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Soup of This Day #395: Would You Stand Up

October 15, 2014

MCG crowd
A Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) footy crowd looks pretty amorphous but you can still make out the individual voices – Photo: AsianFC, 2007. AsianFC is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Saturday a couple of weeks ago, the last Saturday for September of 2014, I sat down in front of my TV to watch the Australian Football League (AFL) Grand Final. It was set to be an alright day for me – The couch was comfortable and the two best teams in the comp had made it through to the decider – It seemed like the kind of situation whereby otherwise hackneyed cliches fit just so…

Anyone’s game. A clash of titans. Football will be the real winner.

And if you didn’t look beyond the cliches, the game delivered. Sort of – It wasn’t, as it turned out, anyone’s game – This match-up was owned by Hawthorn from early on and by half-time only a mug would have thought Sydney could get back into the contest before the final siren. The Hawks had some luck establishing their lead, but they had made their good fortune, casting it from sheer mettle. Simply, they were harder at the ball – Fiercely intense when they couldn’t get hands on it and wickedly slick when they could.

Their midfield, thought pre-match to be old and therefore slowing, swamped the Swannies, with captain Luke Hodge ably assisted in the clinches by the likes of Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis. Up forward too and Hawthorn were taking their chances – Accurate from set shots and ruthless in open play.

Nobody emphasised this as much as the Hawk’s barnstorming midfielder, Will Langford. In particular his third goal was a stand-out highlight – From what seemed like a certain dead ball and subsequent throw-in, the son of a Hawthorn legend (Chris Langford) punctuated his own entry into the history of the game with a freakish effort – He corralled the Sherrin the right side of the boundary before grubbering a snap from the pocket that bounced ridiculously over a despairing Swans defender.

Yep, it was high quality footy and through almost all of that broadcast I felt sick to my guts.

Not because I’m a Swans fan – I’m not and I have no particular fondness for the Sydneysiders. I don’t have any dislike of them though either – I’m a Dockers fan and so for this match I was a neutral with no leaning. Nor was it about the quality of the broadcast – Sure the commentary irked me (It almost always does) but I could have turned the sound down or just muted it out completely. I usually do the latter.

Maybe I should have done that for this game too. Then, I wouldn’t have heard the boos.

I’m on record as not liking booing in any sporting situation. Mostly though, I’ll tolerate it – I don’t boo anybody myself, but I’ll accept that others are ok with it and that therefore it will happen. Generally then, I’ll tune it out, reckoning it simply as a pantomime kind of barracking. Not fun, but not harmful either.

This game had something different though, or at least that’s how it seemed to me via the TV.

This game had Adam Goodes.

You’d think that in a fair and reasonable community, Adam Goodes would not be someone you’d boo – He’s a deadset legend both on and off the park. With an AFL’s ‘fairest and best’ Brownlow Medal (2003), an AFL Premiership (2005) and an All-Australian nod (2003) on his resume, he was justifiably selected in the AFL’s Indigenous Team of the Century.

That honour arrived in 2005. After just 7 years of playing at the highest level, Adam Goodes had earned the right to be considered one of the game’s greats. Across the next 9 years he went even further.

Since 2005 Adam Goodes has added another Brownlow (2006), another AFL Premiership (2011) and three more All-Australian nods (2006, 2009 & 2011). All told he’s a 351 game veteran, with 451 goals kicked for his only AFL club, the Sydney Swans.

He’s kicked goals outside of footy too, and not just for Sydney – He’s a natural leader on a national scale in the push for genuine recognition of Australia’s indigenous peoples – A living, breathing and footy-playing embodiment for reconciliation between his indigenous heritage and the predominantly Anglo-Saxon society Australia now has. Because of this, he is the current Australian of the Year.

Like with his footy career, Adam Goodes hasn’t rested on those civic laurels though. He has continued to to stand up on issues. For instance, last season (2013) he calmly identified a 13 year-old fan in a footy crowd who had vilified him as an ‘ape’.

That was a beautiful response to an ugly scenario. Casual discrimination is a problem in Australia and sporting surrounds are fertile grounds for it – There’s more than a bit of a Fight Club ethos when it comes to supporting a footy team – You can say what you really mean and the first rule is that nobody will talk about it outside of the stadium.

It’s a stupid, gutless rule and so Adam Goodes broke the rule and calmly called that young fan and society in general on casual racism. That simple act forced a lot of people to examine what they believed and how it impacted upon those around them, and it made a number of those people uncomfortable. Somehow that unease got translated into general ire at Adam Goodes.

The same Adam Goodes who had been on the receiving end of the racist abuse in the first place.

Go figure.

But, I’ve heard, people aren’t booing Goodes for that. The booing’s not racist, some say – Instead they argue that it’s because Adam Goodes stages for free-kicks.

And they’re partially right because he does prop for free kicks. Most modern players do to some extent and more so as they get on in their careers. They get canny. It’s not necessarily a great thing but there it is across the board.

And in the hands of the on-field umpires.

Yep, Adam Goodes is subject to the same playing rules and laws as everybody else. He gets no special footy rights for being Australian of the Year – There is no conspiracy that allows him to bypass the regular officiating. Basically I’m calling bullshit then on that argument for booing Goodes – It just feels like a convenient excuse.

For some it’s more than a feeling. Take writer and Swans fan Erin Riley.

Erin was at the MCG for the 2014 AFL Grand Final. Her Swans were playing and I reckon it was set to be a special day for her, regardless of the score.

Except that throughout the game she got to hear some of the substance that made up the booing I could hear as just a low and ugly sound. It turns out that what I heard just hinted at how low and ugly it was – She reported misogyny, homophobia and yep, racism. The former two were broadly aimed (but just as wounding) while the latter was seemingly directed at Adam Goodes – Among the hits there was even the suggestion that by highlighting racism, Adam Goodes must himself be a racist.

Although by that logic anyone suggesting that Adam Goodes is a racist for highlighting racism is therefore also racist. As am I because I’m highlighting alleged racists highlighting alleged racists highlighting actual racists. It almost sounds too stupid to ponder. Probably because it is.

Meanwhile Erin Riley turned in a piece about her Grand Final for the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH). It’s a curse and a blessing and you can read it here. You really should as it’s well written. Fair warning though, for all fine wordsmithing, it may be an uncomfortable read – If you love footy, sport, Australia or have any sort of high hopes for humanity, you’ll spend a chunk of your time during and after going through this piece despairing. Maybe, like me, you’ll get to the end of it and wonder, after all we’ve been through, just how the fuck we’re still so far away from getting it right. And by ‘it’ I mean ‘humanity.’

Because this shit happened. Let me be clear – I have no reason to doubt Erin Riley, or others who have corroborated her telling of events.

I do have ample reason to believe that what happened wasn’t rare – Mostly because of what followed the publishing of that SMH piece. It generated an awful lot of comments that were idiotic, ignorant, threatening and just plain old wrong. If it hadn’t been so offensive it might have been funny – Abusing someone from within a culture for suggesting that they’d witnessed abuse within that culture. Some might label that irony, but I prefer to think of it as a self-saucing pudding of fuckery.

It’s probably worth restating that I wasn’t at the MCG and so I didn’t hear in detail what Erin Riley heard on the day. Just the booing and that was bad enough. The rest though I have heard on other days, at footy games, at other sporting contests and throughout a lot of facets of this Australian life I live. Yep, this shit happens and this is apparently who we are.

I’m done now. When I started writing this, sad and angry, I figured on ending with a reproach to the AFL. I’m not doing that though – Instead I’m throwing this out to everyone who just loves the game. Everyone who doesn’t want to deal with politics or that heavy stuff. Everyone who just wants to watch the game because they love the game.

Hawthorn played some awesome footy but this is other shit is your game too and this is apparently who we are.

Would You Stand Up

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