COMMENT: Racism is inexcusable. It’s deplorable. But it exists; in society, in households, in friendship groups and in the crowd at the Adelaide Oval last Saturday night.
At most football clubs at any level – be it AFL, VFL and any other state leagues, TAC Cup, or local park footy – players are held to a standard. Almost invariably, footy clubs will sit down together and devise a set of standards and or values to which they are held accountable, and against which they are judged.
Let’s call it a ‘blueprint’. It is the blueprint that validates the expectations that leaders of footy clubs preach on the training track and on game day.
Clubs will often plead to each other that anyone can be a leader. In fact, if everyone is a leader in some way, then no one will step out of line because they know they will be called out and punished.
Therefore, any footy club that strives for success encourages each other to call teammates out when they fail to meet the standards of the blueprint. Football clubs have been calling each other out and demanding obedience to expectations since Jesus was full back for Jerusalem. Be it for having a night out on the sauce before a game, or simply not running all the way through to a cone.
It’s not personal – it never should be. It’s simply constructive criticism that is given for the betterment of the team. If the individual is better, the team is better. If the individual ‘buys in’, the team benefits.
Some call it culture. Whatever it is, it’s a credit to our game and to sport in general, and It breeds success.
So, why is this not mirrored in society? Why can sports players and coaches reserve all personal agendas and constructively criticise fellow team mates purely for the betterment of the team, yet in society we still can’t – or won’t – call each other out for racism enough?
We’ve come a long way – don’t get me wrong. The fact that we’re having the conversation around racism is positive. As a whole, we know it’s unacceptable.
But I hope for a world where one day we don’t need to have the conversation, a world where it simply does not happen, because there is not any racism that is acceptable.
So, knowing this, why do we still let it slide? Is it a joke? Is it too hard?
“She’s not a racist, she wouldn’t normally say that”.
“He’s a good bloke, he didn’t mean that”.
Chris Fagan, Dayne Beams and the Brisbane Lions can call former captain Tom Rockliff out for poor skinfolds, but we can’t call our mates out for racism.
Nathan Buckley, the Collingwood and leaders and playing group as a whole can call Jordan De Goey out for lying about how he broke his hand, but we can’t call our family out for racism.
The half back flank of the reserves at any football club can call the captain of the seniors out for not running through to the cone – undoubtedly countless times at countless footy clubs – but we still can’t call our colleagues out for racism.
Success in football is defined by winning premierships, therefore near enough is never good enough because there will always be another club who is going that extra mile. So if success in society is eradicating all racism, then why do we let each other stop short of the cone?
It’s so great that we have influential role models like Adam Goodes and Shaun Burgoyne. It’s because of men and women like them that we don’t accept racism in the public sphere, like at the Adelaide Oval where everyone’s watching.
The Port Adelaide fan at the game on Saturday night was evicted from the ground after their racial abuse of Eddie Betts was called out. Good.
But just like a footy club, it’s when no one’s watching that really matters, that really makes the difference. What footy club could ever survive without the volunteers that pick up all the footballs and cones when everyone leaves? Or the volunteers that clean the rooms and lock the doors well after training has finished and the captain is making love to his second beer?
They don’t do it for the fame or accolades, they do it because they care.
So, if we really do care about stopping all racism in society, we have to stop it when no one’s watching.
It’s when you’re having a laugh with your mates and a racist joke pours fuel onto the laughing fire.
It’s when your colleagues dismiss someone based on their race.
It’s even when your Mum or Dad texts you a racist remark.
If we stop it at the source, where no one is there to write an article about you or read your name out in the news, then the racist slur directed at Betts on Saturday night would never have happened. The Facebook rant from Port Adelaide fan Maxine Spratt telling Eddie Betts and his family to “go back to the zoo where they belong” would never have happened.
But it did.
Obviously we’re not yet stopping it at the source. Obviously we’re being let off for not running through to the cones. We’ve come a long way, but obviously we’ve got a long way to go.
Football clubs are right: everyone can be a leader. They’re also right that if everyone does become a leader, success is inevitable. So let’s all be leaders and let’s all call each other out for racism because there just is not any place for it.