The contribution that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women have made to the game is immeasurable. With the game on hold the Deadliest competition being run at the AFL has given us time to reflect on some of the greatest footballers in the code.
FOOTBALL for many of us means many things.
At its heart is the colour and spectacle that excites us because football is the celebration of the visual. For me, the thing that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players bring to this celebration and spectacle is a re-imagining of it.
It is in this re-imagining that we become the beneficiaries of something that transcends the game itself.
Essentially it is the chance to see something we have never seen before.
With the Deadliest competition being run on AFL.com.au at the moment we see this visual celebration in full display.
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In many respects the final 16 lends itself to great debate. But how does one choose the deadliest? Is it possible?
How does one choose out of Shaun Burgoyne, the games record holder, and the player who could play in a telephone box, Cyril Rioli?
Or West Coast demi-god Peter Matera and the first blackfella to reach 200 games, Nicky Winmar? Cable versus Wanganeen? Farmer and O'Loughlin? It's enough to make your head spin.
At the time of the Deadliest competition being conceptualised it was thought it would be a good way to help bolster the new Yokayi Footy show leading into the 2020 season.
Few would have predicted that Yokayi Footy would become something of a beacon of light in an otherwise bleak start to the AFL competition.
Further to this, the Deadliest competition has also cracked open broader discussion about the contribution's players have made to the game, what their motivations were for playing and what their individual legacies mean.
This notion of legacy is born out in the highlights of each player as discussed in each show. The footage from last week's show of mercurial skills, poise and vision is phenomenal.
Be it Buddy Franklin at full throttle, bouncing the ball with nonchalant ease, Betts going 'which-way' deep in a pocket, McLeod gliding over the grass or Polly Farmer re-inventing the art of rucking the result is the same.
Elite, awesome football.
Football that enables us, as Australians, to share in a game that is the best in the world and binds us regardless of our race, religion, class or gender.
In saying this, the game has also had the benefit of something other than just skill or poise from First Nations players. It has had the benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and perspectives, their families and communities.
It has been from these interactions that Australia, as a society, has been able to grow. But the growth has not been easy as the discussions regarding First nations Australians in the game and society have been hard as the nexus between history and sport have collided.
The celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander talent in the AFL today is strong. Compared to the 70s and 80s when racism was employed by players and coaches to break down the concentration of a First Nations player the game is light years ahead of where it was.
The sad irony of this era of blunt sledging is that it has actually cost the game hugely. How much exactly? We will never know.
Anecdotally many chose to stay in their communities rather than risk the emotional angst and hurt of the barbs that were directed at them. Who can blame them?
With the Sir Doug Nicholls Round in place since 2007, Reconciliation Action Plans at all clubs, First Nations board members at five clubs, the All Stars summit running for 20 years, Maddy Prespakis winning the AFLW Best and Fairest, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players on all lists except the Western Bulldogs, it is easy to see that positive progress has been made in all manner of ways.
To ensure that these benchmarks become firm stepping stones going into the future the challenges that the code faces currently are the wide-ranging reductions across the game.
With resources reigned in there is a human cost. The issues of planning and recruitment around diversity and inclusion then become important considerations for the social and professional tapestry of the game.
Do we stagnate or go backwards? For the game to be a game for everyone, as the code often says it is, people need to see themselves actively reflected in it.
Having people from diverse backgrounds as active participants engaging and contributing to the code will only enable growth and innovation as the game struggles with challenges that are set to take hold for some years.
If football has taught us anything it is that these difficult moments force us to reconsider the way we think about these issues in Australia life because they are inextricably linked to the game.
Football has enabled us to see things differently and to re-imagine things. It has provided us with a different prism so we can see ourselves and more importantly one another.
In a time of great challenges this is a something that is desperately needed both now and into the unwritten future.