I've never liked Eddie McGuire. He annoys me and I say that to acknowledge a bias in my view of this story. Also, I have disliked Collingwood for some years, to the extent that my team allegiance in the AFL is generally: "The Eagles, and whoever's playing against Collingwood."|
So, last Friday a Sydney Swans player named Adam Goodes was subject to a racist slur.
Background: Adam Goodes is an Australian Rules Football player at the national level, a star of the Sydney Swans team, and I have never heard anything to suggest he's not an entirely decent young man. He's won the Brownlow Medal twice - the "best and fairest" award, given annually to the player who has performed best that year who has no disciplinary infractions - and is a four-time All-Australian.
For team partisan reasons I have a mild grudge against the Sydney Swans, and Barry Hall in particular, but the only thing I have against Adam Goodes is that he has been known to play really well against my
He's also an Indigenous Australian.
Last Friday, at a match, a Collingwood supporter called him an "ape". Goodes was shattered.
Now, there's an interesting-to-me psychological side-note here. Australia can be pretty racist, generally, so I sort of sadly assume that an Indigenous man has heard racial slurs thrown at him before, especially since he's so high-profile. I was surprised that, according to reports, Goodes was actually really, really upset about it. Without wanting to downplay the wrongness, it's one word, and wasn't part of a general torrent of abuse. I'd expect him to be angry and/or upset, but not gutted.
Except then I saw that the Collingwood fan in question was a thirteen-year-old girl, and it made sense, because a 33-year-old man, who is a good and decent man, who has just had a nasty, hurtful insult thrown at him by a thirteen-year-old girl is going to have a serious problem processing that emotional response.
The instinctive, normal outward response would be anger. Had the slur come from an adult male, as is rather more normal, Goodes and his teammates could show anger - yell at him to back off, glare, behave in an intimidating fashion in some way. I've seen it before - a fan says something vicious to a player, sometimes they'll yell back, glare or loom a bit, or teammates will do so.
But acting like that towards a thirteen-year-old girl, a decent man will have good odds of feeling like a thug. It will have connotations that just aren't appropriate. And his teammates are far less likely to form up to present a unified front of muscular hostility, because they're also unlikely to know how adult men are supposed to go about displaying hostility or aggression towards a thirteen-year-old girl in any way that's even faintly appropriate.
They can't even go back to the locker rooms and commiserate with Goodes about what a dickhead the racist fan was, because how do decent young men have a conversation throwing slurs around about a thirteen-year-old girl?
Anger, held in, becomes pain.
The initial public reactions of various figures were good. Collingwood club president Eddie McGuire spoke up in support of Goodes, as did many others.
There was a lot of national criticism of the thirteen-year-old girl who launched the slur. AFL president Andrew Demetriou struck a careful line, condemning the use of racist slurs while still criticising the media for hounding a child and her family over it. (Fair, I thought.)
General consensus: What the girl said was horrible, Adam Goodes deserves sympathy for his pain and admiration for the class he showed in response. All the high-profile people in the sport have publically agreed that it was racial vilification, and that that is bad, and that would probably have been that. The comment wasn't made by someone who's in any way a public figure, and all the public figures have responded reasonably appropriately.
Aaand then came Monday. Eddie McGuire, he who has been called Eddie Everywhere because he's all over the media hosting game shows and footy shows and award shows and who therefore is more than accustomed to talking into microphones that are broadcasting to public audiences, appearing on his own regular program, said in response to the topic of a stage production of King Kong... that they should get Adam Goodes for the promotion. Explicitly referencing "the ape thing".
McGuire's explanation so far is that it was "a slip of the tongue". Which is not enough. (Especially since the transcript shows that when he first brought up Adam Goodes's name, his co-host replied, "No, I wouldn't have thought so, absolutely not," which, Eddie, should have been a hint, and McGuire continued the theme after that.)
The AFL's racial vilification process requires the parties involved to speak, either directly or through mediation. Displaying what has happily been acknowledged as far more class and grace than the situation warrants, Adam Goodes took McGuire's phone call; the Swans as a club have shown undisguised disgust. Criticism of McGuire is even coming from within the Collingwood team. There may yet be significant consequences for Eddie McGuire's career.
We can only hope.
Sometimes, there are times when the correct public response to something you've done is to grovel.