Anti-racism icon Adam Goodes rejects Hall of Fame invitation

BRISBANE, Australia — Adam Goodes had seen and heard enough when he retired in 2015 as one of the most illustrious Indigenous players in the Australian Football League.

Nearly six years later, it appears the pain from the verbal and racial abuse he took from spectators and even from a team executive as one of the highest-profile Black players in the top tier of Australian Rules football hasn’t diminished.

The now 41-year-old Goodes has declined an offer to be inducted into the Melbourne-based AFL’s Hall of Fame. Australian media reported this week that he had been voted unanimously into the Australian Football Hall of Fame as part of its potential 2021 nominees, his first year of eligibility.

Richard Goyder, chairman of the AFL Commission, confirmed Goodes, who had won the Brownlow Medal twice as the league’s most valuable player, had refused the nomination. He said Goodes asked for the reasons not to be detailed.

“Adam was clear he did not want his decision to detract from the moment for the 2021 inductees,” Goyder said in a statement. “Adam remains a great champion and leader of our game who has given more to our sport than he received in return.”

An image of Goodes with his face in front of the yellow circle in the center of the Aboriginal flag has become symbolic of his fight against racism.

Goyder also took the opportunity on behalf of the AFL to make a second formal apology to Goodes for the racial abuse the Sydney Swans great experienced during his decorated playing career.

“The treatment of Adam in his final years at AFL level drove him from football,” Goyder said. “The unreserved apology that the game provided him in 2019 was too late . . . the AFL and our game did not do enough to stand with him at the time, and call it out.”

That’s exactly what Goodes had to do himself in May 2013 when he pointed out a teenage supporter of the Collingwood club during a game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground after she called him an “ape.” The 13-year-old was escorted from the stadium by security.

Even then, Goodes was criticized by some for being a bully.

“Whenever I had been racially vilified before it had been by peers or drunk men,” Goodes said of the incident. “It’s more shocking when it’s a 13-year-old child. No 13-year-old is racist. Saying she was the face of racism was me explaining that this innocent person reflected the adults around her. I don’t blame her.

“When she called me, I accepted her apology and spoke to her about how she made me feel. We had a really good discussion and I knew she was just copying people — because she told me they were saying this in the crowd.”

Several days later, Eddie McGuire, the Collingwood club president and a high-profile Melbourne broadcaster, was forced to apologize for jokingly suggesting on a Melbourne radio station that Goodes be used to promote the musical King Kong.

Goodes played 372 matches for the Swans, his only AFL team, from 1999 to 2015. He kicked 464 goals over those 17 seasons, won his two Brownlow Medals in 2003 and ‘06 and was part of the championship-winning teams in ’05 and ’12.

He was named Australian of the Year in 2014, when the awards committee commending him for being a “great role model and advocate for the fight against racism both on and off the field.”

Such was his profile that Goodes threw out the ceremonial first pitch before a Los Angeles Dodgers-Arizona Diamondbacks game at the Sydney Cricket Ground in March 2014 when Major League Baseball opened the season Down Under.

Since retiring, Goodes has rarely given media interviews, but he told The Guardian last year that he had severed most of his ties with his sport.

“I’ve tried to go to games and I haven’t enjoyed it. It’s really sad, because my godchildren love going to the football,” Goodes said.

The end to Goodes’ playing career was the focus of two documentaries, The Australian Dream and The Final Quarter, in 2019.

Not surprisingly, news of Goodes declining a Hall of Fame nomination had a wide range of reaction on social media.

Some said he didn’t deserve it. One post said it was a “bit of a slap in the face to all the coaches and support staff along his career that helped make him the players that he was.”

One took a conciliatory approach: “That’s disappointing, the game gave him so much and he gave the game so much, would have been a great time for all parties to move on and celebrate what a great footy player he was.”

But many fully supported the stance taken by Goodes, and posted with the hashtags IStandWithAdam and IStandWithGoodsey. Among the tweets was this message: “The replies in this thread will absolutely prove why Adam has made this decision. If he accepts anything from the AFL, the whole issue of racism in the sport gets brushed under the carpet once again.”

Commission chairman Goyder said Goodes’ decision was obviously one for the former player to make.

“We understand and respect his choice,” Goyder said. “We hope that there will be a time in the future when Adam will want to be connected to the game again.”

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