Georgia Mantle speaks to Adam Goodes, in his first interview since retiring from the AFL.
I had the privilege of being able to interview Adam Goodes to discuss his struggles, his retirement, and his future. As an Indigenous wom*n this was a great honour. For many Indigenous people, ‘success’ is not something that we can easily envision. The roles of prominent Indigenous leaders like Adam are thus all the more important, as they serve to inspire communities and encourage all different sorts of success.
Racism is something that too many people ignore, but Adam’s public suffering renewed a conversation that has long been suppressed. Many non-Indigenous people were shocked to learn that this still occurred, yet; within the communities it was just another manifestation of deep-seated tensions and unresolved traumas.
Though there’s a temptation to editorialise my conversation with Adam—to include my voice, or my understanding—it does him better justice by publishing our discussion in its entirety. So here’s Adam Goodes, an Indigenous man, who many would rather see silenced, speaking his mind: unrestricted and unadulterated.
After struggling at the start of the year, you appeared to find some of your best playing form towards the end of this season. What do you think inspired it?
There came a point this year when I knew that it was going to be my last season. I don’t know, I think when you know it’s going to be your last, you just really want to play the best you possibly can, and it was just—not that you train harder, or smarter, or go about it differently—I just think that knowing and playing on the edge and knowing that this is going to be your last couple of weeks, that you just really want to enjoy it and you really want to go out there and do your best. Getting into that mindset really helped me get to that level.
So you were always planning to retire at the end of this season? How long have you known?
I probably knew about two months before the season finished.
Is everything that has happened to you within the game in relation to racism connected to why you decided to retire or is that just one reason?
I think it’s one of many reasons. You know obviously my stand on racism is that it’s unacceptable and that we should always stand up to it. I think going into this season, you know, I’m 35 years old, I played a couple of games in the reserves this year to get my fitness back, so I think there was a lot of factors. And obviously with all the booing and everything, that was another piece of the puzzle that made my decision quite easy.
After the booing and the repercussions of that, you didn’t make any media appearances and stopped playing for a period of time. What was that period like for you? What were you doing to make sure you were okay and how were you dealing with that experience?
I just needed to be around people who really understood how it felt to be in that position. For me, I just needed that support from those people so, it wasn’t until the day after that West Coast Eagle’s game that it really hit me, and I was really down and out and I didn’t want to go training on Monday. I just figured that, for me to get the best out of myself and do the right thing by myself, I really just needed to step away and find out what I really wanted to do and hopefully getting back to where my people’re from and getting out bush could really re-energise me and help heal those wounds. Yeah that’s what I did, I went out country and it was amazing. It was just great to be out there.
To be honest, I didn’t want to come back. But you know I did. And I felt better when I did. I just needed that support and the love of everyone at my football club and my partner, my family—that made it a little bit easier to come back. Obviously the booing didn’t stop, but I was able to be a lot stronger mentally and physically to deal with that for the last couple of months, knowing that it was going to be my last couple of months.
Following up on something you said, the importance of going back to country and being with community: when you’re away from your country and your mob, how do you still connect to that while you’re still on the field? Especially when you are going through a lot of emotional things?
Yeah you just have to be true to yourself, know where you come from, make sure that your relationships with family members back in country, back home, are really strong so that connection is always there. Whenever you are feeling down or feeling a bit shitty, you do tell someone, you do have conversations with those people, because you need to let people know how you’re feeling. And for me, I’m a big meditator, so when I meditate, I meditate about country and how I’m feeling when I’m back there and use that as the strength.
Because you did have that media block out where you did take your own time and go back to country, was there ever a point where you wanted to retaliate, like scream, or go off at people, or yell about the racism you’d endured?
Not really. What’s the point of me jumping in front of the Ten media pack saying exactly the same message that I’ve said for the last two years. You know, I think it’s got to the point where, especially with me feeling the way I did, that it was time for other people to say how they felt and how it affected them. And to see the response from my football club, the Player’s Association, other players in the league and people in the community—it was just an amazing response and that was exactly what I needed. I think without me saying anything, the message was out there pretty clearly. I just wanted to come back and focus on football.
There was a lot of amazing support. I remember I couldn’t go on Facebook or Twitter without seeing people saying that they were standing with you, and that was coming from both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous friends and family. So I thought that was really cool.
Yeah it was great, and I think it just shows that people out there do care about our community and they do care what it looks like and how people treat each other. Unfortunately, this situation happened to me and it bears on my shoulders, but the positivity and the conversations out of have been really great.
You’ve taken such a stance on racism and supporting Indigenous communities and people for a big portion of your career, some people consider that quite a political move. Do you think it is a responsibility of all sports people to take a stance like that, or do you think it’s something more personal that you just felt you needed to do?
No, no, it’s definite personal thing. I don’t think there’s too many Aboriginal people out there who are successful that don’t want to help make gains for our people. And it definitely is a personal choice. I don’t put that responsibility on anybody else, because it has to be your own personal choice, it has to be you that wants to do it and have the skills to do it as well. You need to be able to talk strongly about these issues but you also need to be strong enough to handle the criticism that you’re going to cop as soon as you step into that role. Unfortunately, when you do say things about people, it can be quite confronting and the load that you can bear on your shoulders can be quite heavy.
How does all the media scrutiny/attention affect you, not only in your personal life, but when you’re out on the field and playing, because it’s sometimes hard to separate those things?
It is. I think media has a very important role to play, and unfortunately some people in the media can have very positive and negative effects on a large amount of people. I guess that’s where you need good leaders in the industry to help steer the conversation so that one side doesn’t get too heavily outweighed by comments that aren’t true. So for me, you can’t control the media, you have to work with media to get your message out there and you just hope that there’s enough good honest reporting and people in the media that can get that job done.
After the announcement came out that you were retiring, there was also the announcement that you declined to take part in the lap of honor, or to be considered for the Madden medal. What was the motivation behind those decisions?
I was done. I was done a couple of months before that, I knew when I was finishing. I didn’t want, once I’d finished footy, to be part of any other things that I had a choice in. At the end of the day, it’s my choice to do the lap. At the end of the day, it was my choice not to be nominated for the Madden medal. I had my last football responsibility at the club Best and Fairest and that’s what I was looking for. It was my supporters, my members, at that event, and you know it was a very safe environment for me to go to and give my sendoff to the people that mattered.
Now that you’ve finished football, what else does the future hold for you? What can you see yourself doing?
I can see myself doing a lot of the same, now I’ve got a lot more time on my hands. I’m looking forward to the exciting times going forward, I’m actually jumping on a plane today at 12:30pm, I’ll be overseas for two months and I’ll be back for Christmas. I’m really excited about that. I’m also still going to keep up the fight for saying no to racism and making sure that we get constitutional recognition for our mob, and still going to be fighting hard for White Ribbon, and really helping men take responsibility when we try to stop domestic violence against our women and our communities.
With your work with Recognition, I feel, and you may agree, that there is a little bit of a divide within our community as to whether recognition, in terms of constitutional recognition, is really the best thing for our community. A lot of Indigenous people have taken a stand against it, and a lot of people like yourself still support it. What do you think? Why is it that you personally support the constitutional recognition over something like a treaty?
Well that’s the conversation right there. I support Treaty as well because that would give our mob and our people so many more benefits.
I think the movement right now—and I don’t want to downplay what Treaty is when we’re trying to compare it to Recognise, because I don’t think we should compare it to Recognise—and the support that we have from both sides of government, is constitutional recognition. I just think that it’s a really important thing that we change this document. This document has so many things in it that don’t work for our people, and the biggest thing obviously is that it doesn’t recognise us, and there’s still parts of it which are racist to minorities in this country.
I think if the movement right now, for me and both sides of government; was supporting Treaty, and they wanted to really make sure this happened for our people, then I think that there would not be one person in Australia—Aboriginal or non-Indigenous—that shouldn’t get behind that. I just hope that when people say Recognise isn’t what we need right now, I think that we should just think about what we’re trying to do at Recognise, and the way we need to change this language in this document so that we can then go forward and get Treaty, and get as much land back as we possibly can, or acknowledgement of land, at least.
So for you personally, would you say that getting constitutional recognition is really only the start, and it’s a way then to push or more?
The reason why I became an ambassador for Recognise is as soon as I found out what they were doing, and what we were trying to change, it was a no-brainer for me. I wasn’t brought up on my own country, I don’t have language, I have a strong connection to my country now, but Treaty to me has not been something that I’ve been a part of, I haven’t been a part of that discussion. But being a part of the Recognise movement, I can just see that we can get a real big win on the board by changing that constitution, and making sure that this document acknowledges us and our people and our language and our culture forever by putting it into our constitution. I don’t want it to be ever compared as ‘constitution versus treaty’, because it never should be compared like that. I understand why our mob and the community feel that Treaty is a higher priority, I get that, but I just think that we can get a real big win with our constitutional recognition, and I’ll be supporting both of those things—and I am supporting both of those things.
The way you speak about that is really inspiring. From my own perspective within the community, to have people like you in popular media to be able to speak about our issues is really important, and personally I’d like to thank you for that.
In regards to representation within the sports community, there are so many fantastic Aboriginal sportsmen and women in AFL and NRL. How do you see the AFL, both your team and the game more generally, as supporting and encouraging the development of Indigenous talent within the game?
I think the AFL and NRL and all sporting organisations are really reaping the benefits of the type of impact that our players, female or male, can have on the game. You look at grand final day in the AFL, Cyril Rioli just being absolutely incredible, winning the Norm Smith medal. You watch the next night and you see JT just running around out there with Justin Hodges, a few of the other boys, and then JT wins the medal for best on ground and wins the premiership, it just makes you proud.
For our mob, we need good positive role models to look up to and be inspired by, and there’s no doubt that the programs the AFL, NRL and other organisations put in place are helping our mob get better outcomes with health and education and becoming these good role models that we see today.
What role do you think sport plays within communities? There has been a lot of evidence to say that good sporting programs really encourage health. Is that something that you’re eager to explore, say taking better sports competition out to communities and youth?
Sport’s really important, but education is the way forward for me. We need as many of our kids starting school, going to school, doing their homework, and giving them the best opportunity to do whatever they want to do. There’s no better time to be an Aboriginal person in this country, with the amount of opportunities, commercially and individually, and I think the responsibility is now on us and our mob to help educate ourselves to make sure that we can start to take up some of these fantastic opportunities that our people have got.
I guess that obviously relates your view on education to your creation of the Go foundation… it’s quite small at the moment in the whole scheme of things. Are you hoping to be able to expand that further?
Yeah, definitely. We’ve only been up and running for about four years now. We’ve got 11 kids on our scholarships, we’re just about to put another lot of kids on for next year, which we’re really excited about. And our foundation has been able to do that without doing any fundraising yet. So we’re in a position next year to really move in a faster positive way. And obviously with myself having some more time free next year, I’m hoping that we can really get some big outcomes. But we also understand that there are a number of other organisations in our space doing fantastic work, and we’ve always been big on supporting them as well, because the more people in our mob getting the best education possible, the better.
I can already see the Indigenous leaders coming through that are so skilled, so educated, often in sporting arenas, that are doing so many great things out there in the community.
You mentioned your support of the White Ribbon program about taking a stand against domestic violence. Do you feel that’s a responsibility of you as a man, to stand up and say you’re completely against violence against women?
I think it’s the responsibility for everyone to take in our community, but I think men in our community are the ones that are committing these crimes against their families, their daughters, their sisters. I think the reason I got involved in White Ribbon is there are so many people I know who have gone through domestic violence and sexual harassment, and I just wanted to do something to help them and to help my future daughters, my nieces, my goddaughters, my aunties going forward, so they wouldn’t have to go through that.
The statistics are disgusting in our community, and I think it should be a responsibility of every male to take a stance against it and to make sure we don’t do those horrible things. Because women are more than the people who raise our children, they are fantastic leaders in their own rights in our community, and we want to give them the same safe environment, as we would expect.
Is there anything else that you want to tell people about you, your future, or past?
Not at all. I’m really interested to see the way you write it up. You’re the first person I’ve spoken to, not just since I retired, but since I had time off against Adelaide Crows, so you’ve got a good opportunity to produce something really special here which I’m looking forward to seeing.
Oh thank you. I was really excited doing this interview. As I said to you at the beginning, as an Indigenous woman, talking to Adam Goodes, a sports star and an Indigenous man, I think there’s definitely something to be said about shared experiences. Enjoy your trip and well deserved break.
Yeah I can’t wait to immerse myself in other people’s cultures and get lost for a couple of months with my girlfriend.
When I get back I’m going to help out at the university with summertime program with potential high school students, so if I’m around and you are, make sure you come say hi!