Adam Goodes is one of the AFL’s most significant indigenous footballers. He might be one of the most versatile footballers to have ever played the game. He has continued to have an impact off-field after retirement, being named Australian of the Year, and working on the Goodes-O’Loughlin Foundation with the Sydney Swans.
OPINION: As good a footballer as Adam Goodes was, his journey in the game has a sour ending, and it is clear that the former Swan has not yet forgiven the game.
This year, as it becomes five years since Goodes retired, he is eligible for the Australian Football Hall of Fame. As a four-time All-Australian (Ruck in 2003, Wing in 2006, Interchange in 2009 and Forward Pocket in 2011), a three-time Bob Skilton Medallist, a two time Brownlow Medallist, Rising Star Winner, and two-time premiership player, there is nothing in the game that Goodes has not achieved.
He was a no-brainer of a nominee for the Hall of Fame as a first ballot. There has hardly been a more decorated player in the history of Australian Football.
But Goodes’ rejection is a stark reminder that for all he gave to the game, the game, and particularly the AFL, did not return the favour.
Few will forget the Sydney Swans v Collingwood match in Sir Doug Nicholls Round in 2013. The round of celebration of indigenous contribution to Australian football, highlighted by a man who embodied that.
Late in the game, Goodes heard a racial slur from a fan in the front row. He stood his ground, and ground security ejected the fan from the game. The dual Brownlow Medallist left the field of play early, visibly distressed.
In the following days, Goodes held a press conference befitting of a statesman of the game, where he called for education, and for the fan, a 13-year old girl, not to be blamed.
But the damage was done. The incident had changed the way that many in the football public perceived Goodes. From that day on, he was mercilessly and repeatedly booed by fans in the game.
Many called for the AFL to take action to stop the booing. Some commentators criticised Goodes and defended the right to boo him.
In the same round, celebrating Indigenous contribution two years later, against Carlton, Goodes performed a symbolic Indigenous war dance. He was criticised by commentators and members of the public for it.
In August 2015, after almost two and a half years of relentless booing, Goodes stepped away from the game. In September, he retired from the game.
In April 2019, on the eve of the release of a documentary about Goodes, the AFL and all 18 clubs issued an apology.
Adam… was subject to treatment that drove him from football. The game did not do enough to stand with him, and call it out. Failure to call out racism and not standing up for one of our own let down all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, past and present…
And so the AFL closed the chapter on Adam Goodes. It considered the matter concluded.
This, even though Eddie McGuire, who made racist comments about Goodes on multiple occasions, still being involved in the game.
This, even though Collingwood released a report earlier this year detailing a history of racism and failure to protect indigenous players over several years.
This, despite commentators who defended booing the former Swan continuing to have platforms to influence public opinion.
Even today, when the rejection was announced, the first reaction was a disappointment in Goodes for not burying the hatchet. The response placed the onus on the 41-year-old to forgive a league, and a sport, that has done nothing to mend the fact that it allowed one of the greatest players of the game to be bullied out of it.
Goodes’ decision is not a failure on his part, in any way.
It’s a reflection that to this day, the AFL, and the football public, has failed to recognise its wrongs. It has failed to rectify them.
Goodes recently said that he has no connection with football any more.
“I’ve tried to go to games, and I haven’t enjoyed it. It’s really sad because my godchildren love going to the football”
Today, AFL Commissioner Richard Goyder issued a statement following the news.
“The AFL and our game did not do enough to stand with him at the time, and call it out,” Goyder said.
“The unreserved apology that the game provided him in 2019 was too late, but on behalf of our commission and the AFL, I apologise unreservedly again for our failures during this period.”
While it shows that the AFL has recognised its failures, it’s a clear sign, as Goyder said, that it’s not enough. We, as football fans, can only hope that this is the first step in a path for the AFL to heal those wounds.
“This is a decision for Adam and Adam only and we understand and respect his choice.”
But the fact remains, that one of the greats of our game doesn’t want to stay in touch with the game he gave so much to.
And it is all because, after all of that, the game gave him nothing when the chips were down. Silence. Acquiescence. And when he needed the game most, the game turned its back on him.
No. Adam Goodes’ rejection of the Hall of Fame is not a good thing. It’s a shame for football, and for football fans.
But a shame on him? No. It’s a reminder of our greatest shame.
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