Friday, July 31, 2015

Adam Goodes, sporting behaviour, stereotyping and the importance of manners and respect

To my mind, the controversy over Aboriginal AFL player Adam Goodes has got completely out of hand and I wish everybody would cool it. It's become another flash point in the fissures and divides within Australian politics and society that I have referred to before.

We forget that Mr Goodes is a human being with weaknesses and faults that we all have and have, instead, made him a symbol. The personal weight must be quite crushing. Sadly, in these fire storms the individual (and their families) get buried.

To start with a point that has concerned me for a number of years, where have we come to when booing is acceptable at a sporting event? I remember the first time I heard it. It was a major Rugby event. As the kicker lined up to take a goal shot, the crowd started booing to try to put him off his kick. I was naively shocked.

Without exploring the matter further at this point, there is now a deeply unpleasant thread running through Australian sport at all levels including school where manners are forgotten, where the fact that a game is a game is forgotten, where spectators including parents loose all emotional restraint.

This decline in manners, in common courtesy runs like a deep oily strain through every aspect of Australian life.Central to it are a failure to recognise the other's point of view, a determination to win points at any cost, a divine belief in the rightness of one's own position. This has been amplified and extended by the megaphone effect of modern on-line communication.

To amplify this point, consider the question of discrimination towards Australia's Aboriginal peoples. I have used the word discrimination, not racial discrimination, because the threads are more complex than a simple question of racial discrimination.

Does discrimination exist? Of course it does. Let me take a simple example. Over the last few years, I have worked in the Aboriginal housing arena. At meeting after meeting with Aboriginal housing providers or, more broadly with Aboriginal groups, I have heard stories of discrimination against Aboriginal people in the private housing marketplace.I have no doubt that those stories are true.

Central to those stories is the problem of stereotyping

Real estate agents and private owners want their properties placed with tenants who will pay the rent on time and not damage the property. The real estate rental market is fairly tight in most places, agents are as much concerned with excluding applicants as they are with picking the best applicant. The stereotypes applied to Aboriginal applicants make it a lot easier just to knock them out at once. It's a risk minimisation thing. This applies even where, as in one case, the applicant was a highly educated lecturer in a mainstream discipline with a good income. I note that this type of stereotyping is not limited just to Aboriginal rental applications, but it is particularly acute there.

In the Aboriginal case, we are also dealing with a long history of dispossession. This creates attitudes within the Aboriginal community that I have sometimes found difficult to deal with. What do I say when, for example, I become involved in a discussion or even a training course where I happen to know that the views being put forward are historically incorrect? Common politeness demands that I listen respectfully, maybe making some gentle points, only becoming involved if it's an issue that I really feel is important and where my intervention may have some useful impact. Usually, a gentle response has the longest term impact.

If you recognise Aboriginal history, then I think that you need to cut Aboriginal people some slack. There is also, and this may sound silly, a question of fun. I have watched and re-watched multiple clips of the now famous Adam Goodes war cry against Carlton. An example is below. Further comments follow the clip.

Clearly Mr Goodes was revving up the Carlton fans. If I had been in the Carlton part of the crowd I may well have booed and given a thumbs down signal! But it was also, or should have been, a bit of fun. Now compare Mr Goodes' performance with the antics of soccer players after scoring a goal. Mild, wasn't it?

The subsequent reaction to the war dance seems to have drawn from a single fact, that it was called an Aboriginal war dance with inevitable comparisons to the Haka. Then there was the case of the thirteen year old girl. who called Adam Goodes a monkey. Again, I have searched the clips.I won't give links in this case, there are too many, but it seems clear that she is another victim, that she did not understand the context of what she was saying, that Adam Goodes over-reacted because of the game tension and background.

The war dance and this incident fed into a storm that has engulfed all participants. Reading the various comment threads is not a pleasant experience because of the apparent divide it reveals. I find, I'm sorry for saying this, that the comments from both sides are equally repulsive because they lack manners are are often blind statements of belief.

I said that we should cut Aboriginals people some slack because of the background. I fear that I am not as tolerant so far as Messrs Bolt and Jones are concerned. They are fighting wars for ideological reasons and for apparent readership/listening purposes that extend way beyond the facts of these incidents.I also accept in the case of Mr Bolt, and this is not a popular view in some sections of the Australian community, that he has very particular views on what he sees as as hypocrisy and confusion in some of the discussion, views strengthened by his own court experiences.

Chaps, get over it.You and those on the opposing side have helped turn what was, in the first instance, a question of manners, respect and sporting behaviour into a national issue that is becoming an international disgrace. I don't like that. Nobody wins.Not the people involved, nor the country.

So can we all back off. Let Mr Goodes sort out issues in his own mind. Give him space, recognising his achievements. This must be astonishingly difficult for him to sort through.   Finally, lets reinstate manners and respect.    .          



Anonymous said...

Jim I agree with your comments - but then, I am a fairly reasonable person slightly above the 'yobbo element' which is the element prolonging this business. I think two things might assist in calming the situation:

1) Stop reporting the opinions of the various talking heads who presume to speak for all, starting with the PM, J Packer esq., and the Joneses and Bolts most of the thinking people ignore anyway.

2) The AFL (or whatever it is these days) should co-ordinate among all teams an intention that in the event of such crowd reaction, the game is simply abandoned, and the players walk off. Be interesting to see just how many times a suspension of games, no refunds, pack your kids up, go home, would be required before the sports mad yobbos sorted out the truly yobbos just there for the hell of it.

It isn't Goodes' problem any more; I agree it is a disgrace, but it is not "un-Australian" per se; it happens all over the world.


Anonymous said...

"Doreen and me, we been to see a show...
'Put in the boot, I sez, 'Put in the boot'
'Hush", sez Doreen. 'Be quiet down there'!
says some silly coot".

'Kulcha' and the hoi polloi. I think C J Dennis may have nailed it!

Jim Belshaw said...

I laughed, kvd, at the CJ Dennis quote.I think that your are right that the problem is not just Australia. European soccer games without spectators, for example. I guess that I am more concerned with what we might do here starting at junior level.

Jim Belshaw said...

Just a further comment, for better or worse, my streams include people across the spectrum. I'm struggling to cope with the venom on all sides. It's just very unpleasant.

Anonymous said...

I also smiled at the quote of one of my favourite early poets - but that anon was not this anon.

Possibly maybe one of your more buxom anons, as Ramana so perfectly put it?


Neil said...

I have always loved the word "twerp". Why does it always conjure Bolt/Jones (Bones? Jolt?) to my mind? I must be a sick puppy...

Jim Belshaw said...

Ah, those buxom anons! Sorry to anon, buxom or not, for the misquote! Love twerp, neil. Time to bring it back into use!

Winton Bates said...

As a Collingwood supporter, one always expects the supporters of the opposing team to engage in a great deal of booing. There is only a problem when it is focussed on one player.

Jim Belshaw said...

I'm not sure, Winton, because the booing sets up a pattern that extends into school sport. I have seen some dreadful things there - at least I think that they are dreadful!