The Daily Telegraph
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
THE 13-year-old girl vilified for accidentally making a racist slur against indigenous footballer Adam Goodes is the daughter of a single mother on a disability pension, from one of the most underprivileged and powerless backgrounds possible.
Yet the elites of Australia’s sport and media have not stopped smashing her and her family as racist rednecks.
The debacle began on Friday night at the MCG when the girl, a Collingwood fan, leaned across from her front row seat and shouted at Swans player Goodes: “You’re an ape”.
Understandably this upset Goodes, since ape is understood by most people, although not the girl, to be a racist slur.
So he pointed her out to stadium officials.
Fair enough. But her treatment since has been unforgiveable, starting with the security guards who paraded her through a jeering crowd, the police who detained her, to the AFL officials who decided to make an example of her and the media that spread her name and picture far and wide.
Goodes is the least culpable, but his statement: “Racism had a face - and it was a 13-year-old girl” was hyperbole that fanned the hysteria, even if he did say it wasn’t her fault.
Later he tried to make amends by calling off the witch-hunt.
But by then it was too late. A respected, highly-paid footballer, the powerful institution of the AFL and the collective force of the mass media had unleashed a witless, cowardly mob on a vulnerable little girl.
The girl, who we will call Samantha, lives with her single mother and two sisters, aged 15 and 16, in a small town in the depressed Gippsland area of Victoria. Her father, estranged from the family, is unemployed and lives in the even more depressed Latrobe Valley.
She only turned 13 last month, and has a sweet baby face, though she is tall for her age. Goodes said he knew she was young when he called her out.
“She is just a child,” says her mother Joanne, who is on a disability pension, with agoraphobia, anxiety and depression. “It’s been a media circus for a single word she didn’t even understand was racist. He was a big bloke with a hairy face. That’s all she meant. It was one moment taken way out of proportion.”
Joanne split from the father of her girls when Samantha was a baby, but his mother, Lucy, aka “Nana”, who works at the Hazelwood power station, “helps a lot”.
Nana bought AFL season tickets for the girls and drives a six-hour round trip to Melbourne to take them to Collingwood games.
It was the highlight of Samantha’s life - until Friday.
“She was crying when (the security guards) took her away,” says Joanne. “She thought they were just going to take her to the top of the steps and talk to her.”
Instead she was taken to the stadium police, questioned and detained from 10.10pm to 12.20am while her grandmother and sisters were told to stay where they were.
“She was beside herself.”
Goodes was asked if he wanted to press charges. He didn’t, but what a chilling concept.Joanne, was at home watching the news when she saw the incident: “My godfather - that’s my daughter!”
Nana didn’t get the girls home till 3am. Little did they know of the media firestorm that would extend to New York and London. Samantha rang Goodes the next day and wrote him a letter: “I’m sorry for being racist. I didn’t mean any harm and now I’ll think twice before I speak.”
Goodes accepted her apology with good grace. But the baying guardians of public morality wouldn’t let up.
Child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg watched the lynch mob with horror, saying people forget she “has the mind of a child. A unique characteristic of 13-year-olds is an inability to predict the consequences of their actions Kids are all accelerator, no brake.”
Her punishment has been disproportionately harsh, which is of concern at a time when girls are so vulnerable in our toxic culture. In his new book Raising Girls, psychologist Steve Biddulph says girls are in a “catastrophic state of crisis” because of pressure to grow up too fast, leading to an epidemic of eating disorders and self-harm.
“We’ve seen a marked decline in the mental health of girls,” says Carr-Gregg. They hit puberty earlier, but their brains haven’t caught up. So the psychological problems he used to see in girls of 16 he is now seeing at 12. Samantha will avoid long-term psychological trauma, depending on her “temperament, personality, and the amount of support she’s had”.
So far she’s OK. Her sisters defend her from Facebook trolls, and the pastor from her small school of 138 students has visited.
“All the kids at the school have been great,” says Joanne. “They’ve turned it into a bit of a joke and everyone’s been calling each other ape.”
Samantha is a “very outgoing, full-on kid. She’s one for blurting stuff out but she won’t be blurting things out any more. She’ll be in her shell, I think”.
Yes, Samantha has learned her lesson. But it’s no thanks to the commentators who sneered all week at a vulnerable young girl and her family.
Well, meet the family now, and see how virtuous you are.
UPDATE This morning on radio Collingwood president Eddie McGuire joked that Adam Goodes should play King Kong in the musical. No wonder Goodes is sensitive. So, tough guys, are you going to smash Eddie like a defenceless 13-year-old girl?
The controversial comment came while McGuire was speaking with co-host Luke Darcy on Triple M’s Hot Breakfast show this morning.
Darcy was talking about the new musical. “What a great promo that is, for King Kong,” he said.
To which McGuire replied: “Get Adam Goodes down for it, d’you reckon?”
“No, I wouldn’t have thought so,” was the response from Darcy.
McGuire went on, stumbling over his words: “You can see them doing that, can’t you? Goodesy. You know, the big, not the ape thing the whole thing, I’m just saying the pumping him up and mucking around and that sort of stuff.”
He then said: “Just to clear up, when we were talking about King Kong there and I was mumbling my way through about Goodesy, I was trying to say ‘Imagine the old days of trying to get people in for publicity’ and I’ve mumbled my way through that so anyone who thought that I was having a go or being a smart alec I take that back.”
Darcy: “Yeah. Not sure where you were going there.”
McGuire: “Nah, neither did I halfway there I was that exhausted this morning, so apologies to that.”