Collingwood’s American-born forward Mason Cox is no stranger to cultural diversity, but it went to another level when he moved to Melbourne to play Australian football.
Cox, the chairman of the AFL Players’ Association’s newly formed Multicultural Players’ Advisory Board, grew up on the outskirts of Dallas with a strong flavour of Tex Mex. “Hispanic culture was very prominent. There were a lot of families from Mexico and a lot of people spoke Spanish.”
Later, he moved to Oklahoma to study engineering and play college basketball, and found himself immersed in that state’s strong links to Native American culture. He believes Oklahoma State University had “one of the biggest international programs in the United States” and became great friends with guys from South Africa and the Czech Republic.
But after raising eyebrows at the AFL’s 2014 International Combine, and signing up for a rookie spot with Collingwood, Cox was exposed to new cultural nuances when he flew to Australia.
“It was very different,” he said. “Obviously there’s a lot of Asian influence here, which you’d expect given Australia’s geographical proximity to the region. But coming here you realise how many different cultures are present in this city.”
“It’s kind of cool seeing a different side of the world coming to Melbourne and being able to experience a whole new range of cultures on the other side of the world.” – Mason Cox
He was blown away when he discovered the Vietnamese precinct in Victoria Street Richmond. “That was a cool culture shock to me. And also when I found out that Melbourne has the biggest Greek community in the world outside of Greece.”
He enjoyed the way multiculturalism was celebrated during the Moomba festival, and lapped up little cultural discoveries such as the Asian noodle markets at Birrarung Marr.
“It’s kind of cool seeing a different side of the world coming to Melbourne and being able to experience a whole new range of cultures on the other side of the world,” he said.
Cox put up his hand to be part of the multicultural advisory board because he felt he could help bring his own experience to the table, and at the same time learn more about the many cultures represented in the AFL players melting pot.
“As an international coming over here, and being one of the first Americans to play in the league, if I can in any way help any overseas players, I was happy to stick my hand up and say I want to be a part of that, to try to help out,” he said.
“There are quite a few ups and downs for anyone who comes to Australia to play this game. Being away from your family and being so far away from what you know and what you consider normal. I’d like to help connect the people who are going down the same road and experiencing the same things that I’m experiencing at the moment.
“There are not really any formal guidelines for international players at the moment. I came here two months before my formal contract started and there was nothing formal in place, I was just relying on the good will and intentions of Collingwood – so I suppose from that perspective I was lucky that I came to a great club – but I think there needs to a better process in place for someone who moves half way across the world to a place they’ve never been.
“They shouldn’t have to figure things out for themselves, there should be clear guidelines to follow. It would make you feel at ease from the outset and create a good first impression of Australian football.”
The board comprises players from several states and a range of cultural backgrounds: the Western Bulldogs’ Lin Jong (East Timor and Taiwan), Fremantle’s Zac Clarke (USA), GWS’ Stephen Coniglio (Italy and England), Port Adelaide’s Alipate Carlile (Fiji) and Brisbane’s Pearce Hanley (Ireland).
Cox said that at its first meeting the group had informally discussed a range of issues, including ramping up the promotion and support of the Multicultural Round and the establishment of best practice guidelines.
“I think almost one in every seven AFL players has a multicultural background, whether it’s Irish, American, Greek, whatever it is,” Cox said.
He said the board would consider the possibility of creating a support group that would be available as the first point of contact for any footballer who felt he had experienced racist language or behaviour.
“If that were to happen to a player then there would be a group of people the player could talk to and understand where to go from there, rather than feeling lost in the moment.”