Some boo Adam Goodes because he is a great player, some because they don’t like him. Some boo because he called out a racist, some because they can’t handle proud Aborigines. Others boo because they are sheep, or just to distract the Swans’ talisman.
But let’s have a look at what really offends football crowds.
Goodes now cops more boos than the Saints player accused of rape, more boos than the Adelaide player who assaulted his girlfriend, more boos than the Fremantle niggler who pinches and trips other players, more boos than the West Coast/Richmond ice fiend.
He cops more boos than the St Kilda drug cheat, more boos than the Carlton player accused of eye gouging, salary cap rorting, and deliberately injuring a player’s shoulder with a ‘‘chicken wing’’ tackle.
He gets more boos than the Bulldog captain who deserted his team, more boos than the Gold Coast player who bashed his teammate, and even more boos than Dermott Brereton, remembered as one of the dirtiest and most hated players in Aussie Rules history.
Because in Australia the greatest offence is to tell an indignant white person they are being racist.
And now Goodes is being told he brought it upon himself.
Even Brereton had the hide this week to say the Sydney Swans champion should ‘‘look at what he’s done’’ that stimulates booing, and ‘‘work out how to change that’’.
Most recently the attack has been advanced by Sydney shock jock Alan Jones, and a nasty piece written by the Daily Telegraph’s Miranda Devine.
Devine claimed Goodes had brought it upon himself because he had pointed out a 13-year-old Collingwood fan who called him an ape during a May 2013 game, resulting in her being kicked out of the stadium and shamed.
Now we shouldn’t blame a Collingwood fan for stupidity. That’s just something many of them share. Their barracking most often takes the form of baying for umpire’s blood, in unison, in a maniacal fashion. At other times it takes the form of baying for the blood of another player.
I know good people who become odious horrors when Collingwood is playing. They think it’s part of the game, and sometimes it even adds to the experience.
So calling Goodes an ‘‘ape’’ was simply that young fan trying to find something really nasty to say. So she reached for the worst thing she could. Something she may have heard round the house. Something she had heard her friends say. Something another family member had said while watching football, perhaps more than once. Perhaps while watching the Swans. Or perhaps while watching another Aboriginal player, playing the pants off her Pies.
My guesswork about the source of her learning is just that - guesswork.
She later said she didn’t know the term was racist, and didn’t know it the AFL’s indigenous round.
But it was racist, whether she liked it or not.
It was from this moment that the booing started.
The thing that really fanned the flames was Goodes being named Australian of the Year. We assumed it was because of his stance against racism. That’s not easy to do. But a smaller man might wish he had never received such an honour.
Because now he gets treated as if he demanded that award, or nominated himself. People who think he didn’t deserve it blame him for getting it. Yet at every single step of the way, Goodes has done the right thing.
No-one can argue that calling an Aboriginal man an ‘‘ape’’ is not racist. If the term has any meaning at all, it must include that kind of vilification.
Should he have kept quiet at the Collingwood game? Of course not. Should he keep his mouth shut about being a proud Andyamathanha/Narungga man? Not in any decent society.
Should he have done a gentle imitation of an Under-16s team ‘‘war dance’’ during a game? When the NRL’s Greg Inglis celebrates a try with his goanna dance the crowd goes wild. Goodes did his dance during the AFL’s Indigenous Round.
And as Australian of the Year, when he said we need to understand ‘‘our very dark past, a brutal history of dispossession, theft and slaughter’’, he was doing exactly what he won the award for.
The truth is Australia has always been uncomfortable about race, and we’re uncomfortable about racism - especially when someone with dark skin jumps up and calls it out.
We’re uncomfortable about the truth that this continent was Aboriginal land before British colonists dispossessed them. But that is just a fact. And we’re uncomfortable about anyone telling us what we should think or say.
Too many Australians want Goodes to go away and be grateful for his medal, while they can go on thinking and saying whatever they want, and never have to be challenged as to whether it’s racist.
I’ve been around this country far and long enough to have heard it all, in terms of racial abuse. And there’s been plenty of it.
In high school my best friend and his cousin would be told to ‘‘get back on the boat’’. Not every week, but most.
On the bus home ‘‘that’s Jewish’’ was a frequent insult.
In Darwin I remember waiting in my car at the McMinn Street lights while an elderly Aboriginal man was crossing. The light changed to give me the green but he was still crossing, so I waited.
‘‘Just run ‘im over!’’ came the cry from the ute two cars back. ‘‘Run ‘him over!’’
That was racist. It would never have been said if an old white man was crossing the road. Because I’ve never seen an old white man abused by a driver. And I’ve seen Aborigines cop it often.
More recently Eddie McGuire suggested on radio that it might be a good idea to get Adam Goodes down to Melbourne to promote the musical King Kong.
I’m not racist, Eddie said, I was just really tired and it slipped out. We can forgive him, perhaps, but that doesn’t change the fact it was racist.
Other than seeing him play more than 100 footy games, my experience with Adam Goodes has been limited. One day my son was sick and couldn’t do his before-school Aussie Rules training. He was distraught; he loved that training. I tweeted Goodes describing the situation - and he replied quickly with a message for my boy, telling him to stay strong and just train even more when he recovered.
Another time I accosted him at an airport to thank him for that tweet, and also grab a pic to show my boys. He obliged, nothing but friendly and willing to give.
His date to the awards ceremony when he won his first Brownlow Medal in 2003? His mum.
This is the kind of man Goodes is.
As AFL players lined up during the week to tweet their support for the dual Brownlow medallist, one of the all-time greats, the Sydney Swans games record-holder, he was having to come to terms with his great career - surely this is his final season - ending in heartbreak.
Goodes is not a streetfighter, like Jim Krakouer or Jeff Farmer. He’s not a fearsome desert warrior like Liam Jurrah, or an armoured tank like Byron Pickett.
The fact he’s an athlete almost seems like an accident. He’s a proud and intelligent Aboriginal man who wears his heart on his sleeve, and wants to make a difference. He’s exactly the kind of hero Australia needs. He should be celebrated, but instead thousands of Australians want to break him for it.
I reckon many people are now booing as if to say ‘‘who are you to tell me I’m racist?’’.
Because in Australia it’s worse to tell an indignant white person they are being racist, than it is to call an indigenous man an ape.
And there’s a great Australian paying a terrible price price for his honesty.
The author is a member of the Sydney Swans Football Club.