Another round of football, another racist booing of Adam Goodes.
It’s become so routine now, it’s only a story when someone reacts to it. This week, it was Lewis Jetta replicating Goodes’ war dance.
But the booing itself should be the story. Because it is demonstrating a cancer that is at the heart of the AFL: it tolerates significant discrimination against anyone who isn’t a straight, white man.
Every time I talk about this, people say the same thing: this isn’t an AFL problem, it’s a society problem. Tell me, then, the last time this happened in any other code. Tell me the last time you heard someone at the shops making the kind of disgusting racist comments you so regularly hear at the football. Yes, there is tremendous oppression of Indigenous Australians in a multitude of ways, but this kind of visceral expression of racism in a social space isn’t the norm.
The AFL has cultivated an environment where it’s ok to make people who aren’t straight, white men feel unwelcome.
It does this in a myriad of ways. One way is by minimizing and tolerating racist behavior at games. The fact it took until today for AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan to say anything about the booing is telling. When he did, he suggested the booing was a response to the Goodes war dance, rather than the war dance being a reaction to the abuse. He also suggested debate about the war dance was fair and refused to call the booing racist. Without actually calling out the action for what it is, how can the league meaningfully address it? McLachlan’s statement was just empty words.
But the non-action on Goodes’ booing is merely one of many examples of this fundamental lack of diversity and action in addressing discrimination in the game.
When every senior coach, every CEO, almost every board member and almost every commentator is a white man, there is a subtle message sent to football fans: that the game belongs to white men, and the tolerance of anyone else will be contingent on their actions and person being acceptable to white men.
That is why the response to Goodes is underpinned by racism: it sets a different standard for non-white players than it does for white players. Where was the comparative, season-long booing for Chris Judd after the chicken wing and the eye gouging? Where, for that matter, is the booing of Kieren Jack, who has been known to dive, the “dirty play” Goodes has a reputation for. Sam Mitchell and Joel Selwood’s questionable techniques have received considerable media attention, yet they are not booed with anywhere near the veracity or regularity of Goodes.
It’s the same double-standard that expects women to have perfect voices to be football commentators. It’s the same double standard that means that people genuinely think none of the 18 best people to be a football club CEO could possibly be a woman.
And it’s the same double-standard the resulted in a tirade of sexist abuse when I suggested the AFL could do more to make the game welcoming. Again, the message was clear: football belongs to us, and if you want to be part of it, you accept it as it or we will make clear that you are not welcome.
Football expects anyone who isn’t a white man to prove they belong and are loyal, and will be show no mercy to those who don’t play that game. We are accepted only on their terms.
So yes, AFL, I hate to say I told you so. Genuinely, I do. But by ignoring the appalling marginalisation of anyone who isn’t a white man, you created this environment. McLachlan said: “I just don’t know that [the booing] reflects well on our game.”
You’re right. It doesn’t. But it does reflect the game as it is right now: a game dominated by white men who don’t tolerate dissenting voices.