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Why some fans are challenged by Goodes

Kurt Tippett of the Swans is congratulated by Adam Goodes, Lance Franklin and Lewis Jetta after kicking a goal against Essendon.

Kurt Tippett of the Swans is congratulated by Adam Goodes, Lance Franklin and Lewis Jetta after kicking a goal against Essendon. Photo: Getty Images

There might not be a single reason why a portion of Essendon fans booed Adam Goodes on Saturday evening. Some might have booed him for supposed staging, others for the fact that he’s an opposition champion.

Some could simply have been angry that the Bombers were getting flogged, and joined in the chorus, without necessarily putting a coherent thought behind their boo.

But it is clear that, whatever motivated the booers, Goodes has become a target for a certain football fan who doesn’t like the way he has stood up for indigenous rights and for the way he has challenged our thinking.

This is not about Essendon supporters, because Goodes has copped invective from fans of other clubs for what is seen to be a stridency in attacking racism within football ever since he reported a racial slur against Collingwood last year, which was followed by Eddie McGuire’s unfortunate ‘‘King Kong’’ gaffe.

Check the 200 or so comments underneath on the column penned by Greg Baum on Tuesday, peruse fan forums and you’ll find a criticism of Goodes – which is far from a majority – that he is an undeserving recipient of the Australian Of The Year, or that his stance on indigenous matters has been too righteous.

‘‘People just don’t like Goodes, especially since he was so undeserving of an AUSTRALIAN of the YEAR award. What a joke,’’ said one respondent to the Baum column. ‘‘Can I get the gong because I am white.’’

Another reader opined that Goodes had been booed, in part because he: ‘‘points the finger at a little girl who called him an ape’’ and ‘‘vilifies all white-skinned Australians as being responsible for the ‘genocide’ of the Aboriginal people may be we’re all a little over this sanctimonious ‘role model’.’’

One castigated Goodes for being ‘‘a precious little petal, everything is racist to him. he has lost the plot big time and i have lost all respect for this guy!!!!’’

A number of readers pointed out that while Goodes had been booed, fellow indigenous Swans (and superstar) Lance Franklin and Lewis Jetta were spared the hoot.

That is correct, and it leads directly to an explanation for why Goodes, rather than Buddy, Jetta, Paddy Ryder and virtually every other indigenous footballer, is copping cyber abuse for his front-foot stance on race.

It is the theory of influential conservative African-American writer Shelby Steele that there are two types of black public figures in the United States: ‘‘challengers’’ and ‘‘bargainers’’.

The bargainer is described as a black who adopts a ‘‘go along to get along’’ view. He forms an unwritten pact with the white public – that he will not hold whites accountable for historic racism, or even the less virulent contemporary version, so long as they don’t hold his colour against him.

Indigenous leader Noel Pearson once articulated Steele’s explanation of the bargainer thus: ‘‘I will not use America’s history of racism against you, if you promise not to use my race against me.’’

Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Tiger Woods all fitted the ‘‘bargainer’’ mould, according to Steele. The challenger, conversely, does not let racism slide. He is forthright in identifying and confronting it. The challenger sees racism as endemic. He does not go along to get along and often has an angry edge.

Activist Jesse Jackson and filmmaker Spike Lee are paradigms of Steele’s challenger. I saw the challenger/bargainer thesis proven in the audience at a Mike Tyson fight in 1991, when the crowd gave Michael Jordan (bargainer) a rapturous standing ovation, after booing Jackson and Lee, who were among the celebrity throng.

Goodes is a pretty mild challenger by black American or even indigenous Australian standards, but he has taken up the cudgels, in a fiercer way, than any other highly visible Aboriginal sportsman (besides the much less temperate, or credible Anthony Mundine). While Michael Long has challenged via his actions – including his march – his tone has been without a confrontational edge.

He is also a former player – which removes him from the centre square of race debates.

Goodes, intentionally or not, is our challenger on race conduct in the AFL.

Sadly, elements within the football public can’t accept this kind of challenge.

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