Just some random thoughts on all this, some provoked by comments in the thread.
Firstly a demographic point – that a large proportion of footballers are drawn from rural and private school backgrounds, which are demographics that tend towards political conservatism and are much more ethnically homogenous than the Australian average. You add to this the “boys club” atmosphere of footy clubs, and its easy to see how systematic cultural problems can easily develop in a club. There are countervailing factors to this, not least the presence of another disproportionately represented demographic – indigenous players.
I found reading Bachar Houli’s book really revealing in this regard where he talked about his time at Essendon. Under Sheedy, he was made to feel welcome, especially by one of the assistant coaches who let him pray in his office. Then when Sheedy left, that coach got the arse and poor Bachar had to sneak into a broom cupboard to pray. Then of course he couldn’t get a game in the senior team despite starring in the VFL and he left for Richmond. He’s very careful in the book to avoid the implication that hostility to his religion and or ethnicity had anything to do with this, but I can’t be the only reader who found myself wondering.
In any case it seemed to illustrate how an inclusive culture relies on active encouragement from the top and can wither without it. Its not just whether or not people go around doing or saying racist things, though that’s part of it. Without a proactive culture of trying to counter racism and the consequences of racism, then the racism embedded in the external society can be magnified by the competitive, macho environment of a footy club in ways that can become toxic.
I want to preface what I say next by saying that I don’t want this to come across as part of the usual dick-measuring BigFooty boostering of my own club at the expense of another. However, I think Richmond has done well in this regard and its worth looking at how this happened. A key for us, looking back a bit, had nothing to do with the club leadership, but an accident of history.
Shortly after taking part in a premiership in 1969 a Richmond player named Bowden retired to teach – not an unusual outcome for a footy player. The only difference was that being a somewhat different sort of Catholic to a certain Richmond-supporting Cardinal, he went to teach in remote Aboriginal communities in the NT. When his son Joel was drafted to Richmond he had the unique background of having been brought up in remote Aboriginal communities and brought his Dad’s commitment to social justice with him. This led him to do odd things like take his teammates, like a certain amiable but hardly intellectual bloke named “Richo”, to visit some of those communities and see what life was like for the people there.
Not everything was great at Richmond. When Shane Edwards joined as a shy 18 year old, he didn’t feel encouraged to tell the club that he was indigenous. Another indigenous recruit, Oakley-Nichols, managed to stay on the list for a couple of years without the club realising he was illiterate. All of this was more a function of the club’s lack of resources and general ineptitude than of some sort of systemic racism. But it’s not just that there’s more money there now.
One of the things that has struck me about the who Lumumba saga is how the key moment in Collingwood fans (not to mention Big Footy posters and, if reports are true, many of his teammates) turned on him, was when he made a supposedly “weird” farewell speech at his last B&F. You know, the one where he pointed out that “Lumumba” means “prince”. To be honest, as a history nerd, knowing what I do about African history (remember his Dad was from the Congo) I was surprised he didn’t point out that he shared his surname with one of the greatest men in the story of Africa’s decolonisation (to whom he’s possibly related), whose assassination by the CIA in 1961 is still mourned by millions throughout the continent. Imagine him trying to explain the significance of all that to the assembled list.
From the perspective of a Richmond supporter, having read all the stories of how important the “triple H sessions” were in 2017, where players had to talk about their deepest personal hardships in front of the group, with the players moved to tears by stories like Brandon Ellis talking about growing up in the Housing Commission Flats, it has occurred to me, that what Lumumba was trying to do at that B&F was a bit like one of those sessions.
Unfortunately Héritier didn’t make his speech to an audience that were prepared for it. He did it to a boozy group of footballers and club coterie expecting the usual footy clichés from an outgoing player. Moreover, most knew that he was unhappy and had probably heard whispers that he was a bit of a weirdo. Now he was saying he was a f#$ing prince! Talking about seeing someone murdered in fricking Brazil!
What did the leadership of the club do? Well, collectively they made sure he was traded out. His coach publicly speculated that he had psychological problems. Then they got their tame comedian to make fun of him on national TV.
To what end was all this? Did it help the Collingwood Football Club? They lost a premiership player who was good enough to win an All Australian. Their coach, who had defined himself by trying to rebuild the team away from a boy’s club culture, instead found himself pushing it down a different version of that same groove.
And their president is now a dead man walking. Supporters may well bemoan the fact that they chose to appoint someone who was “biased” because she has a tendency to believe in structural racism to investigate whether there was structural racism in the club.
As if employing someone who doesn’t believe in structural racism would have helped.
(Try and imagine who would fit that bill. Andrew Bolt perhaps? imagine how the press interview would have gone if with Eddie triumphantly pointing out that “Andrew Bolt doesn’t think we’re racist!”)
Back in the early ’90s my Collingwood supporting mates brought a banner to the footy after the Winmar incident. These mates were one white Aussie bloke from a typical blue collar Collingwood supporting family and a young Indian kid from Hyderabad with, like a lot of south Indians, very black skin.
Their banner read: “Black and white, unite and fight against racism!”
The fact is that CFC needs new leadership at the top. I can only hope they choose in the spirit of my Collingwood supporting mates.
Full thread in the forum here:
The 150 footballers and netballers and 120 staff of Collingwood have released this letter: