Of late Adam Goodes seems to be the source of more division than half a maths class, and like most good stories it has been several years in the making.
Where exactly the story begins is a bit unclear.
Few question the sporting talent of Adam Goodes. That he has two Brownlow Medals to his name is testament to that.
But then there’s the other stuff.
If people want a simple starting point, probably going back to the year 2013 when Julia, a 13-year-old girl, called Adam Goodes an “ape” at an AFL match may be the logical origin. Following a media storm, with little by way of context or question, the comment became viewed by many as a definite racial slur. The child was forced to apologise, and the man Adam Goodes subsequently became Australian of the Year in 2014, and the “Racism. It Stops With Me” campaign was also launched.
Naturally Eddie McGuire managed to put his foot in it and trip over his own tongue along the way with a King Kong the musical and Adam Goodes gaffe.
Then as though an intermission, things went rather quiet.
That was until late in May 2015, when Adam Goodes performed a war dance at an AFL game, throwing a notional spear into the crowd of the opposing team’s supporters.
Commentary has followed ever since.
As has the booing of Adam Goodes.
It’s understandable that he doesn’t like it. Constantly being booed by the crowds of the opposing teams, is going to take its toll psychologically on a person. And even an entire team.
With this have been the calls for the booing to stop, and those jumping to the defence of Adam Goodes, that enough is enough. The AFL and relevant sporting bodies have been told to do something about it. Plus a slew of commentary has come from all angles.
Swans teammate Lewis Jetta also performed a war dance, complete with spear throwing motions, in support of Adam Goodes.
Alan Jones has had his usual tirade claiming that Adam Goodes “plays the victim”.
Now, in a predictable and perhaps the final act of the story, the mother of the then 13-year-old girl who made the “ape” comment has now called for Adam Goodes to make an apology over the humiliation her daughter was put through because of him. Adding that the booing he is receiving is his own fault.
How the tall poppy may have fallen. Perhaps because it’s being cut down.
Child insults professional sportsman. Grown man dances on the sporting field and throws an imaginary spear into the crowd. Crowds boo at him henceforth.
When summarised as such, the whole thing seems utterly silly.
However, that people continue to bring up race and the spectre of racism suggests things aren’t quite as harmonious as some mere sporting rivalry and theatrics.
If an indigenous crowd were booing Adam Goodes, or, a crowd of white people were booing a white AFL player, would either get much more than a passing mention?
It’s possible that people can dislike someone and it not be racially motivated.
Yet it’s also possible that Adam Goodes is a divisive source here.
He was Australian of the Year, yet Adam Goodes has referred to Australia Day as “invasion day” though it should be put in the full context of the speech and that he also highlighted positives of modern Australia as well.
However, such a comment may twist the knife on open wounds of the past from both sides. Resurrecting notions of assimilation and those not assimilated.
As for the war dances on the sporting field, imagine if a player danced around and then formed their hand into an imaginary gun and shot at the crowd. Or pretended to throw a hand grenade into the crowd.
Would there be boos from the crowd?
Would the player be reprimanded or viewed as foolish?
What if the player were of Middle Eastern appearance or ethnicity?
The Australian Government would probably attempt to engage in a deradicalisation programme, despite the merits being questioned.
If that sounds farcical, that’s both good and bad. It says something about society.
However, that the war dance was said to be indigenous and cultural, there’s the shield from questioning it lest questioning it be viewed as racist. Much like the “hauora” may be interpreted as the slitting of the throat, but it enjoys the cultural significance and protection afforded as part of the Haka.
Adam Goodes was rather adamant about his war dance and initial spear throwing at the time. Suggesting it is what it is, take it or leave it.
The booing is also likely is what it is. If Adam Goodes takes it, people will probably leave it.
However, whinging about a bully seldom discourages them.
Respect if it’s genuine, is typically earned. If it was but conferred, at some point it’s going to be questioned.
And that seems to be what is happening now with Adam Goodes.
If he stops playing now, because he doesn’t like getting booed, people are likely to question his strength of character. Not as a sportsman, but as a man. Rather than considering him as unifying and respecting different cultures, including that of the modern day Australia, he’s likely to be viewed as selective and entitled. Enjoying all the trappings, fame and money of modern Australian society, but inconsistently blaming it for all the evils of the past. Divisive as it gets.
Some acceptance and good humour could go a long way.
As would team solidarity of the Sydney Swans. Prove the detractors wrong and keep playing. Have the Swans fan cheer in response, to take the high ground.
Will the booing even continue into next year or fall by the wayside if it isn’t continuously fed into something bigger than it would, or should, otherwise be?
People are still going to be people. Like it or not, if something is perceived as different about someone and they’re sensitive about it, a crowd of adults is more than capable of returning to the taunts of the schoolyard. People coming together, like a crowd of supporters at a sporting event, are going to view themselves more favourably than those outside of their in-crowd. Which includes players of the opposing team. Race need never even be mentioned to evoke such feelings. Race need not even be a factor at all.
It doesn’t make the booing right. It doesn’t necessarily make it wrong either.
Adam Goodes is not the first sportsperson to be booed. Nor will he be the last.
If society accepts differences, rather than attempting to segregate and suppress opinion about them, within reason, and without feeling the need to view such things as racist if in doubt, then just maybe racism will be a thing of the past.
Shaking hands, or heads, or having a laugh about things like animal comparisons, boos, and questionable dance moves, may do more than placing formal demands on people ever could.
Plus, beyond cheerleading, if he really wants to show off his dance moves:
Feature Image Credit: Recognise