In the aftermath of Phil Walsh’s death we saw Australian football at its best. The passion of the game was channelled into a very moving series of tributes that transcended divisions, with the community uniting to celebrate a man who had dedicated most of his life to this great sport. Regrettably, within a few short weeks, however, we are now seeing footy as its worst in the ugly reaction to Adam Goodes.

Goodes is a champion of the game: premierships, Brownlow medals, All-Australian honours and Australian of the Year, he has done it all. I only wish that he had been running around in a Port Adelaide jumper all these years, and I’m sure that most supporters would love to have a player of his rare calibre on their team. And yet sadly, he may end his career to the sound of jeers from opposition fans.

How has it come to this? And are we really ok with it?

Myriad column inches in the Murdoch press this week have suggested that not only should we be ok with it, but that Goodes is actually getting what he deserves. There is some extraordinary logical contortionism on display to try and prove that the booing has nothing to do with race. This is actually a very good sign that it has everything to do with race.

The situation represents the kind of rallying call beloved by the right wing hack, it’s a perfect chance to froth with righteous indignation at political correctness gone mad, special treatment for minorities and the evils of self-loathing leftist elites.

But a champion elite athlete is being bullied and that’s not ok.

Even if the heckling has nothing to do with race, it’s not ok. Footy is a passionate game and the fanatical reactions of the crowds is part of its great appeal. It’s a wonderful theatre of heroes and villains and, in the context of any given game, the villains sometimes get jeered. Maybe an opposition player takes out one of your own behind the play, sometimes inconsistent or erroneous umpiring costs your team a goal (even the game); venting your frustration in such moments might be fair enough, part of the drama of the contest. But when it is taken out of the context of a particular match and repeatedly singles out a specific player, then this is bullying. It wouldn’t be condoned in the workforce, the schoolyard or any other sphere, so how can it be defended here?

But what is the real reason that Goodes is being booed and does it have anything to do with race? The arguments that he plays for frees or plays dirty clutch at straws: quick find a reason that’s not about race, any one will do!

The assertion that Goodes is a target who just happens to be Aboriginal while denying any connection is just a bit silly, it might help to sell a few papers for News Corp but it purposely misses the point.

GoodesEvidence is proffered that other indigenous players don’t get jeered (and that those heckling opposition fans have indigenous players whom they cheer on). There’s a logical fallacy here: it’s perfectly possible to be racist while cheering on some indigenous players, remaining silent towards others and directing all your bigotry at one particularly player. It’s actually much more effective and easier if there is just a single target; racism is not a reasoned thing and often it finds expression in the mob mentality. And this is certainly one ugly mob.

So why Adam Goodes then? There are two key moments here: the first where he identified a racial slur coming from a girl in the crowd in that game against Collingwood two years past and his war-dance during the indigenous round a few months ago. Goodes drew criticism for the incident with the Collingwood girl because of her age, 13 years old at the time. He has been chastised for being a dobber and a sook.

Any suggestion that he should have just ignored the comment shows no understanding of the impact of discrimination. By extension, it also says that we should just grin and bear it when faced with any form of harassment. Calling someone a dobber and a sook also sounds curiously like the words of the playground bully.

In reality, it would have been far easier for Goodes to have not said anything. Taking a stand against racism is the thing that takes real courage.

The reaction to the war-dance was even more bizarre. In today’s pages of the Herald Sun, the left is accused of histrionics in reaction to the Goodes jeering. But this is nothing when compared to the histrionics of Andrew Bolt and his ilk in response to the war cry. It was the right wing media who politicised the moment. This was, after all, the AFL’s indigenous round.

Goodes is not some radical, he’s just proud of his heritage and refuses to acquiesce in the face of racism. It’s fine for indigenous players to be skilful and exciting to watch. But if they’re assertive and stand up for their culture then it’s a problem.

The real reason for the disproportionate reaction towards Goodes in the aftermath of these two incidents is that he made us feel uncomfortable about the society we live in. It’s a truth that racism exists in Australia and is an undeniable feature of our history. When this is brought to our attention we can either acknowledge it (and try to find ways to be better) or we can howl it down, attacking the player and not the ball.

The space afforded to anti-Goodes views in our newspapers helps to ease the discomfort. We can share it on social media and feel justified in continuing to jeer (or at least excuse those who do) and we never have to change.

If you are jeering Adam Goodes, you’re an idiot and probably a racist idiot. But if you’re defending it, that’s even worse. It’s not ok.

Written by Matthew Trainor

Photo by AAP – Paul Miller