There have been a great many eloquent, thoughtful and impassioned pieces defending Adam Goodes and calling out the racism of those who boo him and (more disgracefully) those in the media who defend those who boo him. There are also large numbers of people better qualified than me to unpick what this says about Australia and its attitude to race in general and indigenous people in particular. I doubt I could contribute much to that, and in trying I’d almost certainly just be adding to the canon of columns (full to bursting) under the loose heading I Am A Heterosexual Middle Aged White Man and I Have Opinions.
So I wasn’t going to say or do anything about the disgusting treatment of Goodes, apart from possibly go and see Geelong vs Sydney next Saturday in the hopes Goodes would run out and I could cheer him doing so.
Except I’ve noticed a theme to the facebook posts, media comments and inter-cubicle work banter that isn’t just about race, or at least is about the intersection of race and masculinity in Australia, how we treat our young men and how we expect them to respond to this treatment.
Grow some balls. Take a teaspoon of cement. Man up. Stop being a sook. Cry me a fucking river. Suck it up princess. Harden the fuck up.
The grandmother of the 13 year old girl who called Goodes an ape during the 2014 indigenous round had this to say about Goode’s recent treatment:
“If he hadn’t have carried on like a pork chop it wouldn’t have mattered. I don’t think he should retire, he should man up and just take it if he wants to play the game.”
If it’s true that you can learn a lot about a culture from its vernacular, Australians in particular put a premium on men suffering in silence.
Dermott Brereton, former hard man of the VFL, has said Goodes should look at his own behaviour to see why people are booing him. Brereton famously played and won the 1989 Grand Final with a bruised kidney, broken ribs, punctured lung and internal bleeding.
As Hawthorn physio Barry Gavern remembers it, “He’d lost all the color in his face and was vomiting. He’d dragged himself back on his feet by this stage. But he was doubled over, dry-retching and his color was grey… There was no way he could stay out there. I remember looking up at [Hawthorn coach Allan Jeans] in the box and starting to try to get him off. Dermott said, ‘No, no. Just get me down to the pocket’.
When we tell Adam Goodes that he should suck it up, when we valorise Brereton’s boneheaded stubbornness, we send a message to young men to suffer in silence. And it’s worse for men of colour, who are expected to put up with more and complain less. Nick Kyrgios was on to this when he responded to Dawn Fraser’s racist comments about his behaviour with, “Throwing a racket, brat. Debating the rules, disrespectful. Frustrated when competing, spoilt. Showing emotion, arrogant.”
Let me be clear: I’m not arguing that men have it tough. There has never been a better time to be a man. You get paid more on average, you have the perks of male privilege and you don’t even have to shave. You are less likely than at any other time in our industrial history to die at work. I don’t buy in to any talk of “masculinity in crisis” and certainly not men’s rights.
But giving young men the licence and the vocabulary to show vulnerability, to say, “you hurt my feelings” would make life better for everyone, women included.
The former Age columnist Mark Dapin has written that if his old school, North London Jewish father had sat him down and told him that he loved him, he would have genuinely thought that Dad had lost his marbles. Yet there are young men and women growing up now who know their fathers love and value them because their Dads have told them so. That’s progress.
But there’s still an expectation that men, especially athletes, shouldn’t show vulnerability and certainly shouldn’t express it. Enforcing the prohibition on expressing such feelings does permanent damage. Women are more likely to experience depression and anxiety yet men are less likely to seek help and represent 80% of suicides.
Adam Goodes has given a lot to this country. It should be ok for him to say he feels undervalued, without someone telling him to grow a pair. It should be ok for him to say it hurts his feelings when he’s booed. I mean, why wouldn’t it?
It’s time for us to soften the fuck up.