TRUE OPINION: Eddie McGuire finally used up all his lifelines holding on to the presidency of his beloved Collingwood football club as he went from one racism and bigotry scandal to the next seemingly forever until this week, writes Gary Johnston.
The notion that Australia is basically a cultural village is perfectly indicated by the fact that Eddie McGuire – ostensibly a Victorian ‘celebrity’ – has a nationwide presence and identity far in excess of his skills. Eddie’s main ability, it seems, is the art of being well known. For being ‘Eddie Everywhere’ as the nickname goes.
And what’s he known for? Well, let’s see.
Media commentator, game show host, political mover and shaker, casual racist, and football personality; as in until a matter of days ago he was the long-serving president of the Collingwood AFL team, arguably the most eminent and successful sporting side across all codes).
For all the glitz and glamour that he has surrounded himself for two decades or more, McGuire is a self-made man, with humble origins in Broadmeadows, an outer Melbourne Housing estate and grew up in a house, as he constantly reminds anyone who’s never heard it before, “so small, you had to go outside to change your mind”.
But Eddie has never changed his mind.
Ever since the recent leaking of the ‘Do Better’ report, conducted by Professor Larissa Behrendt, a director of the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research – despite the fact it was delivered to Collingwood FC months ago the report remains officially unpublished – President Eddie had been in frantic cover up mode.
Whilst not absolving the AFL generally, ‘Do Better’ concentrates particularly on Collingwood, describing its history of racism as “distinct and egregious”. Further findings, based on public evidence and conversations with staff, current and ex-players and supporters, reveal that far from developing a strategy designed to deal with this endemic racist behaviour, language and culture, the club’s main focus has always been harm minimisation and ‘brand protection’, with the lead justificatory role being taken by the high-profile, mind made up President himself.
Of course, this should come as no surprise to anyone given Eddie’s record of bigoted, ignorant, shoot from the lip comments over the years.
This, after all, is a man who compared an Indigenous player to King Kong, hours after the same player was racially abused by a Collingwood supporter during a match, referred to Muslim businessman as a ‘wog-ball loving Mussy’ and offered money to anyone prepared to drown a respected female football journalist, on the basis that, in his view, she was “a black widow”.
McGuire, who called a hastily convened press conference after the damning ‘Do Better’ report was leaked, ludicrously claimed it a “proud day” for the club, an attempt at political spin that was every bit as desperate as it was unsuccessful.
A number of Indigenous and other players of colour, in particular Héritier Lumumba, who was nicknamed ‘Chimp’ whilst playing in a Collingwood jersey, have for some time raised issues about the malevolent culture in Aussie Rules and at Collingwood in particular. In October last year, Lumumba filed documents to the Victorian Supreme Court in relation to racial abuse he repeatedly claimed he was subjected to during his ten-year tenure at the club.
Tellingly, Lumumba refused to become involved in the Jumbunna Institute investigation, declaring it insulting and a deeply flawed cover-up.
Players from other AFL clubs talk of similarly depressing experiences but the history of Collingwood, as indicated in Professor Behrendt’s report, has long been saw as a touchstone for prejudice, stretching back decades.
The club’s penchant for ugly abuse is typified by a celebrated incident in 1993 when Indigenous player, St Kilda’s Nicky Winmar, in response to sustained racial vilification during a game against Collingwood, lifted up his jumper and pointed to his skin. Almost 30 years later, however, it seems little has changed.
When McGuire became President of Collingwood in 1998, he tasked himself with changing the reputation of the club so as to make it a better commercial proposition for the rich mates Eddie was collecting on his nascent rise through the self-congratulary ranks of the Aussie media. It was a self-avowed proclamation somewhat compromised though by his obvious appreciation and delight when his good mate and co-host of Channel 9‘s The Footy Show, the appalling anachronism that is Sam Newman, openly mocked Winmar’s gesture by appearing in pantomime blackface.
McGuire had until this week indicated that he only intended to step down from his position at Collingwood at the end of this year, but we all know what happened just a few days ago when Eddie fronted a hastily put-together press conference on Tuesday, February 9 to announce his resignation “effective immediately” where he cried White tears and waxed lyrical for 15 minutes about all his supposed accomplishments for the many minority groups he supposedly loves while once again declaring Collingwood was a not racist. Ever to the end, it was always about Eddie.
But the loud calls demanding his immediate resignation over the past week shouldn’t be the end of the matter; simply removing McGuire will not provide a quick fix for an issue that strikes at the heart of Australian culture.
It’s not just McGuire, Australia, is racist.
A recent nationwide survey showed that a massive majority of the country supports the continued ‘celebration’ of 26th January as ‘Australia Day’ despite the protracted and legitimate fact that for Indigenous people, the day itself is inarguably one of deep mourning and loss.
And, when cheese manufacturer, the Canadian dairy company Saputo Inc proposed rebranding its top selling tasty cheese product as ‘Cheer’, the response from social media was deafening in its national prejudice.
‘Keep the name’, was the cry. ‘It’s traditional’. It isn’t. ‘It’s not racist’. It is. ‘Some people should just get over it’. Why?
Australia is racist.
In thought, in deed, indeed.
Don’t blame Eddie. He only gets away with it because we let him.