The AFL was criticised throughout the 2015 season, and subsequently, for not having dealt earlier with the persistent booing of Adam Goodes in previous years. Here was a legend of the game, being tormented week in, week out, on the footy field: his work place. Mr. Goodes left the game without fanfare. He left the field for the final time, without the adulation and plaudits from all and sundry. He didn’t call a press conference so that he could thank countless names, family in tow. Goodes rejected the invitation to participate in the lap of honour for the game’s retirees during the 2015 grand final. Adam’s perspective was clear enough without him having to say a word: he had had a gut full of the AFL and the fans’ behaviour towards him. He wasn’t going to give the AFL and its fans a moment to absolve themselves through a public lauding of all that he ‘had given’ to the game.
I spoke with a founder of the Rumbalara Football Netball Club up in Shepparton. He revealed something specific about the AFL. He quietly said, ‘the AFL doesn’t know how to deal with us.’ We didn’t have a long conversation, but I felt like I understood his sentiment. The AFL is big on symbolism, and poor in action. In the case of the AFL meeting Rumbalara: it would be two cultures clashing. The AFL asserting that it is a sporting competition which provides roles for professional Aboriginal footballers, while Rumbalara would be asserting: ‘we are players, coaches, administrators, and this is our game. We have our own identity and we don’t need your recognition, verification or endorsement.’
I’ve also got a feeling that the AFL was slow in reacting to the booing of Adam Goodes, not only because they didn’t know how to confront it, but also because they were angry with Goodes himself. His gesture towards the racist Collingwood fan, and subsequent walk-off from the field, forced the public awareness of the continued presence of racist abuse at footy games in the Australian Football League. The AFL’s media strategy and branding is probably on a par with that of FIFA and the Olympics. Goodes, with his gesture – just like Winmar and Long before him (and Jetta afterwards) – had taken the narrative away from the AFL’s control. Goodes’s footy politics is closer to that of Rumbalara than that of the AFL’s.
And so this great player, exited the stage, silently but pointedly. He has barely been heard and seen from since in the mainstream media. He has deleted his Twitter account. Do you blame him? And now, this person, so worthy – in the eyes of many – of public humiliation, is still up to no good. By golly, he’s promoting literacy through working with the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation. (see: The Guardian) What a monster this man is. He is even coming to get your own children through infiltrating that wicked, brainwashing organisation Play School. (See: YouTube) Just where exactly does he get off? And he’s doing this while smiling, and generally giving the impression that he is satisfied with his lot and content with himself. He’s comfortable in his post-footy, post-professional sportsman life. Perhaps we haven’t even seen the best of Adam Goodes yet. Perhaps he’s going to be around for a long time yet and working in fields beyond that of the endlessly over-hyped footy media. Perhaps this is what members of the ‘Anglosphere’ can’t stand and what unsettles them most: a content, intelligent, calm, articulate, insightful, Black Man. Look out.