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AFL: Majak Daw shows we’ve come a long way on racism, but the journey is far from complete

The more things change, the more they stay the same. A young man playing for AFL club North Melbourne wows the majority of watchers with breathtaking football talent. But for a few observers, the colour…

North Melbourne’s Majak Daw, the AFL’s first Sudanese-born player, has been subjected to racial abuse from fans in his first few senior games. AAP/Joe Castro

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

A young man playing for AFL club North Melbourne wows the majority of watchers with breathtaking football talent. But for a few observers, the colour of his skin is what they feel worthy of comment.

Are we in in 1982 or 2013? Is the player’s name Majak Daw or Jimmy Krakouer?

20 years after Nicky Winmar let the world of Australian football know in no uncertain terms that he was Indigenous and if anyone had a problem with it they would need to sort themselves out - because he wasn’t changing - how have we arrived at a point where a player can still be routinely racially abused like Daw is?

The reality is that we have come a very long way from the days when Jim and Phil Krakouer were the victims of the kind of en masse racial abuse you simply don’t hear anymore at the football.

But we still have a long way to go before we can say we have truly eradicated racism from Australian sport.

In 1982 North Melbourne’s recruiters hit pay-dirt with the Krakouer brothers, lured from Western Australian team Claremont. The excitement that they, and Maurice Rioli at Richmond, created, was electric.

The Krakouers' arrival at North Melbourne was the first time in the VFL/AFL history a club had recruited more than one Indigenous player in a season. Perceived football wisdom says Kevin Sheedy was the AFL mastermind of the strategy of fielding a number of Indigenous players simultaneously in the 1990s - I disagree.

North Melbourne recruiter and administrator Ron Joseph was that man. He saw in the Krakouers Phil’s “finish” and Jim’s “hardness”. So good was the chemistry between the brothers that when they played together they won 65% of their games for North Melbourne.

So “delicious”, as Bruce McAvaney would say, was the Krakouer combination that the owner of the Sydney Swans, Dr Geoffrey Edelesten, made an appointment to meet with North Melbourne president Bob Ansett. Edelesten slid a cheque over Ansetts’ desk for a cool million dollars saying: “We want the Krakouers”.

Ansett declined the offer, stating in my interview with him for the book Brotherboys: The Story of Jim and Phillip Krakouer:

We were going through a transition and during that transition we just needed to maintain our membership base and if we lost the Krakouers, it would have been too damaging for the club.

Even the VFL, which had dropped 11% of gate receipts in 1987, used the Krakouers' image in a full page advert in The Age. “Take The Family To See Some Aboriginal Art Tomorrow”, it warmly suggested. The language may have been toned down, but the sentiment is similar in media coverage of Majak Daw - come and see the exotic footballing wonder is the tone of most articles.

North Melbourne player Jim Krakouer was a trailblazer for Indigenous footballers in the 1980s. www.nmfc.com.au

Racist? No. Patronising? Probably. Different to the coverage Daw would get if he were a whitefella from a no-name Melbourne suburb? Definitely.

As the first Sudanese player to play at the elite AFL level it is obvious, to coin a football phrase, the kid can play. The Kangaroos in their wisdom have given him time to develop in the lower grades and now he has a serious opportunity to really stamp his style of play onto the competition.

Able to play in the ruck and as a marking forward, he nailed a goal with his first kick in league football and in his fourth game against the Bulldogs he kicked six goals.

Yet other challenges still remain. Two Bulldogs supporters were evicted from Etihad Stadium after racially abusing Daw. He was abused against Hawthorn and also during his VFL career.

This is unacceptable, but encouragingly, both times Daw was abused in the AFL, those responsible were confronted and reported to security by fellow fans.

We have moved on as society in many regards but Majak Daw’s experience shows us that we still have a long way to go.

We have improved markedly since the early 1980s when entire sections of football crowds would shower Indigenous players with abuse, and occasionally beer cans, for the colour of their skin.

In that regard, players like the Krakouer brothers did pave the way for a man like Majak Daw. But we have to remember we still live in a world where some people still feel it acceptable to abuse Majak Daw because he’s black.

Hopefully one day we can arrive at a point where we only abuse football players for the colour of the jumper they wear.

Join the conversation

27 Comments sorted by

  1. Razor Sharpe

    Menstrual cycler

    I was at the game at Launceston when Majak, Daniel Wells and Lindsay Thomas copped the racist comments from the Hawthorn supporters.
    What amused me and outed those responsible as morons was the fact that
    Hawthorns Franklin, Hill, Burgoyne and Rioly are also indigenous.
    I am sure they were as disgusted and angry as Majak and co.

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  2. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    " how have we arrived at a point where a player can still be routinely racially abused like Daw is? "
    It is not so much arriving at the point but that there are always going to be idiots about.

    " This is unacceptable, but encouragingly, both times Daw was abused in the AFL, those responsible were confronted and reported to security by fellow fans. "
    That is great but even if abusive fans are evicted, they will still likely remain idiots.

    " We have improved markedly since the early 1980s when entire sections of football crowds would shower Indigenous players with abuse, and occasionally beer cans, for the colour of their skin. "

    I admit to not attending a lot of football matches in the eighties " entire sections of football crowds " would have to be something of a beat up.

    Back to Majak Daw, it is more his size and physique that will likely draw as much attention if not more than his colour and he does appear to have the talent to be a most difficult player to man up to.

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    1. Rajan Venkataraman

      Citizen

      In reply to Greg North

      Hi Greg
      The reference to "entire sections of football crowds" abusing indigenous players is not a beat-up. I can clearly remember abuse of indigenous players being taken up as chants at football stadiums in the 80s.

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  3. Paul Oliver

    logged in via Twitter

    Timely piece Sean. I particularly like your point that racism 'is unacceptable, but encouragingly, both times Daw was abused in the AFL, those responsible were confronted and reported to security by fellow fans'. It does seem bystanders are taking action when they hear this vitriolic bile at matches these days and not turning the other way, or worse still, other bigots seeing this as an opportunity to join in.

    A good editorial in the Herald Sun (Kick bigots from the game - 14 May 2013) summed this up: 'There is no place for racism in Australian sport. It shames those who follow football for the love of the game, just as it encourages the cowards'.

    The sporting authorities need to come down hard on racists on and off the field so that their remarks do not taint the game and diminsh the achievements of the superb athletes who play it.

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  4. John Bryan

    Retired

    Tony Rafferty, guest speaker, told his audience how he jogged into Ceduna on his epic run from Perth to Sydney. It was early, around 0530, before the sun rose.

    Gangs of youths drove out to greet him, in utes, the worse for wear from booze. They pelted him with empty beer cans laughing all the while.

    Tony is Irish...and white.

    Abusing anyone says more about the abuser than the abused.

    Good luck Majak.

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  5. Melissa Phillips

    Honorary Fellow at University of Melbourne

    Great piece Sean although I was recently horrified to read this in the Herald Sun (http://www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/north-melbourne-footballer-majak-daw-looking-absolutely-fabulous/story-e6frf96f-1226642698355) where racialised stereotypes of the male black body seems to be the only way we can talk about black men in sport. Other comments to this article say it is about his size/physique but i would say this cannot be disconnected from colour.

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    1. Sam Loy

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Melissa Phillips

      Nowhere in the article you linked to does it mention his colour. There are no "racialised stereotypes of the male black body" in the story.

      Daw is cut from stone. End of story. It is you who are introducing colour into the argument, suggesting that we can't possibly be admiring his freaking awesome physique without it being about race.

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    2. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Melissa Phillips

      Wow. Talk about inappropriate concern trolling. Trying to inflame racism is not a good look, especially on an article that is the exact opposite of racism.

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  6. Hugh Breakey

    Moral Philosopher, Griffith University at Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance

    Thanks for this piece, Sean. I agree wholeheartedly with much of it.

    Still, I wonder if it is fair to describe the media coverage of Daw as 'patronising'. It's not just that he is black. He is also the first Sudanese player to play the game, and he arrived in Australia as a refugee. He comes to the game with a powerful story behind him, and it is easy for that story to capture the public's imagination. Indeed, I think it is a welcome thing that it has done so.

    In addition, Daw was made a multicultural…

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    1. J O'Rourke

      Community Worker and Student

      In reply to Hugh Breakey

      I suppose you'd have to analyse the specific articles in question to determine the extent they are patronising. Still, i don't think it's invalid, or even necessarily cynical to point out that the myth of the 'noble savage' still occupies a central place in our cultural imaginary, and that this attitude is a continuation of historical discourses heavily implicated with racist beliefs.

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    2. J O'Rourke

      Community Worker and Student

      In reply to Hugh Breakey

      Nor I, I thought philosophers were attuned to these things! Here is the logic, "come see the exotic footballing wonder", is an example of an attitude that replicates the idea of the 'noble savage', which is part of the western 'cultural imaginary', and heavily implicated in the 'racist beliefs', that apparent in the 'historical discourse' of dozens of colonialist novels, news articles etc, of which one might claim the coverage of Daw is a continuation.

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    3. J O'Rourke

      Community Worker and Student

      In reply to J O'Rourke

      Of course the persistence of tropes previously associated with racist beliefs doesn't ipso facto entail that their contemporary usage is racist, but it does give pause to consider why one might have a certain 'cynical' suspicion in regard to the articles that purvey them.

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    4. Hugh Breakey

      Moral Philosopher, Griffith University at Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance

      In reply to J O'Rourke

      Doubtless I am a poor example of my profession. Still, you have cleared things up for me. Q can be interpreted as R, R is a loose replication of S, S is one part of T and is (or was) implicated in U. Therefore, Q is (or can be reasonably seen as an instance of) U. Thank you for clarifying the logical structure of the argument.

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    5. J O'Rourke

      Community Worker and Student

      In reply to Hugh Breakey

      Ha, no problem, i want to study proper logic one day just so i can do that kind of formalisation to all my arguments and actually see just how weird they actually get.

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    6. Christopher Chen
      Christopher Chen is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Engineer

      In reply to Hugh Breakey

      To be fair, he's probably only claiming ∀x(Qx →Ux).
      (Exaggerating a fallacy doesn't make it any more wrong, so you may as well be charitable... :P)

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    7. Christopher Chen
      Christopher Chen is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Engineer

      In reply to Christopher Chen

      Afterthought -- though in this case I agree with your sentiment, it seems very dangerous to require all arguments to fall neatly within first-order classical logic...

      Non-trivial universal facts/premises hardly grow on trees. Critiquing arguments as if they do imposes an unrealistically arborescent standard on reality...

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    8. Hugh Breakey

      Moral Philosopher, Griffith University at Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance

      In reply to Christopher Chen

      Yep, agreed Christopher. The classical logic formulation was wholly tongue in cheek, apropos Josh's last remark about studying logic (hence the emoticon). Logical validity matters, but as you say, strict validity is an implausible standard for arguments such as these. No argument here.

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    9. J O'Rourke

      Community Worker and Student

      In reply to Christopher Chen

      Can you explain to me what the actual fallacy is without recourse to the equations that I don’t know how to read? I’m not being aggressive; I actually don’t get it and have a sincere desire to know. The type of argument I’m running above is pretty common fare in cultural and literary studies, so if it represents some kind of gratuitous fallacy, it would be useful to know in order to counteract all sorts of other arguments with a similar structure. Now, my basic point was as follows: I claimed…

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    10. Hugh Breakey

      Moral Philosopher, Griffith University at Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance

      In reply to J O'Rourke

      Hi Josh. Sorry! I only presented the formal equation as an attempt at light-heartedness. I didn’t mean it to be intimidating or authoritative! And, as you say, and as Christopher and I remarked above, while tight logical validity (where it is logically impossible to deny the conclusion if you accept the premises) might be required if you’re exploring the conceptual foundations of mathematics, it is rather too severe a standard if you’re arguing an ethical point. There is no straightforward fallacy…

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    11. J O'Rourke

      Community Worker and Student

      In reply to Hugh Breakey

      "The reason I put your argument in the form ‘Q implies R, R loosely replicates S’ etc, was to suggest that there was too much looseness in the way it fitted together."

      Thanks, that was the bit i didn't get, though i did realize you were being light-hearted with the equation.

      "I don’t think the mere fact that one can conceivably link some statements to some tropes that have some history warrants us cynically reading people’s words as racist."

      I agree. The one actual article that was linked…

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  7. Janeen Harris

    chef

    I find it encouraging that racial abuse is rare enough to be commented upon. The vast majority, these days, will not tolerate it. Majak, whether black, white or pink with purple spots, would be seen as an outstanding new talent in football. He will ,I'm hoping, Mature and not let the opinion of idiots bother him.

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  8. Sam Loy

    logged in via Facebook

    Any piece about footy is good in my opinion, yet I think the author conflates racism in sport, with racism in society.

    For a number of years there has been no racial abuse between those involved in the game, only spectators. To me, that is an indication that racism isn't a part of the sport.

    The spectators, by and large, would be fairly representative of society, and so eradicating racism from the grandstands means eradicating racism from the wider populace. Shining a light on "racism in sport" is a bit of a red herring, and might draw undeserved criticism to the AFL. Rather, it is "racism in the community" that manifests itself at the footy, consequently providing us with a brilliant platform to admonish it.

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    1. Sean Gorman

      Research Fellow, Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University

      In reply to Sam Loy

      Sam yes I am conflating the two because they are intrinsic to one another. Yes we can isolate them in many ways but at the end of the day they are fused together - how can they not be? SO racism in sport is the same as racism in the community. They can't be cordoned off. How is Bob Murphy any different to Bob Average, not really at all except one plays elite sport and the other works driving a bus or whatever. The MCG is still a work place. So in terms of spectators who wish to cary on it seems…

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  9. Peter McMillan

    Education Manager

    Last week in Milan, the referee stopped the game between AC Milan and AS Roma for 90 minutes because of the chorus of racist abuse directed at Mario Balotelli, (born in Palermo of Ghanaian parents, striker in the Italian national team).
    As several people have pointed out, there will always be a handful of idiots. At least we don't have 10,000 of them singing in unison.

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