Adam Goodes, a man with a unique talent for kicking a piece of inflated leather, really does deserve the full measure of sympathy — although definitely not the sort the Fairfax press endorses in a Saturday editorial. To the tireless musterers of cliches who pen leaders for the Age and SMH, the business of booing a footballer is as simple as their own thinking: Man is black. Man gets booed. Man is victim of “racist disgrace”.
Having established to its writer’s satisfaction that there could be no other reason for grandstand juries to give a black player the thumbs-down, the editorial builds upon that simplistic premise, pausing only to enhance its litany of illogical contentions and passing slurs with a swipe at Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose “belated and insipid” response the papers deem shameful. At Fairfax, where a judge recently found that editors set their headlines in the hot metal of malice, they never let a chance go by.
So why feel sorry for Goodes? For starters, as former Hawthorn great Leigh Matthews noted, he is “a fragile individual” — self-evident, really, given his decision not to take the field this weekend, rather than endure the crowd’s enmity.
Why is that fragility such a liability? The answer is simplicity itself: ever since he had a 13-year-old girl taken into custody for calling him “an ape”, the sort of people whose views crystalise in the pages of the Age and SMH have treated Goodes not as a man but as a two-dimensional symbol. Racism, anyone? Goodes’ mistake — his real sin, one far greater than staging shamelessly for free kicks — was to believe those who elevated this millionaire to ultimate victimhood and, therefore, moral paragon.
Awards and honours were poured upon him, and he responded as his promoters hoped. His speech on being named Australian of the Year was a laundry list of grievance. If the thought occurred to him that such commentary does nothing to bring the country together, the cheering of those who found him useful must have driven such reservations from mind. Australian of the Year? Victim of the Year, more like, and Goodes wrapped himself proudly in that mantle as the applause grew ever louder.
Then came the infamous “war dance”. His promoters applauded this intemperate performance. It was an expression of pride, an affirmation of heritage, a thoroughly brave and praiseworthy thing to skip across the boundary line and fling an imaginary spear at the rednecks whose tickets pay his salary. If the crowd was insulted — the video footage leaves no doubt about the offence taken — then that, too, must be a manifestation of Australia’s endemic racism. That the dance routine was a confection, authentic as a Chinese boomerang, mattered not at all.
What Goodes appears to have overlooked is that there really are two Australias — not the black one and a white one, as he imagines, but a nation defined in its division by the gulf between a vocal, sermonising, careerist elite and everyone else. Goodes was gulled pure and simple, hailed and encouraged when he referred to the nation’s birthday as Invasion Day, tirelessly urged to stress what separates us, not our commonalities.
Then came the booing and what must have been an awful shock: The people who feted him for the random achievement of being born into black victimhood did not represent the nation as a whole. Those who found him useful, your race commissioners and packagers of tokenism, held the megaphone, true. But it was the crowd that had seen enough of the damage being done, the dragons teeth of division and resentment endlessly sown, and all this, ironically, under the rubric of “reconciliation.”
Goodes really should have picked his friends with greater care. While they have plastered him with their honours, they have done neither him nor Australia any favours.
The Age editorial can be read, and dismissed with the contempt it deserves, via the link below.
— roger franklin