Retired Sydney Swans footballer Adam Goodes was a lightning rod for racist booing which marred the end of his sporting career because he was powerful and Australians “wanted to cut him down”, veteran ABC sports commentator Charlie King says.
- Veteran ABC broadcaster Charlie King challenges the AFL to recruit Aboriginal umpires to measure whether Australians have learnt from Adam Goodes’s experience
- The only Indigenous AFL/VFL umpire, Glenn James, experienced intense racism throughout his career in the late 70s and early 80s
- King say Goodes became a target because he had power, “he was talented, respected, and proud”
Speaking on ABC Radio Darwin on Saturday, King challenged the head of the AFL, Gillon McLachlan, to meaningfully respond to the racism Goodes endured, which was exposed by the documentary The Final Quarter, which aired on Channel 10 on Thursday.
King, a Gurinjdi man and Order of Australia Medal recipient, said Goodes became a target was “because he had power: he was talented, respected, and proud”.
“This is about Adam Goodes because of the powerful position that he held; we didn’t like it, so we booed him and we wanted to cut him down,” he said.
“I think that deep down, that was the problem with Adam Goodes in the eyes of some people — they didn’t like the idea that an Aboriginal person could be powerful, and Adam Goodes was powerful, so they set out to crush him, and they did, they were successful in doing it.”
He said the AFL should start recruiting Aboriginal umpires and give them a place on the field.
“Train them up, and within the next couple of years send an Aboriginal umpire out onto the Melbourne Cricket Ground to umpire a match, have 70,000 or 80,000 people there,” he said.
“Give power to the Aboriginal person umpiring the game, and see then what sort of response we get from that crowd.
“See then if we’ve learnt anything from racial booing and try and do it when there’s an Aboriginal umpire out there.”
King said it was time the AFL listened to ideas from Aboriginal people and put their words into action.
“That’s my challenge to the AFL,” he said.
Booing cheered on by Bolt, Newman, and McGuire: King
King singled out three members of the media for what he said was their role in perpetuating the racism Goodes experienced on the football field: News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt, football commentator Sam Newman, and Collingwood Football Club president Eddie McGuire.
“Andrew Bolt was just ferocious and horrible in his comments,” King said.
“Sam Newman was disgusting and terrible, with what he was having to say.
“And Eddie McGuire, who continues to squirm out from any horrible comments he makes and still survives every day.
“Make no mistake about that — those three led the booing charge, and people were foolish to follow and go along with it.”
McGuire suggested on Melbourne Radio in 2013 that Goodes should be used to promote the King Kong musical. He later apologised for his comments.
He told Triple M on Friday that watching the documentary was “a bit of a kicking” for him.
“It’s very confronting,” McGuire said.
Newman did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
In a statement to the ABC, Bolt said Goodes was the only Indigenous player he had seen booed.
“If the boos were from racists, why are other Indigenous players such as Eddie Betts routinely cheered and widely admired?” he said.
“My criticism of Goodes is very simple: he singled out a 13-year-old girl who should have been protected, not publicly shown, identified and humiliated nationally as the face of Australian racism.
“I also thought Goodes was very silly to stage a kind of war dance and threaten fans with an imaginary spear.
To claim that such criticism is driven by racism strikes me as monumentally ignorant, malicious or self-serving.”
Bolt said King had not identified “what it is that I said that was so terrible”.
Since the documentary aired for the first time at the Sydney Film Festival last month, the chief executive of the not-for-profit GO Foundation, founded by Goodes and former Sydney Swans teammate Michael O’Loughlin, said people from across Australia had been sending in emails to apologise for booing Goodes.
No AFL Aboriginal umpires in decades
Glenn James, who umpired the 1982 and 1984 VFL Grand Finals, is widely considered to be the only Indigenous AFL/VFL umpire in the history of the league.
King said the on-field abuse James experienced was intense.
“I remember Glenn James doing that all those years ago,” he said.
“I was down there about 1985 or something, Footscray were playing Collingwood [and] I sat there with the Collingwood supporters, and some of the comments: ‘get him with a boomerang’, ‘he’s gone looking for witchetty grubs’ — all these stupid horrible things.
“You try and get an Aboriginal person to umpire again and they don’t want to do it.
“But let’s do it — let’s find out whether we’ve learnt anything from what’s happened to Adam Goodes.”
The AFL did not respond specifically to King’s comments, but noted it had already responded to the documentary, releasing a statement when it first aired at the Sydney Film Festival last month.
“We apologise unreservedly for our failures during this period,” the statement said.
“We pledge to continue to fight all forms of racism and discrimination, on and off the field.”