The allegations against Winmar – and by extension photographer Wayne Ludbey, who heard and reported his comments and stand at the time – have also precipitated legal action.
They followed a previous podcast by Newman and his team in which he accused AFL players of “preening” in taking a knee and a stand he said most of them did not even comprehend. The next move is surely for Sheahan to remove himself from a podcast friends and other senior AFL figures have been warning him against for years and therefore remove any credibility it may have previously claimed.
It is commentators like Newman, who has a history of racist behaviour but is becoming more irrelevant by the year, who empower the type of cowardly and racist social media attacks upon football heroes such as Betts.
The Winmar podcast took place in a complex environment in which Collingwood are trying but still struggling to come to terms with their treatment of Heritier Lumumba and AFL players are stepping up to the plate to show support for their Indigenous teammates.
Surely the Magpies must see that they owe Lumumba an apology. There are so many side issues to this story but once the club’s leaders choose to see the wood and not the trees they must understand that there is only one truth. An investigation into their recent history might help the club come to terms with itself but it is Lumumba, who for years has seen his words fall upon deaf ears, who deserves to be given some peace.
The AFL was not happy when Richmond footballers took an unscheduled knee shortly before the start of the round-three Hawthorn game. But, as David Astbury said after the game, to the players this is not a one-week issue.
And of all the interviews Patrick Dangerfield has granted since the COVID outbreak, his simple explanation of why footballers were making a pre-game statement on behalf of all of their teammates resonated the most.
The Herald Sun – in a veiled attack upon the AFL and its inclusion and social policy executive Tanya Hosch – last week reported that the league had not updated its reconciliation action plan since 2016. In theory this might be true but in practice Hosch has moved into action at virtually every opportunity according to her brief.
The article also came at a time that the AFL is reviewing its Indigenous Advisory Committee for the first time since its inception in 2016. Significantly Gillon McLachlan has outsourced the review to AFL life member and experienced club chief executive Peter Jackson, himself taking advice from an Indigenous elder.
The expectation is that with the AFL’s first Indigenous commissioner, Helen Milroy, two other commissioners sitting on the Indigenous board and Hosch overseeing the game’s Indigenous strategy and also the focal point for the relevant stakeholders, that a restructure is due. And it looks fraught with politics.
It is true that the AFL dropped the ball with Goodes until the end, with league chairman Richard Goyder failing to put his name to a generic apology on behalf of the industry, which only came about because two devastating and widely viewed documentaries forced the commission’s response.
And it may also be true that the reconciliation action plan was Hosch’s responsibility. But if theory is not her strong point then practice is. Goodes’ sensitive conversation with Sheahan after the aforementioned and bile-laden podcast was reported back to Hosch by Michael O’Loughlin.
Hosch has pushed persistently since her appointment in 2016 for Indigenous Australians to play a more prominent role in the football media, most recently hosting a round-table discussion on the subject shortly before the season shut down.
As head office and the 18 clubs start to rebuild and create a leaner more efficient version of their previous selves it is Hosch who is leading the fight for the retention of Indigenous pathways, programs and post-career opportunities, something the AFL has not officially guaranteed as it did the AFLW funding this week. McLachlan told the 18 club presidents and CEOs there remained a commitment to diversity but that commitment has not been financially ratified.
Hosch in recent weeks has overseen a series of meetings with Indigenous players coming to terms with their feelings over recent events in the United States. On Thursday she and McLachlan hosted a further session with the AFL captains who want to continue to make a united off-field stand on behalf of their Indigenous teammates.
Black lives matter. It is that simple. And surely for a game like Australian rules it’s a cause worth going to war for. The good news is that football’s black and white men and women are galvanising.
A good starting point would be for the AFL to step in and take over the Lumumba investigation. Surely that is why they have an integrity department.
Caroline Wilson is a Walkley award-winning columnist and former chief football writer for The Age.