Following two separate recent incidents in which crowd members racially vilified AFL players, AFL Players’ Association General Manager – Player Development, Brett Johnson spoke to SEN’s David Schwarz and Mark Allen about the challenges of combating racism, and the strong reactions of the clubs involved. Essendon canceled the membership of a supporter who racially abused Sydney’s Adam Goodes during Friday night’s match, while the Western Bulldogs were unable to identify a supporter who vilified Melbourne player Neville Jetta earlier this month.
“everyone has a responsibility and I think people are starting to understand the impact this type of behaviour can have.” – Brett Johnson
SEN: You must be on one hand disappointed, but on the other hand happy [with the way clubs and fans have reacted to the incidents]?
Brett Johnson: “It’s extremely disappointing that incidents of this nature are still occurring, but we really commend the clubs in the way they handled the situations and I think it just goes to show that the clubs are going to pursue and rigorously investigate any matter which has come to their attention.”
SEN: Is the message getting through to the wider community?
Brett Johnson: “I think it is, I think the inclusiveness and diversity of the AFL industry with open opportunities regardless of background, race or sexual orientation is what makes this game really rich. I think we have come a long way; we’ve got Indigenous Round next week, I think nine clubs have Reconciliation Action Plans in place now, I think most clubs are going to have Indigenous themed jumpers for Indigenous Round – there’s fantastic stuff occurring within the industry.
“I do commend football fans for taking a stand and having the courage to report these matters to the appropriate authorities, and I think that’s really the next step – for people to really stand up to racism and not tolerate this behaviour.”
SEN: Was it significant that an Essendon supporter dobbed in a fellow Essendon supporter?
Brett Johnson: “As I said, it’s fantastic that footy fans are prepared to do that. I think everyone has a responsibility and I think people are starting to understand the impact this type of behaviour can have.”
SEN: What else can clubs and the League do?
Brett Johnson: “I think from a Players’ Association point of view, as a collective of AFL players, we’re in a position to lend our voice to efforts that promote inclusion and diversity and I think our players do a fantastic job, both in a footy community and in broader society.
“The players will continue to support initiatives that promote social responsibility and includison. We had IDAHO last weekend, we have Indigenous round next weekend. I think the players will continue to do some really good work and educate society on the impacts of these types of things.”
The interview can be heard in full, below.