I went in to watch ‘The Final Quarter’ hoping for two things.
Firstly, that Adam Goodes would be celebrated for his career and his achievements. Secondly, that Eddie McGuire, a key player in Goodes’ hardships, would be mercilessly dragged through the mud. McGuire represents the kind of arrogant, rosy-cheeked, sweaty-faced, open-shirt collar fake larrikin executive that needs to be scraped excised from Australian sport and media.
Ian Darling's documentary, which compiles years of TV, radio and print news coverage and interviews from Goodes’ career and edits them into a coherent feature-length narrative, did not disappoint.
In 2013, during the AFL's annual Indigenous Round, a 13-year-old Collingwood supporter called Goodes an "ape". Goodes, the tall, proud, talented, successful, and well-spoken Sydney Swans player, pointed the girl out to security, who ejected her from the stadium. After the game, Collingwood president Eddie McGuire apologised to Goodes on behalf of the club. McGuire said that Collingwood had a zero-tolerance policy towards racism, but also said that the girl, who later apologised to Goodes, did not know that what she had said was a racial slur. Goodes expressed his hurt and disappointment to the media but nevertheless said that it wasn't the girl's fault, it’s what she had grown up with, that he didn't want her named or harassed, and that she was a reflection of what racism in Australia looked like.
Just days after the Collingwood president apologised for the racist taunt directed at the Sydney star by a Magpies fan, McGuire and co-host Luke Darcy were discussing the launch of the new stage production of 'King Kong' in Melbourne on his Triple M radio program. McGuire laughingly suggested that Goodes be used in King Kong’s promotion: “Get Adam Goodes down for it, do you reckon?” before adding: “You can see them doing that can’t you? Goodsey. You know with the ape thing, the whole thing, I'm just saying the pumping him up and mucking around and all that sort of stuff.” McGuire later said he made the comments while on painkillers.
AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou announced that the league wouldn’t punish McGuire for his comments: “He's punishing himself this morning, I've got no doubt.” For his part, McGuire denied being racist: “...it was just something that just came out, it was simply a slip of the tongue mistake that I didn't even realise I said at the time. As soon as I realised, I made every effort to rectify the situation” and “I made a blue this morning. My excuse? I was a bit zoned out. Bad luck, every gun is loaded, every mic is on. I made a mistake.” He also offered his resignation as Collingwood President, but the Collingwood board expressed their support for him.
Known for his community work and anti-racism advocacy (he spent time working with troubled Indigenous youth, including those in youth detention centres, and launched the Goodes O'Loughlin Foundation), Goodes was named the Australian of the Year in 2014. He used the platform to speak about the dark meanings the 26th January has to Aboriginal people. ‘The Final Quarter’ makes it quite clear that Goodes made the decision to use his celebrity as a platform to advocate for an issue, something that is not uncommon for sports people or celebrities of any kind.
But Goodes had begun to be booed by opposition fans at most matches, particularly in 2015. The motivation for, and acceptability of, the booing generated wide public debate, which dominated media coverage from both sports and political commentators for weeks at a time. ‘The Final Quarter’ compiles a selection of opinions from cultural commentators at the time (like Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine, and Rita Panahi), who present the most common arguments for why people were booing Goodes. They largely argue that he overreacted to being heckled by the crowd.
Many considered the booing to be unacceptable and motivated by racism - either because those booing felt affronted by his race or by the strong political positions Goodes had taken on racial issues - and called on the AFL to take direct action to stop it. Others, such as commentator Sam Newman, defended the rights of fans to continue booing as a show of disapproval for Goodes' statements he had made during his time as Australian of the Year which had been seen to denigrate the history of European settlement of Australia.
During a match against Carlton in May 2015, again during the AFL's annual Indigenous Round, Goodes celebrated a goal by performing an indigenous war dance in which he mimed throwing a spear in the direction of the Carlton cheer squad. Goodes said after the incident that the dance was based on one he learned from under-16s indigenous team the Flying Boomerangs, and that it was intended as an expression of indigenous pride during Indigenous Round.
The dance divided opinion. People like McGuire, Dermott Brereton and other white male sporting commentators saw it as inflammatory to the situation, which had received particularly wide media coverage during the previous week. The booing of Goodes intensified in the months after the war dance, leading further public debate. Goodes was surprised by the attention and negative reaction to his dance, and later apologised for any offence. AFL star Neville Jetta later repeated the dance in defence of Goodes during a game against West Coast after the crowd went feral on him.
Australia has a lot of bogan attitudes that are shrivelling up because they are now culturally maligned. The little squeaks about Goodes being a sook or arrogant (to avoid the repercussions of more overt “King Kong” attitudes) now seen even more like racism.
Owing to the stress caused by the booing and attention, Goodes took indefinite leave from the game in August of the 2015 season. Many clubs and players in the AFL supported Goodes in the week of his leave by wearing indigenous-themed guernseys or armbands. He returned the following week and played for the remainder of the season after an outpouring of support on social media; and from fans, actors, politicians, celebrities and teammates.
Goodes retired from AFL in September 2015. Sadly, the dual Brownlow medallist also elected not to take part in the traditional lap of honour Grand Final for retired players.
As presented in tightly-edited ‘The Final Quarter’, years after these events, the rationale McGuire, Newman et al used to hound Goodes throughout the booing saga is plainly ridiculous. That spear-dance? Can anyone seriously sit there and suggest that it's okay to so utterly hate an AFL player that you have to ride him into retirement, because he did a dance choreographed by teenage kids? In a sport that cheered players for years for doing things like shotgunning the goals? Get absolutely fucked.
Why did Goodes get such a bad rap? Football matches are volatile, tribal environments, volcanoes of emotion where one incident quickly melts into the next. The Goodes saga involves a number of such incidents – the 13-year-old girl who called him an ape, Eddie McGuire's 'King Kong' gaffe, Goodes' refusal to accept McGuire's apology, the way Goodes played and the very public suggestion by Shane Warne that he staged for free kicks.
There are plenty of Aboriginal players in the AFL who haven't been booed, but the fact remains that Goodes is the one who spoke out on Aboriginal issues, using his platform as Australian of the Year to add weight to his comments. Australia has a lot of bogan attitudes that are shrivelling up because they are now culturally maligned. The little squeaks about Goodes being a sook or arrogant (to avoid the repercussions of more overt "King Kong” attitudes) now seen even more like racism.
What Goodes stood for also went against the culture of the arena in which he made a living. There is an attitude in the Australian sporting public that our sportspeople should be tough, no-nonsense men who don't pick fights with 13-year old girls. Goodes’ detractors didn’t realise that Goodes wasn’t reaching out to the people who were jeering him. He was trying to lead by example and show indigenous kids that they didn't have to turn the other cheek if they were bullied for their race.
The booing of Adam Goodes started after he took a stand on racism. They booed because he didn't just shut up and take it. The booing didn't make him shut up and take it, so they booed even harder. The events depicted in ‘The Final Quarter’ should be regretted deeply, both for his sake and ours.
Noted: as well as being broadcast on TV later in 2019, 'The Final Quarter' and accompanying educational resources will be donated to every school and registered sporting club in Australia. The film's director, Ian Darling, has said that he is looking forward to seeing the impact the documentary has on school kids.