This story was originally published in the Herald Sun.
Sir Doug Nicholls Round is a significant time for our indigenous population, a time when we celebrate the feats of the current crop of players and also consider how sport, in particular football, has been used as a vehicle to begin to overcome the challenges indigenous Australians face.
It is always pleasing watching the good form of young guys like Jarman Impey; after one of the most challenging times of his life, the form he has brought to the first half of this season has been remarkable. There is no doubt he will be a role model for years to come.
Then there is the sensational form Patrick Ryder is displaying, reminding everyone that on his day he is virtually unstoppable. It is, of course, all the more impressive given that he lost a year due to the Essendon supplements ban.
There is a new wave of role models in town: the indigenous AFLW players who until this year have never had the opportunity to play the sport professionally. They have every reason to be proud of their achievements in their first year of professional footy and I know that their respective communities are too.
The significance of this round and what it represents should not be lost amid the glamour of the spectacular feats of a Buddy Franklin or a Cyril Rioli. I think this round means more than that.
This round represents the use of football to help change the quality of life for indigenous Australians as a whole. We have to consider that when heroes like Sir Doug Nicholls started playing football, indigenous Australians were still considered flora and fauna.
Sir Doug played in the 1930s and to put that into context, under law he wasn’t even considered a human. This was even though he managed to rise above the blatant bigotry and taunting to finish third in the 1934 Brownlow Medal. The man’s intestinal fortitude was obviously immense and through his acts on the sporting field he, along with others, was able to help change the narrow-minded attitudes that dominated the era.
We often talk about how far we as a nation have come with our attitudes towards our first people. Fair enough too, when you consider the record number of indigenous players on AFL lists.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the only place where indigenous people are setting records. Take this quote from Gerry Georgatos, of the Human Rights Alliance: “Western Australia incarcerates the Aboriginal peoples of its state at nine times the rate of Apartheid South Africa.”
Then there are the rates of suicide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men between the ages of 25 and 29 — they are the highest in the world.
It might sound like a broken record but it’s a case of another year and another shocking racial vilification of Adelaide’s Eddie Betts, one of the best people I’ve ever had the opportunity to meet.
On the same night Betts was abused, Paddy Ryder also copped it and that got me thinking: How far have we really come?
I think there is a very loud minority who feel they are losing control because their bigotry is becoming more marginalised and more obscure. When people’s deeply ingrained views are challenged, anger and frustration can result in offensive and downright racial behaviour.
The next step is for the quiet majority who don’t share such poisonous views to become a loud majority and join in the fight to make us all equal.
Without football, I don’t think we would be where we are today. It is down to the extraordinary work of the greats who have gone before us that indigenous Australians are now looked upon in a fair light. Without them, things would be so much more different.
That, in a nutshell, is what the Sir Doug Nicholls Round means to me.
So let’s all enjoy the amazing skills and talent that will be on show during the round — but let’s not forget that there is still work to be done.