I’m not sure if ‘Joanne’ is your real name, but they say in the news this is how you are known, so I hope you won’t mind if I call you this.
I have been thinking a lot this week about the way people are responding to Adam Goodes, the way they are speaking about him.
I have watched the unedited video of Goodes speaking to the press in May 2013 after your daughter, Julia, called him an ‘ape’ from the sidelines of the Collingwood/Sydney match.
I have also watched a short video in which Julia says she didn’t mean ‘ape’ as a racial slur. She appears to be smiling, a bit giggly, but it could just be nervousness, the unaccustomed attention.
You – I assume it is you – appear at the end, explaining that she is just a naïve young girl from a country town who ‘doesn’t really get out that much’.
In the press conference, without hiding the hurt she has done him, Goodes stresses her young age, her innocence, the fact that she didn’t know what she was saying. Just as you do.
Yet now you, along with others, are saying that Goodes’ response to that incident – gracious and thoughtful as it has been – has contributed to the constant booing directed towards him over the subsequent two years.
This, although he has only ever been supportive of her and understanding of the circumstances which led her to say what she did. Here are his words:
Unfortunately, it’s what she hears, the environment that she’s grown up in, that has made her think that it’s OK to call people names. I can guarantee you right now she would have no idea how it makes anyone feel by calling them an ape. I think it was just a name-calling that she was doing …
He insists, has insisted from the beginning, on the need for others to be similarly supportive and understanding of her, to not target her on social media or anywhere else.
Despite this evidence of his insight, his generosity of spirit, you have advice for him. It is that he ‘probably should apologise because maybe he should have picked his target a little bit better’.
Yet you know perfectly well he did not ‘pick’ her from the crowd: she drew attention to herself. Loud and clear, with a banned racial epithet.
He did respond, instantly, to hearing the epithet directed at him by a person – identity and age in that instant unknown – sitting on the other side of the boundary wall, as he happened to run past it.
You also say that ‘having her questioned by police without an adult being present was absolutely disgusting on the part of himself and the AFL’.
I agree with you – she should not have been separated from her guardian under any circumstances.
Yet you must know that Goodes had no control over the way security at the Collingwood/Sydney match responded to his request to have her removed from the crowd. Racial vilification is banned by the AFL. Offenders, if they can be identified, must be removed.
Goodes regretted, intensely, that this particular offender was just a young girl.
He’s made his feelings about the experience abundantly plain, with words like ‘gutted’ and ‘cut’ and ‘shattering’. He’s explained how hearing a young girl call him an ‘ape’ reduced that moment – of team victory, as well as of glowing personal achievement – to nothing.
You describe this expression of profound feeling as ‘carrying on like a pork chop’.
Your lack of empathy for him can surely be explained by what this whole business has meant to your family; what it has done to Julia.
But no. In the Sydney Morning Herald last week, you are quoted as saying that your daughter has ‘been going on quite nicely, she’s at school, and she hasn’t worried about this event at all’.
OK, I’m sorry about this, Joanne, but I’m having trouble understanding what you can possibly mean then when you say, ‘I do think people shouldn’t boo him at the football, they should be trying to encourage him to be a better person than what he is.’
Just how does this work?
How much of a ‘better person’ does Adam Goodes need to be before we can relax from trying to improve him?
Let’s for the moment put aside all the honours – being Australian of the Year for 2014 – twice winner of the Brownlow medal – three times his club’s ‘Best and fairest’ player – and an incredible array of other football achievements. Let’s put aside his work for Indigenous Australians through the Go Foundation, which he co-founded, and his advocacy against racism. And let’s put aside the challenges of his Indigenous Australian background, and the anguishing, absolutely disgusting fact that his indigeneity is still, still something we’re having to talk about in terms of ‘disadvantage’ and that he has to deal with, as baggage, every day.
This man – this football legend – has treated your daughter with gentleness and concern. When he spoke at the press conference of your daughter’s innocence, he was not being a fool, and he was not playing to the media. He was being generous. He was doing everything he possibly could to give her a chance.
And Julia has that, if she is encouraged by you and others to take it. A magnificent chance. To turn this moment around, to become a young woman who’s learned to challenge behaviour like her own at thirteen. Who, perhaps, can lead others.
Another thing that was clear in that video. People speak of Adam Goodes as a leader and a spokesman for Indigenous Australia. But that’s only part of the truth.
Judging from his conduct and words in the video I’ve watched today, he is far more than that. He is demonstrating there what a strong, dignified, moral human being looks like.
To me, he looks like a role model for all Australians. You and me included.
With best wishes –
© From the desk of a tiny person 2015