I know that I normally give you something funny or sarcastic in this column… but this matter should be addressed. Not only because something unfortunate happened, but because it was handled near perfectly.
The AFL has been an Australian industry leader when it comes to racism in sport. This weekend, they reminded everyone why. It wasn’t only the #racismitstopswithme campaign.
For those of you who don’t know, last weekend was Indigenous Round in the AFL, which acknowledges and celebrates the indigenous Australians’ contributions to the game of AFL. Towards the end of the Sydney/Collingwood clash at the MCG, a young girl racially vilified Adam Goodes who is not only an amazing player, but of indigenous Australian heritage and having a blinder of a game. He pointed the girl out to security who escorted her out. It was handled quickly and professionally without any undue media influence. And here are the top five things they’ve done right.
1) Adam Goodes left the field quickly and did not speak to press until after he spoke to his coach. This is what all great men do – they bite their tongues. When you’re angry and hurt about a situation, it’s easy to let fly and hurl insults. The difficult thing is holding it together until you can formulate a plan. By going into the locker rooms, Adam Goodes avoided making any off the cuff remarks about the situation and the girl that would have, probably, done more harm than good.
2) Eddie McGuire went to apologize. Now… I am not Eddie’s biggest fan (he’s the Collingwood CEO). But considering Collingwood members seem to racially harass players more than any other club in the league, I know he’s got it rough. Which is why it was a top thing to do when he went to the Sydney Swans locker room to speak with Adam Goodes and assure him that they were dealing with the situation. He’s a stand-up guy, that Eddie McGuire.
3) They kept the media out of it until they were ready. Eddie McGuire, admittedly was a bit premature and you could tell – he did ramble in that first press interaction. But Swans coach John Longmire was excellent about it. He simply said that they were happy to let the AFL and Collingwood handle the situation and that’s all that needed to be said at that time. Goodes didn’t speak about it until the next day and when he did, he was coherent and concise. Respect.
4) They focus is on education, not crucifying. The girl was only 13 (reportedly) and although I don’t think her age is any excuse, they’re not going to completely ruin her. Normally, the punishment for racial slurs at an event is a lifetime ban. In this case, they are being slightly more lenient (the punishment is still to be decided but they have alluded to the fact that they will go a little easier on her since she’s young). Now, I knew about racism when I was young and I knew not to say things like that… but people make mistakes and she is young. The way the AFL are treating her is something to be admired, not scoffed at. They are realizing that more education is needed for everyone in the game – especially for the young.
5) Adam Goodes accepted the apology with grace. The day after the incident, the girl called Goodes to apologize. I’m not sure what was said and I don’t know if Goodes completely let her off the hook, but the fact that told the media that she apologized and he accepted it is admirable. Again, this is another cases of, “Well he could have…” but he didn’t. He handled the situation like a man. More athletes could take a page out of his book.