#Goodesgate – It’s All About Ethics in Booing

For those who don’t follow AFL, the booing of Adam Goodes at every away game must be confusing. He is, outside the ground, a well known helper in the community who is gentle, kind, loves his mum and is good bloke. Such a good bloke that he was made Australian of the Year. But with Goodes, there is something about him that has switched him from being a sporting champion to being someone with booing.

Racism is at the heart of it.  Maybe not everyone who boos Goodes is a racist, but they are contributing to a phenomenon that started with racist attitudes towards an Indigenous man who decided that enough was enough. The #goodesgate campaign is akin to what we have seen online with #gamergate – with people joining into something because it’s now considered cool.

Not that you’ll see that admitted to online all that often. That’s because what has happened is similar in some ways to the Gamer Gate phenomenon in the US, where people who attack others on the net in relation to the issues deny that they are sexists, instead that they insist that the issue is about “ethics in gaming journalism”. These mostly white men on the internet are now continually howling that it’s about Ethics in Booing. (sidenote – thanks to Aden Crocker – @glavencrocker for this whole idea of connecting the two).

I remember the game where it turned for Goodes. It was the time when a 13 year old Collingwood supporter screamed that Goodes was an “ape”. Goodes, unlike most Indigenous footballers who would have heard such insults hurled from the sidelines, decided that such behaviour was unacceptable. Ever since that moment, however, the boos started. I remember that to start with, the loudness and persistence with booing wasn’t consistent across the league. I distinctly remember an Essendon game, a later Collingwood game and, of course, the 2014 Grand Final with Hawthorn. They weren’t around before the “ape” moment, but suddenly, there they were. And this year, it’s grown and is more persistent than ever.

From my sport Twitter account (@cappertowers), it’s been a curious phenomenon watching how the booing has been explained, excused and justified from a variety of sources – the development of Goodesgaters, claiming that this is all about ethics in booing and that it’s fine to do it. It appears that amongst mostly white male sport fans from Victoria and the other Southern States that a consensus has been built about Goodes and what he “should” have done plus what he is like as a person. This consensus view seems to have been built, on social media at least, on Twitter and through forums on the Big Footy forum, which is to this movement what 4Chan was for the Gamer Gate movement.

This consensus view that has been built states that his calling out of the 13 year old girl was Goodes’ “mistake”. He should have “kept quiet” about it and not “drawn attention to his colour”. This continues to the idea that “Others get booed and they get on with things, so why not him”. It’s the response people provide to the bullied when they speak out. “You’re just drawing attention to your skin, Adam, stop it”.   In other words, racism exists amongst sporting crowds and always will – why make it worse by trying to make a stand against it? One of the main problems with this is that I’m not sure that people who don’t experience lifelong, persistent racist insults and institutionalised racism can really tell someone who does how to act. White privilege is an actual thing, but it is not recognised by most who attack Goodes for how he is reacting to the situation. Worse still is the accusation of “reverse racism” and that Goodes hates white people. Pretty sure the entire Swans football team, most of whom aren’t Indigenous, would disagree with that one.

Then, a couple of months down the track, there were other Ethics in Booing excuses emerging about why people booed. “He’s a stager for free kicks” was one. “Umpire’s pet” was another. My favourite justfication – “he’s an arrogant flog” became a standard response – for them, it’s like “just because”. There’s no need to go any further with their justification for that belief. These excuses were convenient, especially for those who refused to concede that a consensus predicated on racism had emerged.   The problem is that Goodes rarely stages for free kicks – no more than Joel Selwood of Geelong, for example, who is rarely booed. As for “umpire’s pet”, Giants fans can tell you that there’s plenty of those around (*cough* Gary Ablett *cough*) and they are rarely booed every single time they touch the ball.

There’s also various false equivalence arguments about booing that have been raised. One is the case of Essendon captain Jobe Watson’s treatment at the hands of West Coast supporters in the height of the ASADA drug situation – which was also poor, but not as sustained and sprung from a perceived piece of sustained cheating. Goodes isn’t the captain of a team accused of performance related cheating.   There was also raised the case of Stephen Milne of St. Kilda, who was booed in the wake of rape charges. Again, not really a good comparison as rape is a bit different from asking racists to stop calling you an ape.

Another element of the problem with this “Goodes is a Flog” argument is that Goodes, outside the football field, is one of the friendliest, most gentlemanly people in football. Rarely does one hear in Sydney of anything he does that is less than dignified.   Not a “flog”. Just a player who wants to play football well.

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The consensus view of Goodes as an uppity Indigenous man who should have Kept Quiet was made even more entrenched when Goodes decided to unleash a post goal celebration learnt from an Under 18s team. Then the Melbourne football media and the forums had a field week saying how he shouldn’t be so “hostile” and inflaming what was already a poor situation. He should have left it alone…! Those of us in the SCG crowd, however, watching on saw a pretty cool celebration along the same lines of Greg Inglis’ post try celebrations in the NRL, which elicits a different kind of response.

So, this issue will bubble along as the white men – the Goodesgaters of Big Footy will continually cry that it’s about Ethics in Booing. People boo for whatever reason. Allow them to boo. They aren’t racists, they are just people booing because they believe Goodes is a… (fill in whatever convenient excuse). These people will even ignore the likes of Mark Robinson, Jonathan Brown (yes, the large boofy bloke on Fox Footy), Gerard Whateley (though he’s a lefty, isn’t he?) and the like – mainstream men who don’t generally aren’t known for their “lefty views”. These Goodesgaters will also embrace their new champion, Andrew Bolt, who I just can’t imagine ever going to an AFL game, let alone known much about it. This has conveniently fell into his lap to help feed his weird pseudo-eugenicist argument about people “choosing their race” and therefore making a unfairly successful life for themselves by identifying themselves as such.

Problem is for Bolt and the other Goodesgaters, Adam Goodes was already successful and will continue to be despite whatever the Goodesgaters have Decided about him. He will continue to play until the end of the year, retire and be considered an utter champion of the game in Sydney. Fans of football in Sydney (both of red and orange persuasion) will be lucky to have him around to help in Indigenous communities and generally in society. If others in the nation want to invent problems about him, then that’s their delusion. And will continue to be either racists or the enablers of racists. Because even if you aren’t racist outside the arena of football, if you are booing Adam Goodes, you are telling the racists who started this that it’s ok to boo.

And it’s not.

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6 thoughts on “#Goodesgate – It’s All About Ethics in Booing

  1. Thankyou for a well-articulated article. Waleed Ali of ‘The Project’ also expresses this phenomenon as people booing what they themselves are uncomfortable with. He goes on to claim that middle white Australia is uncomfortable with an indigenous man “not knowing his place”. As a white Australian male, football fan (of an opposition team) I would be proud for my son to see Adam Goodes as a role model. He has principles that he stands for and the courage to challenge the ugly side of our society. He may not be in my favourite team, nor be my favourite football player, but as a man…he is up with the best of the best. Je suis Adam Goodes.

  2. First time I heard Aboriginal people being called “apes” was at Ti Tree Roadhouse in the N.T. in the late 1970s.

    I, and a group of very senior Aboriginal men (most aged 60 to 90 ) had just come back from a fantastic trip recording sites, camping rough, talking about the old days (the most senior present remembered the first “white man” they saw – who had turned out to be an Afghan on a camel, about the time of Halleys Comet in 1910).

    We pulled up at the bowser to fill up the tanks and met someone far less pleasant than the Afghan had apparently been many decades earlier. A weedy little white guy came running at us, waving a tyre lever, yelling “get those f*&^ing Rock Apes out of here!” Needless to say, we didn’t leave and he slunk away muttering words with lots of c’s and f’s and b’s in them when a couple of younger men got out of the “Troopy” and stood next to me.

    I got to hear a bit more about this unsavoury character. His local nickname was “Tosser”, not for the obvious reason, but because of a habit he had of tossing sticks of gelignite into local Aboriginal camps. He had a reputation for sexual molestation, too, though the cops somehow could never find him if women wanted to press charges. He’s the sort of person who calls an Aboriginal person an “ape”. He’s the sort of person that someone calling out “ape” from the crowd at a football match makes an Aboriginal player automatically think of.

    The 13 year old girl mentioned got off lightly, I reckon. Those who claim she was badly done by, by being given a bit of a talking to, are either overt racists themselves or don’t know the other contexts in which the term is appallingly used, let alone the 19th century historical debates about “monkey-men” and the like. She hopefully learned a lesson. Be nice too hope some others did too, but the the booing sadly suggests they might not have.

    I hate booing at the football. At the Essendon/Port match last weekend every time former Aboriginal Bombers star, now Port player, Paddy Ryder, went near the ball the chorus of boos was deafening. Yes, it was supposedly “booing a traitor” – someone who has left the club – but it was way louder than anything I’ve ever heard directed at any other former Dons player. Yes, it was mostly just booing, and Bombers supporters are understandably a bit sensitive at present, given other events. But there were overtones that showed just how fast this stuff gets out of control. Couldn’t help hearing “black b$%^#$” getting mentioned sotto voce by some supporters not far away. I’ve sat in this section of the crowd for many years and never heard it from Essendon supporters before.

    The stuff that has been targeted at Goodes grows like cancer. If it happens unchecked next time we play Sydney I’m chucking in my Bombers membership. Its got to be stamped out before it grows.

  3. A lot of this booing is racist but as an opposition supporter (which I am not) why would you not boo? They know he is a legend in the game and want to unsettle him. It has worked thus far to the point he is talking of retiring. However unsportsmanlike this behaviour is it is growing due to his reactions. It is good to stick up for what you believe in but that leaves the door open for racists to voice what they believe. It is a long road for equality of all races and for that matter sexes. To stoke the fire and react in front of tens of thousands of supporters one must expect a reaction back such as the booing. People are sheep and follow the herd so when a few start booing others see it as normal and follow – whether racist or not. Adam should spite them all and continue to play letting his football do the talking. Another premiership will shut many up and disappoint the most racist of them all. Best thing the AFL could do is stipulate an aboriginal must be in each team. We have many talented aboriginal players and to be racist to an opposition player is then degrading your own team if all have indigenous players in them. If the racists don’t like an indigenous player in there own team it is then one less supporter the AFL does not need. Get rid of the idiots and more respectable supporters and families will come to the AFL. As fans we want great competitive players at an elite level playing with sportsmanship that is supported by the fans so we gain high quality entertainment.

    • “To stoke the fire and react in front of tens of thousands of supporters one must expect a reaction back such as the booing.”

      With respect, how many times can I slap you in the face before you finally ‘stoke the fire and react’? Is the onus on you to keep accepting my attacks ad infinitum, or is it on me to stop hitting you?

      Goodes has been letting his football do the talking for long enough, now the idiots in the crowd just have to shut up. It’s not up to us to tell him how to respond to abuse, to selfishly tell him to ignore it so we can keep watching him play, it’s up to us to stop the abuse and, as you say, get rid of the racists from the game. That’s our responsibility.

  4. Goodes couldn’t have been more decent both with his speech when accepting Australian of the Year and his follow up to being called an ape. Both times he said it’s up to us as a nation to walk forward together, to identify our faults and solve them together. What’s more he went out of his way to say that the 13-year-old girl should not be attacked but educated as to why what she said was wrong. That’s pretty much the polar opposite of divisive.

    The onus is not on Indigenous people to ‘toughen up’ and accept vile abuse. The onus is on all of us as a society to stand up and say that this abuse will no longer be tolerated. It’s our responsibility.

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