On the weekend, prominent Aboriginal AFL player Adam Goodes was racially vilified by a 13 year old Collingwood supporter who referred to him as an "ape". He took immediate action, asking security to remove her from the ground, which they did. Collingwood president Eddie McGuire, one of Australia's most prominent media figures, was quick to visit Goodes in the dressing room and apologise on behalf of the club.
Later on the young girl was very contrite, ringing Goodes to aplogise. He was forgiving. Thirteen-year-olds do stupid things. She needed to be told firmly, then left alone to do better next time. Hopefully she will.
Forty-eight-year-olds do stupid things too, but they are entitled to be cut a lot less slack, especially when they are as prominent and media-savvy as Eddie McGuire. Because only a few days later, with the vilification incident still echoing around the media, McGuire suggested on morning radio that Goodes could be used in a promotional role for "King Kong - The Musical". Goodes and his club officials were flabbergasted.
Unlike the young girl, Eddie did not so much apologise as make excuses.
''I am not a racist because I have done a lot of things in the past and I will continue to fight for the cause of equality in Australia,'' he said. ''People don't resign because they make a slip of the tongue. It's as simple as that. If I stood up because I was racially vilifying somebody, not only should I be resigning, I should be sacked.
''I let myself down because I had a slip of the tongue. It was as simple as that but the ramifications are greater than that.''
Of course we know Eddie has form, and it's somewhat surprising that he hasn't learned from past mistakes. In 2010, he made blatantly homophobic remarks about male figure skaters during commentary on the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Just as in the Goodes incident, public outrage was swift and Eddie had to move quickly to make amends and save his job.
That time, though, he more than met his match, so to speak. The main target of his remarks was English figure skater Johnny Weir, who is not only openly gay but flamboyantly so. Weir is also just as media savvy as McGuire, if not more so. Weir spent the rest of the games making McGuire squirm. Poor blokey homophobic Eddie was forced to interview Johnny almost nightly, promote his lifestyle show, go along with his flirtatious remarks and even flirt clumsily in return. He ate so much humble pie that he came home several kilograms heavier. I was almost glad he made the remarks just so we could watch him swallow a fresh helping of it each day.
Sadly all this humble pie doesn't seem to have taught him anything. Eddie is well schooled, he's been to cultural awareness courses, he knows Aboriginal history, he gives time to Aboriginal organisations. All this makes him think that he's not racist. But there he is on morning radio, a little tired and bleary, and suddenly he's drawing the comparison between Goodes and King Kong.
Asked why he had used Goodes' name, McGuire replied: ''We were talking about how the arm of King Kong was on the building. To be honest I was drifting off, thinking about how [promotional] things used to be done in the old days … it just slipped out.''
That, Eddie, is what racism is.
Eddie knows better in his brain, but in his heart he is still back in the old days, when it was fine to treat people as racial stereotypes. When he is alert and thinking straight, he is able to avoid offensive
remarks, but when he is tired and off guard they slip out. No amount of education and humble pie seems able to change that, because ultimately he doesn't think it's wrong. He just thinks it's impolitic.
Eddie is probably too powerful to be got rid of. Still, I hope Adam Goodes takes a leaf out of Johnny Weir's book and makes him squirm publicly for a while. At least that way we will all get some enjoyment out of the affair.
*Quotes from the Brisbane Times.