opinion

Adam Goodes' resilience and bravery represents what sport is all about.

Today I feel embarrassed by Australia.

I feel ashamed by what Australian media personalities and entire stadiums of AFL fans did to 2014 Australian of the Year and dual Brownlow Medallist Adam Goodes in the final years of his career.

However while watching The Final Quarter, the documentary that aired on Channel Ten last night which revisits the unacceptable treatment directed at Goodes, I also felt proud.

You can watch The Final Quarter trailer here. Post continues after video.

Video by Ten

I felt proud of the way Goodes handled himself during an unrelenting and insensitive three years of heightened racist slurs and vilification directed solely at him, and him alone.

He was calm, resilient and classy; something his opponents and attackers were not.

After a lifetime spent copping racial bullying for his Indigenous heritage, Goodes decided enough was enough in 2013.

After a 13-year-old girl’s sideline slur of “ape” during the AFL’s Indigenous round, Goodes spoke of his disappointment in an Australia that made it okay for a young girl to be socialised in an environment where this kind of racist attitude could so casually be vocalised.

Australia didn’t like his strong stance towards defending his culture and calling out racism, and they sure as hell let him know it.

Adam Goodes
Goodes comments after the 2013 indigenous round, when a 13-year-old called him an ape started everything. Image: Ten.
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Waleed Aly put it perfectly at the time, explaining in a clip featured in the documentary, "Australia is a tolerant society until their minorities show they don't know their place."

Watching the commentary of Goodes unfold in The Final Quarter (which you can read about in full here), it's clear that's exactly what happened. Australia felt uncomfortable about the truth Goodes was speaking and so they tried to bully him into submission.

"The minute someone in a minority position acts as thought they aren't a mere supplicant then we lose our minds and we say, 'Oh no you have to get back in your box.' It's them who is creating division and 'destroying our culture' and that's what we boo. We boo our discomfort," Aly explained.

The booing continued for two entire seasons. Goodes spent every single AFL match in 2014 and 2015 being booed by crowds of tens of thousands. After performing a  traditional Aboriginal war dance during the 2015 Indigenous round, the booing intensified. Again, he was brought to his knees by racist commentary.

Watching the footage back is shocking. It was four years ago. Not forty, four.

Surely, we, as a country, had learnt from the shameful moment in AFL history where in 1993, Nicky Winmar, tired of the constant abuse hurled his way, fought back and stood defiantly in front of opposition Magpie spectators, lifted his jersey, pointed at his skin and shouted, "I'm black and I'm proud to be black."

Nicky Winmar
"I'm black and I'm proud." Nicky Winmar in 1993. Image: ABC.

After Winmar's defiance, the then-Collingwood President Alan McAlister responded with "as long as they conduct themselves like white people off the field, everyone will admire them and respect them."

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Afterwards he called the comment a "slip of the tongue".

But the "slips" keep happening. And they're not "slips" to Indigenous Australians, who are reminded with every slip that their culture and livelihood have been destroyed and torn down by white Australia for more than 200 years.

After Goodes won Australian of the Year in 2014, the racist slurs ramped up and while he used his new platform to fight for recognition of the Indigenous population in the Australian Constitution, shock jocks and opinion columnists tore him to shreds.

"Adam Goodes is a bad choice for Australian of the Year. He is being rewarded for victimising a powerless 13-year-old," wrote Miranda Devine in the Daily Telegraph.

"Man honoured after yelling at 13-year-old," said Adam Bolt in the Sun Herald, adding that it was in fact Goodes' constitutional push that was racist.

"If you think you've been racially abused then apparently you are," was the comment from radio 2GB's Alan Jones.

"People aren't booing you because you're aboriginal, they're booing you because you're a jerk.

"It is on you as an Australian of the Year to unite and placate people, not to divide and be a provocateur," said former AFL player Sam Newman.

Goodes haters
Newman, Bolt, Divine and Jones were among the media commentators vilifying Goodes. Image: Ten.

Watching the documentary these four names - Bolt, Jones, Newman and Divine - dominate the attacks against Goodes. But the nastier and more offensive their taunts became, the classier Goodes was in his response.

He never, not once, said anything rude in return. He held his head high in press conference after press conference, responding with grace and a stoic bravery which in hindsight is hard to comprehend in the face of such bigotry.

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When he did take some leave from the spotlight and the sport to gather his thoughts, there was absolutely no support from the four names mentioned above. In fact, Newman accused him of "playing the victim".

Eventually Goodes was forced into early retirement, and didn't even attend the parade for retired players in that year's Grand Final for fear of again being booed.

GOODES-BIG
Goodes eventually retired and he was booed until the last siren on his final game. Image: Ryan Pierse/Getty.

It's a sad, shameful end to a documentary that sheds a light on the horrific treatment Goodes was subjected to in his final years in AFL.

It leaves you swimming with questions and rage.

Aren't we supposed to be moving towards an inclusive Australia?

What makes white Australian commentators think they have a right to tell Goodes, an Indigenous Australian, what is offensive to Aboriginal people?

What makes it okay in the modern age to defend casual racism as a "slip up"?

What makes it okay in 2013, 2014 and 2015 to use the weight of a country against one man, fighting for Indigenous Australian's right to recognition?

But there's something to be said about Goodes never stooping to the level of the people who attacked him.

Throughout all he endured, he was measured. He wasn't cruel. He was endlessly resilient.

And among a sea of embarrassment, he gives Australians something to be proud of.

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