COMMENT | I am perplexed that it took so many months and the trashing of a career before the AFL said "sorry" that it didn't act sooner on the booing of Adam Goodes.
Catherine Liddle

18 Mar 2016 - 2:20 AM  UPDATED 18 Mar 2016 - 2:21 AM

Complex, is how I can describe my feelings about the AFL finally stepping up and saying what it should have said months ago: sorry. 

The booing of Adam Goodes was a terrible moment in Australian history. It scratched away the veneer of something that appeared shiny, revealing a layer of ugliness, so repugnant, that a lot of people who looked would not or could not admit to what it was they were seeing. Adam was treated like an unreliable witness, a victim being blamed for being bullied and then harassed by thousands on thousands of people. 

AFL says 'sorry' for not protecting Adam Goodes sooner from racist booing
The highest levels of the AFL have admitted that Adam Goodes was the target of extreme racism during the 2015 season and apologised for not acting earlier to protect him.

Think about that just for a moment: thousands of people; mums and dads, sons and daughters; people who would not stand for it if their children were bullied at school; who wouldn't dream of treating someone like that in everyday life.

But amassed as a pack, they behaved as a pack, and ripped and shredded. Social media was full of Monday's experts as they screamed from their lounges: 'It's his fault'; 'He asked for it'; 'I used to like him but he changed'. Then there was: 'He's a sook'; 'Go have a sook'; 'Cry baby, cry'. Nup, no cowardly bullying here, just enlightened and informed comment, said no-one ever.

'Hold on, I'm not prepared to let the AFL off so lightly'

Oddly enough the week the booing started to reveal its real self, we hosted on NITV's Awaken program Professor Colin Tatz, an internationally renowned expert on racism, sport and genocide. We talked about the 20th anniversary of the AFL's anti-vilification code. Racism against Indigenous players sparked that ground breaking document - the first of its kind in Australia and one of the first in the world.

Racism in the AFL was rife. The anecdotes spoke of the need to brace for the onslaught as players would leave their change rooms. As Professor Tatz said, that was just one layer. Racism ran through coaches, players, clubs and the administration. Still the players who joined him on our panel remained loyal to the AFL, and remain loyal to this day. They were proud of their game and proud of their achievements, rightly so.

It took just weeks to put the vilification code into practice, a massive effort by the AFL's Tony Peek, a man greatly admired and respected by Indigenous players. But as we basked in the glow of this remarkable success, Prof Tatz broke through and said, "Hold on, I'm not prepared to let the AFL off so lightly".

In an almost prophetic moment, he spoke of a culture that hadn't changed enough when compared to the cultural shift witnessed in the National Rugby League, the need to do more and to do it quickly. He spoke of a game that liked black players - even loved them - provided they were the performers and didn't remind the game who they really were - proud black men.

Four Indigenous AFL stars who changed the game forever
It's a little known story that the efforts of four Indigenous players brought about one of the most significant documents in our sporting history, the introduction of the AFL National Racial Vllification and Anti-Discrimination policy in 2013.

Within days of this, the proverbial hit the fan and sprayed all over the continent. The AFL was slow to move and when it did, it was so very disappointing in response. The jaws of people who had been polarised to the other side of the Goodes debate hit the floor as they absorbed the moderate response offered by the grand old institution. The spade was not a spade, but something that could be construed as a spade. The AFL would offer no directive to fans on how they should behave. This, despite widespread condemnation from its clubs as they rallied to support one of the games greatest champions. I've got no word for this one, just a sound: hmmph. 

'The word for this is: fearless.'

Then something quite remarkable started to happen. A change in the atmosphere, not driven by the AFL as it stood up to back its most high profile player (as it should have). It came from the grass roots as the silent majority started to speak. Mums and dads, brothers and sisters found their voices and started to build a wall of protection around a favourite son. They attacked the social media trolls as fast as the trolls appeared. Advertisers made profound statements about who they were and what they stood for as Adam stood proud, the face of one of the nation's biggest retailers.

These actions happened fast. They did not hide behind moderation. They were bold and they were forthright. The word for this is: fearless.

Finally, with Gillon McLachlan's words, a new AFL season has been ushered in. 

"Adam stood up to represent Indigenous people and he took a stand on racism. For this, I believe he was subject to hostility from some in crowds."

"As a game, we should have acted sooner and I am sorry we acted too slowly."

The word to describe this is relief. A spade is a spade, it doesn't matter what word you use to describe it.