Sports

Why Can't The AFL Get A Handle On Its Racist Redneck Problem?

In the past two years it appears racism at football matches is a growing trend, where a small percentage of fans seem to think calling someone an ape is what football fans do these days.
April 13, 2017, 8:00am
Eddie Betts. Image: Wikicommons

I sit and watch you play and hurl verbal barbs at you not because you did anything wrong, but because you wear a jumper that has colours on it that I hate. And you, you play a sport that involves chasing a ball. When you touch it or do something good, I get so angry. The only way I can feel better about myself, because my team lost, is to hurt you by calling you an ape.

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I'm not Maxine Spratt but I'm guessing that's what was percolating inside her head when she typed out those vile words directed squarely at Adelaide Crows champion forward Eddie Betts last weekend. The small forward kicked three telling goals along with 16 disposals and five classy marks, turned his opponents inside out and out-muscled taller defenders during their 17-point win over Port Adelaide in Showdown 42 last Saturday night. But none of that matters now because a nation is wondering how, in 2017, is racism still an acceptable part of football and Australian culture?

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This is not one of those thank-you-Maxine-Spratt-for-being-ignorant-so-we-can-talk-about-an-important-issue kind of circumstances. Her act of racism wasn't a slip of the tongue. And we've been here before. When she pressed send, it was calculated. It was callous. It was typed out and published on the web for everyone to see, for gods sake, like some kind of badge of Spratt honour. It was the utmost in keyboard warriorism, cowardism and was laced with spite. I'd like to say it was un-Australian and goes against everything we stand for as a country, I'd really like to believe that. But the sad and embarrassing fact is we're no closer to ending racism.

To answer why racism is still a thing in 2017 is to understand people like Maxine Spratt. The South Australian is part of a club of morons who like to taunt AFL footballers with racial slurs. On Saturday night Power ruckman Patrick Ryder was also subjected to racial slurring in what can only be described as a dark night for South Australian football. In the past two years it appears racism at football matches is a growing trend, where a small percentage of fans seem to think calling someone an ape is what football fans do these days.

Aside from Adam Goodes and Eddie Betts who seemed to have caught the brunt of this slanderous wave, Western Bulldogs midfielder Lin Jong also copped a demeaning mouthful from a Tigers fan in 2015. One discriminatory incident is simply one too many, but five in a two year period indicates we, as a culture, have hit rock bottom. When Goodes retired in 2015, I don't think anyone thought anything else but sadness that he left the game he loved because he was exhausted by football trolls. the somber notion in all this, he didn't have a choice in the end but to leave because his mental state had been jolted. All because of a group of losery football fanatics who failed to recognized the trauma they caused him when they called him ape or something worse than ape.

But, what if you somehow don't see it this way that these racial smears aren't worth carrying on about? That you instead think this is all part of the game and that these players should toughen up and let these vicious insults roll off the back like no big deal. Ok, I'll explain it to you. Here goes. Emotions are feelings. When someone says something to you, your brain inhales it, then processes it. And sometimes after processing it, depending on what was thrown at you, you fracture. You cry. You fall apart. You can fall into a depression because your insides can't cope. Your ability to function is impeded. Your usual jovial self disappears.

The argument from football fans, I'd imagine, is that there is a grey area between what fans can say to footballers, what is classed as banter; that certain fans deliver a fixed kind of conduct. And maybe there is some truth to that. But any football fan would know there are rules to what you can and can't say. The clever fans stick to prose that looks at ability and inability on the day. They leave heckling centred around illnesses, health and off-field indiscretions off the table because it sounds ludicrous when said out loud in public.

In 2008, the Australian government launched 'Closing the Gap' meant to target the Indigenous disadvantage gap. What it revealed were things we probably already knew like how the Indigenous youth suicide rate was 80 percent (2010) or how the unemployment rate was five-times higher for Indigenous Australians (2012). The initiative also conceded that the proportion of Indigenous households living in houses of an acceptable standard was just 78 per cent (2012-13). And in 2011-12 it reported that Indigenous Australians aged 0-17 were nearly eight times as likely to be the subject of child abuse or neglect. Knowing this is critical to changing behaviour and an area where we as Australians fail miserably at. Hawthorn and Power premiership player Shaun Burgoyne said it best when he said "The abuse directed towards players is more than just words and people need to understand the impact that it has on the player, their family, their children and their community."