According to Lumumba, Buckley thought he had thrown the president “under a bus”. He eventually left and played for Melbourne before ending his career.
We can never know all of what has gone on behind the closed doors of a football club, but Lumumba’s claims are deeply troubling. It would be hard to imagine a more racist nickname than “chimp”.
Although Lumumba was popular with teammates and didn’t complain at the time, that’s not uncommon and doesn’t mean a racist nickname doesn’t sting.
As English writer Lemn Sissay explained to the ABC’s Richard Fidler, the pressure to go along with a racist nickname can be immense: “My nickname was chalky white. I can take a joke. I spent all my life, when I went into the children’s homes, taking a joke, proving my character to people because I could take their joke. When I realised it wasn’t a joke was when I said that I’d heard that before. And they would say ‘What’s wrong with you, have you got a chip on your shoulder?’”
At the press conference after the Collingwood/Richmond clash on Thursday, Buckley made some comments directly addressing Lumumba’s concerns. He “reached out” and asked him to come to the club and see how far it has come. For this he received lavish praise from the commentators on Seven. But Buckley’s gesture was inadequate and misjudged. It is little wonder it was rebuffed by Lumumba.
Buckley, and Collingwood, have completely failed to address Lumumba’s concerns. They have also shown a remarkable lack of curiosity about the truth of his claims. Why should Lumumba go to Collingwood and pat the club on the back for making “progress” on racism after his mistreatment? What has progress even got to do with him if they won’t even look into his complaint?
Has the club made an effort to actually find out what happened? Former Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse told ABC radio on Friday that he had never heard the nickname “chimp” used. Nor it seems has anyone else. No one is exactly saying it didn’t happen, just that they don’t remember it.
The most important thing the club needs to do now is find out if the claims are true and, if so, apologise for his mistreatment. Lumumba has even gone further and said he doesn’t want to single out individuals. He is not asking that anyone be thrown under a bus. He simply wants the club to acknowledge what went on.
Collingwood has a long and problematic history with racism, dating back to before the day Nicky Winmar lifted his shirt to Collingwood fans and pointed to his black skin. I believe its efforts to change are real, but it would be naive to think it doesn’t still have a way to go.
It is clear that McGuire and Buckley, the two most senior leaders at the club, care deeply about all their people. Both have worked hard to be inclusive. Both have shown they are capable of admitting mistakes and showing real leadership, the kind that takes real courage and has a real cost.
Lumumba has offered them an opportunity to face up to something difficult and shameful. They should take it.
Misha Ketchell is editor of The Conversation and a lifelong Collingwood supporter.