Thank you Adam Goodes
The date is September 10, 2005, and the 40,000 fans packed into the Sydney Cricket Ground have just experienced one of football’s greatest moments. Nick Davis, the Swans’ young and inconsistent forward, absent all night, has kicked four consecutive final quarter goals, propelling the Swans to the verge of a preliminary final.
The players erupt in pure joy, running and chasing and yelling before collapsing on top of each other, like young siblings around the backyard sprinkler.
The crowd, downcast all night, rise from their seats with raucous applause, fighting the urge to jump the fence and embrace their heroes.
The commentators, voices hoarse, search for the words that will give justice to this modern day miracle.
And yet, through this great wall of noise and emotion, one man keeps his cool. Tall and imposing, Adam Goodes stands still in the centre circle, slowly raising his hands, before bringing them back down, again and again, motioning his players to, ‘slow down, the game isn’t finished yet.’
Two weeks later, he would hoist the Premiership Cup into the sky – the Swans’ first in 72 years.
Composed amongst chaos, Adam Goodes was able to look out for his teammates.
In 1999, when injuries left a hole in Sydney’s ruck position, Goodes looked after his teammates by filling the void, defying his size to compete against giants with skill and tenacity.
In the 2012 Grand Final, Goodes tore his posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, a painful injury that usually requires six weeks on the sidelines. But while his body ached, Goodes sacrificed himself for his beloved teammates, snapping a goal in the dying minutes to hand the Swans a decisive seven-point lead.
While these bold, telling images of leadership should be highlighted and commended, the personal accolades speak for themselves. Blessed with a tall, athletic build, powerful acceleration and skill on both feet, Adam Goodes was a dominant force. Two Brownlow medals, three best and fairest awards, four times All Australian and two premierships tell the story of a modern day giant of our game. And as Goodes lead his club through ten glorious years, he would also take on the role as a leader of his own Indigenous people.
In a time where the rates of Aboriginal people in university and within the skilled labour sector remain devastatingly low, the Indigenous population will invariably turn to the football field in the search for a role model. It is here, through the forum of Australian football, that Aboriginal people can truly express themselves, granted an unabashed freedom to dazzle fans with remarkable speed, agility and football smarts.
First, it was Nicky Winmar, a powerful half forward, whose defiant stance against racial discrimination is one of the most poignant images in Australian sport. Next, it was Michael Long, a magnificent player, idolised for his incredible speed and goal-kicking ability, who would go on to become a key spokesman for reconciliation. It seems only natural that Adam Goodes, a member of the Indigenous team of the century and the Indigenous games record holder would be handed the mantle of a leader of his people. But while many footballers take insult to the idea that their public status compels them to act as role models, Goodes openly embraced his role as a leader, and the responsibility that ensued.
Teamed with fellow club champion and close friend Michael O’Loughlin, Goodes has helped create the GO foundation, focused on providing a high school education to Indigenous children. While many Indigenous scholarships require an aptitude in sport, Goodes and O’Loughlin note the importance of ‘more of our mob in suits and ties and running organisations,’ empowering Indigenous children to work hard and succeed in areas other than the incredibly limited market of Australian football. The foundation already funds the full education of six girls and five boys at top Sydney schools, and these numbers are expected to increase rapidly as more sponsors get on board.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. We cannot be blind to the racism that continues to haunt our sporting culture. In 2013, after being called an ‘ape’ by a 13 year old girl during a game in the Indigenous Round, a gutted Goodes, who said he had “never been more hurt,” bravely called out the offender and had her ejected from the stadium. His stance against racism and his successful charity work would see him awarded the 2014 Australian of the Year. Yet bizarrely, in 2015, racism reared its ugly head once again.
Week after week, a Goodes possession would be followed by a chorus of boos and jeers, loud and intense enough to compel Goodes to take a leave of absence from the game. While debate continues to rage about the reasoning behind these boos, Waleed Aly quite aptly explains that “Australia is generally a very tolerant society, until its minorities demonstrate that they don’t know their place.” Although hard to fathom, it appears that the minute Adam Goodes sought to demonstrate that he’s not a mere supplicant, a large number of everyday Australians encouraged him to get back into place.
Sadly for the stubborn catcallers, they will be placed on the wrong side of history. Few people remember that during the weeks and months following Nicky Winmar’s powerful statement against racism, the jeers and derogatory comments continued, and Winmar was criticised by many. Today, those jeers and criticisms are long forgotten, and so too will our modern-day ‘boo-gans’ be forgotten, while the hero that they taunted will be seen and remembered.
Adam Goodes will be remembered as a champion who never sought recognition for his accolades. Goodes knew he was retiring before his final game last Saturday night, and had he announced his intentions, he would have been chaired off the ground, surrounded by a guard of honour and a standing ovation by an adoring crowd. But Goodes chose to avoid the fanfare. In delaying the announcement until he was back in the rooms, Goodes exited quietly, with little drama, a humble champion.
It is now confirmed that Goodes has also chosen to avoid the parade of retirees on Grand Final day, in order to escape the potential embarrassment of another chorus of boos. Leigh Matthews, our game’s greatest player, has urged Goodes to join the parade, maintaining faith that in this setting, ‘there would be unanimous applause.’ It is my belief that Leigh holds too much faith in the Australian people.
But I would challenge them to prove me wrong. If you’re lucky enough to hold a ticket to next Saturday’s game, stand up and cheer and yell and celebrate Adam Goodes, the greatest Indigenous player of them all, loved and admired by his peers.
His legacy endures.