Long subsequently confronted the racist taunt of Magpies' ruckman Damian Monkhorst that meaningful change was instigated.
The heartening aspect of Goodes's stand had been the instantaneous, and almost universal support it received. Collingwood president Eddie McGuire dashed to the Sydney rooms to apologise. Fans were rightly shocked. But those emotions were replaced by a feeling of hope and optimism when Goodes spoke. This, it had seemed, was not a moment that spoke of what we were, but what we could be.
Then the bitter backlash of the sad, disempowered few who can't bear to live with the self-loathing such a forceful reminder of their bigotry creates. And the gnawing reality.
On the field - and, in this case, by leaving it - Goodes and other athletes have gained a wonderful power to educate and inspire. In the real world, they are still kicking into the wind.