Opinion - Ben Pahor

Adam Goodes is an absolute champion of the AFL. He has played 365 career games and kicked 454 goals. He is a two-time Brownlow medallist, two-time Premiership player, four-time All-Australian, three-time Bob Skilton medallist, a three-time Sydney leading goal kicker and a member of the Indigenous Team of the Century.

There is no reason why Adam Goodes should be booed and those who claim that it is not racism are either in denial, or have not fully considered the magnitude of their actions.

The constant booing of Adam Goodes also reveals a lot about the problems we still face with racism within Australian society.

Racial discrimination, as described by Dr Helen Szoke, Race Discrimination Commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission from 2011 to 2013, is “any act where a person is treated unfairly or vilified because of their race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, religion or belief. Racism impacts directly on the full enjoyment of individual’s human rights, and in particular the right to equality.”

In a speech from Dr Helen Szoke in February of 2012, she continues by saying that “racism may take the form of…name calling, taunting or insults.” Fans booing and calling Goodes names, such as when he was labelled an ‘ape,’ is exactly the type of things that Dr Szoke is talking about.

It is true that some of the animosity towards Goodes stems from the staging of free kicks. But it is unfathomable that it is mere coincidence that the booing has occurred around the same time as Goodes decided to speak out about the lack of racial equality within Australia. This level of abuse towards Goodes never occurred when he was allegedly staging for free kicks or diving into contests with his knees. It is evident that much of the outrage from fans originates from a darker place.

Some who have booed Adam Goodes have claimed that they are not racist, but simply do like not Goodes due to his speech on Australia Day last year and his singling out of a 13 year-old girl who racially abused him by calling him an ‘ape,’ during an AFL match in 2013.

If the booing is due to his stance on race, then there is no doubt that it has an undertone of racism within it, as that means that people are not accepting of his right to have a certain view or belief.

Goodes said on Australia Day in 2014, when he was awarded the Australian of the Year, that it is difficult for him to buy into the notion of Australia Day ”because of the sadness and mourning and the sorrow of our people and a culture that unfortunately has been lost to me through generations”

Goodes also said that the Aboriginal people wanted more recognition.

“There’s nothing in the constitution right now that says Aboriginal people are the first Australians,” he said.

Goodes was criticised for identifying himself as Aboriginal, rather than Australian, during his speech.

”It isn’t about us wanting to get our land back and it’s not about wanting compensation, it’s about wanting recognition we were the first Australians.”

As Australian of the Year, Goodes has a platform to speak out about issues such as racism and he should be able to do so without being muzzled.

If this is the reason for the current abuse, then it is indeed racial, whether people care to admit it or not.

Dr Szoke also said in her speech that “a key feature of racism in Australia is denialism.”

“Such denial may be a genuine response that suggests a lack of understanding that an act may be racist. However, there are also deliberate falsehoods, misinformation or evasion. Suggestions of racism may also be dismissed as an overreaction,” Dr Snoke said.

Those who claim that it has been an overreaction need to understand the affect that it has had on Goodes, his family, his friends and the wider Aboriginal community who look up to Adam Goodes.

Former teammate and close friend Michael O’Laughlin said Goodes is “really struggling.”

“There’s only so much a man can take before his legs start to buckle,” he said.

“Adam’s a very strong person who’s done a lot for the game … but don’t assume that these things are just easily washed over and don’t affect him in some way. He’s sick and tired of what’s been happening for a long time.”

Goodes’ mother has also spoken of her distress at the ill feeling towards her son.

What people must understand is the enormous impact of racial discrimination on the mental health of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

beyondblue CEO Kate Carnell AO said in 2014, that by Goodes winning the Australian of the Year, she hoped it would have a major impact in helping to end discrimination against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“Figures around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health are tragic,” she said.

“By fighting to end racism, Adam is fighting for the wellbeing of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who must endure it. I salute Adam’s passion and courage, but also his patience and capacity for forgiveness. He has already proven himself to be a phenomenal anti-discrimination advocate,” she said at the time.

The fact is that one in 10 non-indigenous Australians are highly distressed, that figure is three in 10 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Recent ABS statistics show that people in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are nearly three times more likely to die by suicide than non-indigenous Australians.

Ms Carnell said that she hoped Goodes could help change this. But how can Adam Goodes possibly change things in these communities, if we do not let him. The bigger picture is simply being overlooked by the majority of the general public. What Adam Goodes is doing, is bringing the discussion, which we need to have, into a public forum and he should be commended for that.

Abuse towards Goodes is a form of racism, plain and simple. We simply cannot allow it to continue. To those saying that the media is hyping it up too much and therefore allowing the issue and the booing to continue, I say this: We must continue to talk about the issue until everybody understands the enormity of the problem of racial discrimination in Australia and we begin to work together to end it. Australia still has a lot to learn about race and Adam Goodes, I applaud you for taking a stand in what you believe in.