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by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago

Adam Goodes has always been a spokesperson for his people, their indigenous heritage and a strong voice against racism. As a result, he has become highly respected off the football field as well as on and was named Australian of the Year in 2014. In 2013, Goodes heard a fan in the crowd call out to him using a racist slur and Goodes turned and pointed her out to security guards who escorted her from the ground. The fan turned out to be a 13 year old girl.

Goodes later met with her and she apologized. He later stated that it wasn't her fault as she, being so young, may not have realized the hurt her taunt caused. In a recent game against Hawthorn, there was a clash with Hawk Josh Gibson. There has also been criticism of Goodes with some accusing him of behind the play sniping and staging for free kicks. On occasions he has been booed with fans claiming these incidents have been the source of their behaviour.

While booing and jeering has always been a part of sports, lately Goodes has been the victim of over the top boos, jeers and taunts. During the 2015 Indigenous Round, in which the AFL celebrates indigenous players and their contributions to the game, Goodes celebrated a goal he kicked against Carlton by doing a "war dance". Afterward, he said it was an acknowledgment of a dance used by a juniors' team he had been mentoring. Since that time the negative response to Goodes has only worsened. The booing came to a head during Sydney's Round 17 match against West Coast in Perth with Goodes targeted by loud boos every time he touched the ball. With lots of possessions, the demonstrativeness of the crowd was noticeable and disturbing to many, not the least of whom was Goodes himself. Aboriginal Swan player Lewis Jetta kicked a goal and did a similar war dance, later saying it was to show support and solidarity with his teammate and mentor.

During last week's game against the Eagles, two West Coast fans were escorted from the ground after jeering Goodes. A Sydney fan reported that he had been threatened with physical violence after confronting an Eagle fan who was racially abusing Goodes. West Coast officials issued statements in support of Goodes, saying the behavior was unacceptable. West Coast CEO Trevor Nisbett said it was time for the AFL community to stamp out racist behavior among supporters and called on all clubs and fans to "stop this nonsense." The club has been working with stadium security to investigate the evictions. Nisbett said that while he wants fans to support the team, there were boundaries and racism would not be condoned. The club's indigenous liaison officer, former player Phil Narkle, also expressed his disappointment and spoke to indigenous elders about the crowd reaction on Sunday. "We have expressed our disappointment to the Noongar elders and the indigenous community ... Adam Goodes is a wonderful player, person and Aboriginal leader and deserves our respect". Perth Stadium Management general manager Gavin Taylor said his group was in discussions with the Eagles and encouraged all fans to report any anti-social or discriminatory behavior in the future.

Eagle Matt Priddis urged all football fans to show some respect to Adam Goodes after the Domain Stadium crowd booed him relentlessly. He described the crowd behavior as disappointing and said he didn't know where it came from. "It was noticeable. It's a bit of a sheep mentality ... I think it's an AFL issue ... not just West Coast fans, but I think a level of respect needs to be shown to all players ... Adam is a great citizen, an AFL great, two-time Brownlow medalist and he deserves a lot of respect."

This issue has caused a massive storm of controversy in Australia, with many inside and outside the industry itself, saying Goodes has been treated unfairly. A few believe Goodes takes his social and political agendas on to the field, while most say the treatment he has received during games is totally unacceptable. The AFL and AFLPA, and all of the AFL players have taken a stance in support of Goodes. The attention has taken a toll on Goodes, his family and his teammates. It has gotten so bad that Goodes has requested time away from the club. He will miss the Round 18 match against Adelaide and may be considering retiring from the game he loves. While everyone is hopeful he will return, no one is sure if he will or not.

Swans CEO Andrew Ireland said the decision to grant Goodes a leave of absence was made due to the damage the scandal is doing to his mental well-being. "Adam is sick and tired of this behavior. It has been happening for too long" he said. Ireland wrote an open letter, saying he was embarrassed to be part of the game because of what Adam Goodes has had to endure. 'As a club we are working with Adam and those close to him and supporting him through ... a really difficult time ... Should anyone choose to deride Adam through booing, then they are part of something that is inherently racist and totally unacceptable ... The people involved ... can justify it any way they like. Our club calls it racism. Adam is sick of it. He is tired and drained ... it is something that has weighed down on him for some time ... We believe that Adam has been vilified for calling out racism, for expressing his views on Aboriginal issues and for celebrating and promoting his proud cultural background. This is not something for which Adam should be vilified, it is something for which he should be celebrated ... Whatever were the initial motivations of those choosing to vilify Adam, it is his view and ours that it is racist in nature and that it has to stop."

The entire Sydney playing group was led onto the ground by co-captains Jarrad McVeigh and Kieren Jack as CEO Andrew Ireland and Coach John Longmire faced the media. McVeigh and Jack said supporting their friend was their number one priority. They and club officials are hopeful that Goodes will return to see out the season. At the same time, they did not hesitate to voice their concerns for a teammate and friend. McVeigh said, "All we care about is seeing a mate in distress ... his well-being is all that’s on our mind." Jack concurred, saying "To see your mate genuinely hurting the way he is and having to take time away from something that he loves doing, that’s something you never want to see."

Goodes was a massive support for McVeigh and wife Clementine when they lost their infant daughter Luella in 2011. Even though he got to know Goodes better during that time, he still did not realize the full impact this saga was taking, adding "for a player not to be able to come to training and to play is a huge thing ... This is where he loves to be ... training with us and playing ... this is where his sanctuary should be, but unfortunately it's not at this point." Jack said Goodes had put up with too much and it was wrong that he had been forced away from the game he loves. "He puts on such a brave face ... and takes it all on his shoulders ... As football players you can almost come out onto the field and escape a lot of problems and issues that you have, but for Adam he doesn't see that as an option."

Coach John Longmire said that while Goodes was struggling emotionally, he was surrounded by people - family, the club and teammates - who had his best interests at heart. Another who has spoken out is retired champion Michael O'Loughlin who has remained close to Goodes and has spoken to him several times since the West Coast game. O'Loughlin said he was disgusted by the treatment Goodes received and that Australia still had a long way to go, as young people are influenced by what their parents and older supporters do. He said he was watching the game with his own child who at one point asked him, "Why is everyone booing Uncle? Has he done something wrong?" He, like most, believe it came down to Goodes' outspoken nature and reflected on the race issue, saying "Unfortunately some Australians don’t like the Aboriginals to speak up and show strength and talk about these issues. They like their Aboriginal people to sit in the corner and be humble and be thankful for what they have. It's embarrassing if that's a reflection on who we are as Australians ... racism is alive in Australia but we'll keep doing our best to educate people." O'Loughlin did say his friend was doing better since taking leave from the club.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan has condemned the treatment of Goodes and said he and the Swans have the full support of the AFL Commission. THe AFL issued a statement to that effect, "Racism has no place in our game, and ... it is impossible to separate this issue from the issue of race ... I urge our supporters to understand the toll this is having, the message it is sending, and that it does not reflect well on our game ... Our game has a proud history of tackling racism and vilification, of creating awareness of differences, and of celebrating indigenous culture. We pride ourselves on our inclusion, and on our racial and religious vilification policy. This part of our game is both our great strength and our continued challenge, and I ask our supporters to continue on this journey with us." The AFL also commended the strong statements of West Coast, other players and coaches and the support of the Players' Association for Goodes. AFLPA CEO Paul Marsh said in a statement that he and the AFLPA also believe Goodes has been vilified for "calling out racism, for expressing his views on Aboriginal issues, and for celebrating and promoting his proud cultural background."

Collingwood Coach Nathan Buckley and Melbourne Coach Paul Roos, who coached Goodes, have thrown their support behind Adam Goodes, joining the growing chorus of those calling for an end to the booing. Buckley said he hoped the increased support for Goodes would influence fan mentality. Like many others, he believes the booing may have not started out to be racist but has taken on that element. He labeled the racist booing as cowardly, saying "It's cowardly because would you walk up in front of him and do that? No you wouldn't." Roos said he hoped it would come to an end and said the sad part was that fans wouldn't boo him if they knew him.

To show support for Goodes, Richmond Coach Damien Hardwick said there would always be a "peanut gallery" of fans who would behave inappropriately but that most fans did show respect. He then announced that the Tigers would again wear their Indigenous Round guernseys during the Round 18 match in a show of support for Goodes. At the same press conference, he described the treatment Goodes has received as "bullying at best and racism at its worst" and there was no place for it in the game. He said the club's leadership group and indigenous midfielder Shane Edwards wanted to make a symbolic gesture of support by donning their indigenous guernsey for the important clash with Premiership favorites Hawthorn. The Western Bulldogs have also announced they would wear their Indigenous Round guernseys in solidarity with Goodes and the AFL's stance on racist behavior.

All the club captains got together, some via phone hook-up, to make a stand of zero tolerance against racial vilification. In an open letter, they called on all fans to show respect and not jeer or taunt players for who they are or what they stand for. The letter concluded "When you come to the footy, join us in putting a stop to offensive behavior. Be the voice that makes a positive impact. Stand with us to ensure our game remains great for everyone."

Nova Peris, an Aboriginal woman who won an Olympic gold medal in field hockey is now a federal politician. She said the taunts directed at Goodes were "disgusting" and "embarrassing ... He's become a target ... He's spoken out and it's made people uncomfortable."

For the record, Goodes has played 365 games for the Swans in 17 seasons. He won the Brownlow Medal in 2003 and 2006, is a four-time All Australian and three-time club champion, and was part of the 2005 and 2012 Swans Premiership sides.

Source: 9news.com.au, smh.com.au, dailymail.co.uk, afl.com.au, Associated Press

Article last changed on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 - 9:23 PM EDT


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