Ok I’m going to get this out of the way right up front: I know sweet bugger all about Australian Rules Football. I know how it’s played (for international readers, imagine a cross between soccer, rugby and a moshpit), I can name most of the teams, I know that everyone hates Collingwood, and that’s about it. Want to know how won the premiership last year? I have no freakin’ idea and am always sort of surprised to find out anyone else knows either. As far as I’m concerned, the entire back end of the paper reads like stock figures from China – I don’t understand what any of it means and I seriously doubt I would care if I did.
Sums up my sporting knowledge quite nicely.
So given this momentous ignorance, it really says something that the recent issue of Sydney Swans player Adam Goodes being booed all the time has managed to penetrate my astonishing level of cluelessness.
For those equally not in the know, here’s the situation: Adam Goodes, a highly celebrated veteran player, has very recently started to get booed by practically the entire crowd every single time he touches the ball. And we’re not talking about a few people trying to throw him off his game during crucial kicks, or the crowd punishing a bad bit of play either – this is pretty much constant howling at the guy whenever he has the ball.
Seriously, imagine having several thousand people direct that at you every time you tried to do your job. Damn.
Now AFL has plenty of noise from the crowd in any given game, but this sort of sustained punishment of one particular player is nearly unprecedented, and people are starting to take notice. Goode’s club, other players and a surprisingly large number of media commentators are starting to weigh in on the issue with serious threats being made if the crowd doesn’t quit it.
So why all the hate? Well that’s actually kind of the problem – no one seems to agree.
See in addition to being one of the best players of the game, Goodes is also one of 71 Aboriginal men at the peak of the sport. Not only that, but Goodes has previously had a few run-ins with racist fans, the most memorable of which involving a 13 year old Collingwood supporter (naturally) who called him an ‘ape’ during play. But whereas many players would shrug this off and keep playing, Goodes actually pointed her out, notified security and had her kicked out of the stadium.
Opinion was pretty split about this incident. Many felt that Goodes was right to take a stand and out racism, which was quite fitting given he’s an ambassador of the government’s ‘Racism. It Stops With Me’ campaign that encourages the public to stand up to bigotry and call it out. On the other hand, many felt that Goodes went way overboard, especially given the kid was just 13 and almost certainly didn’t have a good grasp of why ‘ape’ was such a massive thing to say to a black guy. Add to this the fact that Goodes had been building a bit of a reputation for the occasional unsportsmanlike play – taking dives for free kicks, dropping the knee on opponents, sliding feet-first into contests and other dangerous and/or illegal plays – and quite a number of commentators weren’t all that sympathetic to Goodes.
And then, of course, there were the racists. While it’s plausible, even likely that the girl in the middle of the incident was just ignorant rather than actually racist, and while many people criticised Goodes for picking on her rather than for standing up for himself, make no mistake about it; there were those who criticised Goodes during the entire incident purely because they hated Aboriginals, and disliked Goodes in particular for being such an uppity, outspoken one.
Do I have any evidence to back this claim up? Hell no. Surveying everyone involved in the debate is both impossible and racists aren’t going to admit to it anyway. But if anyone seriously doubts that racism is alive and well in Australia, then they seriously need to get out more. Remember kids, just because you personally have not experienced racism, doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.
This happened less than 2 weeks ago.
With a background like this, the reaction to Goodes constantly being booed by fans was fairly predictable: half the country claims that the crowd is racist, and the other half argue it’s because he’s a prick who cries ‘racism’ whenever someone criticises him.
The racism camp is a pretty straight forward one: Goodes is Aboriginal, is outspoken in support for racial equality and ‘closing the gap’, pissed off a lot of people by (pretty accurately) calling Australia Day ‘invasion day’, and has been harassed by racist fans while playing multiple times before. Now that the guy is constantly being singled out for harassment whenever he plays, suggesting the booing is motivated by racism is not exactly a massive stretch. Case closed, crowd condemned, pull your socks up and shut your bogan mouths.
Sure, Goodes might have indulged in the odd dodgy play from time to time (though he also won the award for ‘best and fairest’ twice and rarely if ever gets pulled up in front of the tribunal) but who hasn’t? Rough play is part of the game. Some players are even celebrated in an anti-hero kind of way for that sort of behaviour – Barry Hall in particular once decked a guy in the face behind play and the crowd loved it. So why then is Goodes copping such an overwhelming, almost unprecedented level of hate from the crowd? The most obvious answer is, once again, racism.
This guy made bad sportsmanship into an artform and got a cute nickname out of it – ‘Big bad Barry Hall’.
But something about that explanation doesn’t ring quite true. Remember, we’re not talking about an organisation here with a uniting set of value or an agenda, but just a crowd. Literally thousands of random people who have only one thing in common; they like football. Is it really reasonable to argue that these thousands of random people are all booing Goodes purely because they’re racist? Even if you accept that Australian society has a serious problem with casual or passive racism lurking under our politically correct surface, it seems like a pretty big stretch to argue that the entire crowd at recent games has suddenly snapped and turned on Goodes purely because of his support for Aboriginal causes.
This might indeed be possible – again it’s impossible to poll a crowd’s motivations in a situation like this, even if everyone answered honestly – but then again it’s also extremely possible that no one in the crowd is racist and everyone is booing Goodes for entirely different reasons. More than likely the truth lays somewhere in the middle of these two arguments: some of the crowd are indeed seizing on any excuse to attack Goodes for being an outspoken brown person, but others are angry at him for other reasons entirely. Maybe they object to his unsportsmanlike behaviour, despite and maybe because he has been celebrated for fair play in the past. Maybe they find the way he combines his football and his politics distasteful (certainly wouldn’t be the first time a footballer has been guilty of that). Maybe they felt ‘personally threatened’ or just antagonised by his impromptu war dance a few weeks ago. Or maybe, just maybe, its because the crowd objects to being called racist every time they criticise this one guy in particular who just happens to be Aboriginal?
Once again, I have absolutely no doubt that some of those in the crowd hate Goodes because he’s brown, they’re white and they would prefer his kind pissed off into the desert and died. I believe this because I know that racism is an issue in Australia and therefore it’s extremely likely to feature in a crowd of 10,000+. That said, I also know that not every person in Australia is racist – in fact I’d go so far to say the majority are not – which means that for every person who probably has racist motives in attacking Goodes, there is one or more that is booing him for completely different reasons. I have no idea what these reasons are or whether they’re valid points or not, but the fact remains that they are probably not racist in nature and any argument to the contrary is just as much of a guess as I’m making.
How then do you think these non-racists are going to feel when their many and varied reasons for booing Goodes are labelled by half the media as ‘racist!’, and dismissed entirely? Well, how would you react if you voiced an opinion and were immediately dismissed and told to shut your face?
You’d probably do exactly what the crowd has been doing after being told to shut up in the last few weeks and JUST BOO LOUDER! Because traditionally speaking, large groups of angry people do not react well to having words crammed into their mouths and then being told to piss off.
Claiming that an entire informal crowd like this is either entirely racist or entirely not is a perfect example of a false dichotomy – a fallacy where someone tries to simplifying a debate down into two opposing sides, even though more than those two simple options exist. This sort of thing isn’t just stupid, it’s also quite harmful because it forces people to ‘pick sides’ and pretend that no middle ground exists to discuss things calmly in. Naturally, this leads to a lot less calm discussion and more shitloads of idiotic fighting, all of which just entrenches people into their non-existent ‘side’ and makes it less and less possible for us to have a sensible discussion about things.
Look at the way the media is covering the Goodes saga, at the way it’s being ‘discussed’ on social media and you’ll see the truth in this. Increasingly the story is portrayed in two and ONLY two way: ‘the crowds are racist’ OR ‘Goodes’ is an arsehole who brought it on himself’. Post this article on your facebook page and I guarantee you you’ll get two and ONLY two types of responses to it: ‘racism’ or ‘arsehole’. And as the conflict gets louder and stupider, it tends to attract the sort of bottom-feeders who live off cheap controversy, who immediately latch on to one side and start spewing vitriol about the other. On the ‘Goodes is an arsehole’ side you’ve got enthusiastic bigots like Miranda Divine and Alan Jones, while on the ‘everyone’s a racist’ side you’ve got Social Justice Warriors like Mamamia who think that who’s right is best settled by bleating mindless catchphrases as loudly as possible.
And you know the really sad thing about all of this? The only people who win here are the actual racists. By slagging off everyone who boos Goodes as racists, those who care about ending racial vilification in Australia have managed to piss of and alienate the very people they need to recruit the most. By enthusiastically joining in with the booing, those that dislike Goodes for non-racists reasons have managed to lump themselves in with those they should bloody well know are racist, what with the screaming of racial slurs and whatnot. By boiling the topic down to two false ‘sides’ without any middle-ground, we’ve all managed to turn a complex topic into a pissing competition where we all get covered in piss in front of an international audience. And meanwhile those few people who are booing Goodes purely because he’s Aboriginal? They get a wonderful chance to cover up their bigotry with ‘legitimate grievances’, are given permission to harass Goodes all they like in the hope he might shut up and stop opposing them, and get to sit back and watch as half the country gets alienated away from progressive ideas such as ‘racial equality’ and ‘racism stops with me’.
So here’s an idea for the next time this stupid goddamn issue rears up in your facebook feed or over the lunchroom table: break the cycle of stupid and refuse to be forced into one of two AND ONLY TWO ‘sides’. Recognise that both sides have good points on this topic and that while Goodes is absolutely being booed by racists, he is also being booed by people who are NOT. And if anyone tries to put you on the spot and force you to pick a side? Do what you should always do in this situation and bitch-smack that idiot with a steaming faceful of facts. Racism is and will continue to be a problem in this country, and pretending otherwise is simply stupid. But squawking ‘racism!’ every time someone criticises, is rude to or even harasses a person who just happens to be Aboriginal not only waters down the idea of racism itself, but alienates the exact people that we most desperately need to convince that racism is a serious problem that they should care about. So quit booing, quit squawking, quit arguing and do some god damn thinking instead.