Football creates discussion. On this week's Yokayi Footy, plenty is discussed.
America is burning. With the death of African-American man George Floyd at the hands of police our screens have been filled with image after image of his arrest and death.
This has seen chaos engulf the neighbourhoods across the United States. Once again, the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave has come to the brink of a racially charged abyss as the latest position of the US president, threatening to bring in the army, looms as a catastrophe.
From the opening monologue on Yokayi Footy delivered by host Tony Armstrong the issues in America has shed light on an Australian perspective regarding racial profiling, over policing, police brutality and Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
The names of First Nations people who have died from the actions of law enforcement officers are too many to list. If anyone is in any doubt that what happened to Floyd has not happened in Australian google these names: John Pat. Cameron Doomadgee. Mr Ward. Ms Dhu. It is from these stories alone, and there are many more, a different picture emerges as to what the similarities are despite some peoples resistance to the idea.
To make the connection here is important because what it allows for us to do is to take stock and try to make sense of the senselessness and, in so doing, ensure that these incidents cease.
Like many things these issues are linked by history. As the saying goes, 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it'.
This process of forgetting in the Australian context is something we do while simultaneously grappling with the issues of past policy that revisit us time and again. One only has to look at the 1967 Referendum to understand that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples prior to 1967 were not considered at all. If they were it was with veiled indifference, overt hostility or exoticized. This leads to a cultural malaise that is underpinned by disdain. The most recent breath-taking example being the blowing up of the sacred Juukan Gorge estimated to be 46,000 years old. What kind of uproar would the wanton destruction of the 'sacred' MCG create, do you think?
From last week's show we can, however, make the connections that enable us to understand past issues and current challenges. Appearing on Yokayi Footy last week was ex-Essendon and Giants coach Kevin Sheedy. Sheedy, known for his quirky showmanship coached for nearly 30 years. He is a football legend.
Yet it is his connection to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players and people that his legacy will be best remembered. For example, the Dreamtime at the G concept was his idea. Arguably without Sheedy's standing in the AFL community it is debatable how things like the Dreamtime game would have been realised.
What cannot be debated is that it is due to the affinity Sheedy has with First Nations players like Michael Long, himself a change-agent, he has been able to gain a greater insight and understanding of the issues and the history that feeds it.
In the 'One Thing' segment of the show Sheedy presented Tony and Bianca with a copy of a book by Paul and Colin Tatz entitled Black Pearls.
The book chronicles the achievements of First Nations Australians in all areas of sport. As Sheedy handed Armstrong the book the host commentated on its weight. Sheedy responded quickly "well it's got a heavy history."
A Yokayi moment if there ever was one.
Sheedy went on to talk about the boxer George Bracken from Palm Island (another connection with Cameron Doomadgee) who Sheedy idolised as a child visiting the Jimmy Sharman boxing tents. For Aboriginal men touring with boxing troupes was one way they could supplement their meagre incomes as making a living in other capacities, other than manual labour, was simply not possible.
The other segment on the show that helped drill down on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experience was the feature piece on AFLW player and Noongar woman Imara Cameron from the West Coast Eagles. Her story was powerful and sadly all too typical. Cameron, the first Indigenous woman to be drafted to the AFL powerhouse, was very measured in recounting how close family members, including her father, had suicided while in a WA prison. The emotional and mental strain that she had experienced was immense and only made harder by the lateral violence that brought into question her sexual identity because of her choice to play the sport she loved.
For Cameron, football was the answer and the pathway was assisted through the support and love of her grandparents. This is not to say that it was easy as simple things like having enough money to fill the car up to attend training was a daily challenge. That she persisted, drawing on the positive examples in her life, setting goals and staying focussed speaks of her personal self-determining power and that of her family. No distractions or set-backs were going to deter her.
Which brings us to the words of St Kilda player Bradley Hill and Hawks Chad Wingard's stance. For many Hill, a Noongar, is the cheeky player who is blessed with speed and skill. Yet behind the smile is a thinking man who understands his platform and the world that he lives.
His words at the top of reflect his understanding.
For Wingard, the mercurial Hawk and Kaurna/Ngarrindjeri man, he also understands the world and he adopts another position. That of resistance. If he was to engage it will be on his terms and his alone. Both Hill and Wingard are right in their choices as notions of diversity are not just specific to skin colour, language group or religion. Its about conviction. For them football is not just about winning and losing or which team you support. It's what happens off the park that matters thus ensuring that the game is in every respect is 'a game for everyone'.
>> Dr Sean Gorman is an author, historian, and Indigenous AFL specialist. He currently works for the AFL and was the lead investigator in the AFL's review of its vilification laws.