Eddie Betts says he and other Indigenous Australian players “feel guilty” about not supporting Adam Goodes enough when the Sydney Swans great was subjected to sustained racist abuse during his final season in the AFL.
- Eddie Betts said Indigenous Australian players had decided to back each other if they are racially abused following the treatment Adam Goodes received
- Betts said some younger players are “scared” to speak up if they are the target of racist slurs
- He wants all AFL clubs to have Indigenous liaison officers so players have someone to talk to about issues such as racism
But he said the racism Goodes faced in 2015, highlighted by persistent booing from opposition fans, drove Indigenous Australian players to make a “pact” that they would back each other if they were racially vilified in the future.
The AFL and its 18 clubs last year issued an unreserved apology to Goodes for its “failure to call out racism and not standing up for one of our own”, admitting “the game did not do enough” to support the two-time Brownlow medallist.
The struggles faced by Goodes were the subject of two documentaries released last year, The Australian Dream and The Final Quarter.
Betts, who has played 316 matches for Carlton and Adelaide, said the racism targeted at Goodes left him and other Indigenous Australians in the AFL system “shaking our heads that we didn’t really support Adam that much and what he was going through”.
But it made him determined that Indigenous Australians players would not be the victims of racism in the future.
“We were only seeing the stuff that was happening on weekends and we kind of all feel guilty after watching that documentary for the first time that we didn’t help him (Goodes) out enough,” Betts told ABC Grandstand’s The Phil Davis Podcast.
Betts said some younger Indigenous Australian players found it tough to call out racism, given he believed Goodes “got crucified” for speaking up.
“I think they’re scared because of what happened to Goodesy, they think it’s going to happen to them,” he said.
But Betts, who has been subjected to racist slurs from crowds and within the online environment throughout his career, said he was confident that attitude would change.
“I want the next generation of young Indigenous kids to come through the AFL system to be safe, to have a voice and to speak up, knowing that Goodesy led the way for us,” he said.
“And hopefully myself and (Hawthorn and Port Adelaide premiership player) Shaun Burgoyne — the older players that are still around — can create that pathway for young Indigenous players to come through, because it’s hard.”
Betts, who moved back to Carlton in the off-season following six years with Adelaide, admitted he had been racially abused online already this year.
The three-time All-Australian selection urged the AFL and the clubs to appoint Indigenous liaison officers so players had a “culturally safe place” to speak about such issues.
It was an initiative Adelaide introduced during Betts’s stint with the Crows after he was racially abused by spectators and online on several occasions when he was a senior figure among the Indigenous Australian players at the club.
“It was hard, I was trying to be strong,” Betts said.
“I needed someone to talk to, someone to understand me. I needed a culturally safe spot.”
Betts said the AFL should celebrate Indigenous Australian culture throughout the year, rather than focus heavily on its annual Sir Doug Nicholls Round, named in honour of the late trailblazing footballer and former South Australian governor.
Betts backs education ‘to make change’
Betts said education was crucial in addressing racism, which is among the reasons he has authored the children’s books My Kind and My People.
The 33-year-old, who said he could not read or write when he was drafted by Carlton in 2004, also highlighted the importance of education in eliminating domestic violence among Indigenous Australian communities.
He said he thought violence against women “was normal” when he was growing up until he had a conversation with his wife Anna during his early 20s.
“I started to educate myself around that, violence against women,” said Betts, who lived in Port Lincoln and Kalgoorlie as a child.
“I try to preach that when I go back to the communities to know that it’s not right to hit women no matter what the circumstances are.
Betts said he was hopeful his books would become an animated TV program in the future following the positive reception they had received.
You can listen to The Phil Davis Podcast, as each week the inaugural GWS Giants captain will talk to some of the most interesting people in Australian sport.