As news of Eddie McGuire’s resignation reverberates across Australia, we must note that this is not the first time a Collingwood Football Club President has been embroiled in controversy concerning racism.
In 1993, then Collingwood President Allan McAlister made a racist remark along the lines of “if blackfellas behaved like whitefellas everything would be alright”.
This caused an uproar and as part of the Reconciliation and healing process, Collingwood agreed to play against an Aboriginal All Stars team in Darwin in 1994.
I was lucky enough to play in that game for the All Stars, and it was a ferocious contest with both sides giving their all. The end result was an All Stars win, much to the delight of the players and Aboriginal Nations as a whole.
Full credit to McAlister, he came into the change rooms after the game, shook all our hands and warmly congratulated the team for the hard-fought victory. A gesture which was genuine and well received by the players and officials. We all hoped that was the final page turned on an unsavoury and hurtful incident.
Alas, it was not to be. In 2013 when McAlister’s successor, McGuire, made a stupid remark comparing Adam Goodes to King Kong, I thought, ‘Eddie has to go, there is no coming back from this’. He survived the storm, however, vowing to make good and intensify his efforts in terms of positive outcomes for the Indigenous cause.
Let me be clear: I don’t know Eddie McGuire. I have never communicated with him in any manner. I have, however, witnessed first-hand Eddie willingly and without claiming any credit help an Indigenous former AFL player who was in an extremely tight spot financially.
I was having a cup of tea with this player when his mobile rang and it was Eddie McGuire. The tone of the conversation was that financial assistance was required and Eddie immediately offered to help with no strings attached.
I was blown away that a guy who obviously has a lot on his plate would make the time to ring someone and go out of his way to assist an Indigenous player who had long since retired.
In relation to the Do Better report, Collingwood could have taken the easy way out and engaged a consultancy firm that would have papered over the cracks and said, ‘Nothing to see here’. Let’s be honest, it happens all the time.
The Collingwood Board with Eddie as President did the complete opposite and engaged in a truth-telling exercise which exposed that there was racism and strong actions needed to be taken.
In all fairness, Collingwood and the former President should be commended for this — not publicly executed.
Yes, Eddie said a stupid thing when he said it was a proud day for the Collingwood Football Club at the press conference after the report’s leak. If he had said it was a proud day for Collingwood because they had shown the courage to launch an investigation into racism in the Club, but a sad day because it had exposed systemic racism and he was truly sorry, there would have been a grudging respect that Collingwood had done the right thing and weren’t afraid of calling a spade a spade.
But realistically, all of us have said stupid things from time to time that have hurt the feelings of others, including loved ones let alone strangers. Moments where we all look back with regret and think to ourselves, ‘Why did I say that and what can I do to make it better?’. Eddie is not alone in this aspect. Let he or she who has not sinned, cast the first stone.
On that note, Eddie was viciously attacked in an article leading up to his resignation by a prominent Indigenous person who was saying that racism was completely unacceptable and that he had to go. This is the same person who said to me several years ago that “all white people in Australia should be dead”. Hypocrisy knows no bounds.
Over the weekend I thought maybe I was being too sympathetic towards Eddie and the Collingwood Football Club, so I rang some prominent Indigenous former AFL players and businesspeople who have spearheaded stamping out racism in the AFL and society as a whole.
Each and every one of them said that Eddie had said a stupid thing and should have apologised sooner. However, they had a tremendous amount of respect for Eddie and his efforts in the Indigenous space — especially since the Adam Goodes saga.
They said that Eddie had made good on his promise to do more for Indigenous communities. They were, however, reluctant to make any public comment in support of Eddie for fear of being ripped apart.
If Heritier Lumumba’s aim was to have Eddie resign and Collingwood to admit and acknowledge they need to fix their backyard then he has succeeded in spades.
I note, however, that he has now turned his attention to Victorian Premier Dan Andrews, one of the more enlightened politicians in Australia, and sharply criticised him for saying Eddie should stay on and finish what he started – insinuating that Andrews was therefore ignorant and indifferent to racism.
“If Andrews wants to show real leadership, stand up for the communities who are hurting because of Collingwood’s public refusal to admit fault,” Lumumba tweeted on Tuesday.
1/ With so many leaders from First Nations & communities of colour calling for McGuire to step down, Daniel Andrews has shown us the boy’s club on full display. The pain & trauma of communities who suffer racism is more important than powerful white men and their friendships.
— Héritier Lumumba (@iamlumumba) February 9, 2021
3/ The fact that Andrews can ignore a former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, former Indigenous players and their families, academics and community leaders, shows he cares more about one white man’s ego than fighting racism.
— Héritier Lumumba (@iamlumumba) February 9, 2021
This is the same Dan Andrews that is overseeing the Treaty process with Aboriginal Victorians, a process he is not legally obliged to do. The same Dan Andrews who came out strongly in support of the LBGTQIA+ cause and backed it up by criticising Margaret Court’s elevation to Australia’s highest civilian honour.
This is not a person who could be viewed as an ignoramus, surely, but rather a person who listens, learns, and takes action as a leader. By engaging in this process of Treaty, Andrews is clearly listening to the Indigenous community.
With the release of the Do Better report and all the problems it exposed, it is now time to focus on the solutions and making things right. Whoever becomes the new Collingwood President needs to embrace this report and move forward collectively as one with the players, officials, supporters and the club as a whole.
Sport unites, not divides, providing there are decent people who are prepared to acknowledge the wrongs and work hard to make it right. Let’s hope for everyone’s sake that it is made right.
By Clinton Wolf
Clinton Wolf is Managing Director of the National Indigenous Times.