So Eddie, When Does A Pattern Form?

This column wouldn’t have been written if not for the hard work of the Outer Sanctum podcast, Josh Pinn, Footy Maths Institute, Andy Maher and Erin Riley. Their work has been invaluable and they get all the credit for bringing this whole episode onto the footy world’s agenda. If you’re looking for another offbeat stats piece, this is the wrong article.

Back in May 1993 the then Collingwood President Allan McAlister was quoted as saying of Indigenous footballers:

“As long as they conduct themselves like white people, well, off the field, everyone will admire and respect … As long as they conduct themselves like human beings, they will be all right. That’s the key.”

McAlister had been long outspoken to that point, but this was then (as it is now) a totally repugnant thing for most football fans to hear. The AFL responded by nearly immediately introducing an education campaign targeted at stamping out racism in the game, but didn’t bring any further action against McAlister. It couldn’t. It didn’t have the ability to do so at that point. Rule 35, the rule against racial vilification, was still two years away, introduced in response to the Monkhorst-Long incident.

It is interesting, and appropriate, to note that only one club president has been charged to date under Rule 35: Eddie McGuire.

The prevailing narrative over the years has Eddie McGuire as the champion of two things: “cheeky banter” and “gaffes”.

When is “banter” and “gaffes” more than that though? When does it separate from one or two public misstatements, or documented occurrences of abuse and become a pattern?

The Herald Sun in 2013 laid out a series of McGuire’s “gaffes”; by no means comprehensive but illustrative nonetheless. In it, you’ve got sexism (Jessica Rowe), homophobia (Johnny Weir), racism (Adam Goodes) and threats to livelihoods (Tony Sheahan). This is just one source, and omits the Heritier Lumumba homophobia scandal at the Pies in 2013 (that likely led to him leaving the club) and his conduct while head of Channel 9 (as outlined in Gerald Stone’s Who Killed Channel 9), amongst several others.

Once or twice might be considered a “gaffe”. When you repeatedly do and say offensive things, it becomes a pattern of behaviour. A potentially harmful one. Various outlets calling McGuire’s various offensive episodes “gaffes” significantly downplay his impact and influence of his voice in footy and in Australian society. He helps set a tone, he wields power.

To blithely defend what McGuire said as “just a joke” is to echo the exact insensitivity and self-centred disregard for impact on others that any number of violence against women campaigns seek to stamp out. We should all understand by now that it doesn’t matter if something is a “joke”; words have weight and even mere “jokes” carry important meaning to others. Such “jokes” make many who are well familiar with the fear and impact of gender violence feel attacked and degraded and even unsafe. They certainly don’t contribute to the inclusive atmosphere that footy claims to want.

Men who claim to be sensitive to the issues of violence and sexism need to understand that language helps create an atmosphere and a tone, and that it simply isn’t about how they themselves perceive something but how others receive it.

It is notable that this week the AFL signed up to the “Our Watch” campaign. The campaign is focused on sexist language, back-room talk and the normalising effect these things have in perpetuating a culture which makes it okay to disrespect and dehumanise. To wit:

“The most consistent predictor for support of violence by men is their agreement with sexist attitude. Sexist jokes reflect and reinforce sexist attitudes. They excuse and perpetuate the gender stereotyping and discrimination against women that underpins violence.”

McGuire and his co-hosts not only engaged in an extended violently imagined rant against a woman they dislike, but McGuire used explicitly sexist language in the attack – using the term “black widow” to describe Wilson. He deliberately used this sexism to try to make more wounding his “joke” attack. The deployment of harmful stereotype as a verbal weapon against opponents is the very essence of the culture the AFL is committing to address, and has done since Rule 35 was introduced.

What compounds it is that in his attempted “clarification”, McGuire showed absolutely no understanding of the broader context of violent banter and sexist imagery. He continued to centre himself and his own understanding, insisting that it was “just a joke” and blaming others for misinterpreting. However, his message in that segment could not have been clearer.

McGuire has a pattern in this regard – when we look at the litany of incidents, with Rowe, with Goodes, with Weir and now with Wilson, all of his “apologies” centre himself as a wronged party. They barely acknowledge the deep hurt that words and jokes can cause, they place the burden of misunderstanding on others, and they focus first and foremost on  defending Brand Eddie, Broady boy and bringer of banter.

In the 1990s, McAlister was eventually challenged for the presidency of Collingwood, and in face of the challenge withdrew from the race. He had 10 years in the top job, and oversaw the Pies winning their first Premiership in three odd decades. McAlister’s last year in charge saw the Pies recruit and play their first known Indigenous player, Robbie AhMat.

The reasons for McAlister’s departure were many and varied, according to sources at the time. The club’s on-field decline didn’t help, and his “Maggieland” project can only be described as a failure. One item not mentioned in his departure was that quote from 1993. To his credit, McAlister attempted to make amends for his previous comments, and lead the drive to Indigenous recognition at Victoria Park. That doesn’t mitigate his comments.

Collingwood today is six years departed from its last flag, four from its last winning final and three from making the finals. The same pressure that was applied to McAlister in his final days must be mounting on McGuire now, even absent his penchant for terribly judged publicly broadcast “jokes” at the expense of others.

The president of a football club is expected to be its moral compass, its spokesperson and one of its key role models. The president should represent all of the members of their club, and make decisions on their behalf.

Collingwood have a great number of fans that disagreed with McAlister then, and who disagree with McGuire’s behaviour now. A proud club such as Collingwood deserves better than McGuire as their voice. Violence against women, homophobia and workplace bullying are not working class values, they’re not Collingwood values, and they’re not Australian values.

Eddie McGuire doesn’t deserve to be sacked for the club’s off-field performance; he deserves to be sacked because he openly does not represent the values of the Collingwood Football Club.


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