I went to the Swans v Hawks game last Saturday night at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It was a wholly entertaining game and I walked away a winner.
But I don’t want to talk about any of that. I want to know why we – and by we, I mean the general AFL populace, with the exception of Sydney Swans fans – continue to boo Adam Goodes.
Seriously, why is he booed? I’m sure this subject has been written about before by more accomplished sports writers than myself, but I think it warrants a discussion.
At first blush, it seems like the purest form of tall poppy syndrome that there is. A guy, one who is very good at football, attracts the ire of his opponents’ supporters simply because he is true to his name. He’s good.
Really, there is no real reason to boo ‘good’ players. I know that sport evokes a visceral response and all that jazz, but there’s something really infantile about booing someone just because they’re good. If anything, the correct human response should be to hold your breath silently as you wait and see what they do with their possession, shouldn’t it?
Adam Goodes is booed, many AFL fans will tell you, because he is a “protected species.” This is a reference to the long-held perception that Adam Goodes gets the benefit of the doubt when it comes to umpiring decisions. They think he milks free kicks and that he’s a bit soft.
But Adam Goodes is held to the same letter of the law as everyone else. If you do think otherwise, I dare you to go Nate Silver on this shit and give me some hard data and pie charts to back up your stance. This is just a convenient ‘truth’ to justify the real reason that people boo Adam Goodes. More on that later.
To the casual fan, Adam Goodes is recognisable. His running style is unique and, dare I say it, a little bit lairy. When he gets in the clear, Goodes arches his back like a stow-away who’s just snuck on to a train as the doors were closing, a perfectly timed manoeuvre that leaves the station guards shaking their fist in the distance. He’s exciting and enigmatic. It’s good.
He’s also an Indigenous man. Indigenous men always attract a ‘reaction’ whenever they get their hands on the ball – regardless of the code. When teammate Lewis Jetta gets the ball, the crowd comes to life. “GO JEDDA,” they cry, an unwitting reference to Charles Chauvel’s 1955 film about a young Aboriginal girl raised by white folk, who simply cannot control her innate tribal urges to go ‘Walkabout’ when she reaches womanhood. I studied this film at university. It was fucking racist, albeit critically acclaimed.
Adam Goodes has won multiple Brownlow medals. He’s also a former Australian of the Year. Unfortunately, he has been on the receiving end of countless racial jibes throughout his career, including one particularly foul on-air gaffe by one well-paid media personality who holds a high-level position at Collingwood FC.
I have been to games where Adam Goodes has been racially abused by members of the crowd. I wonder if it happens every single game, in some way or another? There are people out there – normal, middle-class people with jobs and shit – who simply cannot resist the urge to connect his race with their tall-poppy contempt for him as a successful footballer.
I cannot remember Goodes doing anything particularly violent or uncalled for against an opposition player, either on or off the field. I cannot recall him being anything other than an exemplary ambassador for the game.
I do not – and I never will – understand why people boo Adam Goodes. Regardless, I will speculate that it’s a sordid combination of tall-poppy syndrome and perhaps a dash of unconscious racism that makes them do so.
What else could it be?
By Dave Edwards