The AFL championed those causes, and Long singles out the late Tony Peek as instrumental in the 25-year-old racial vilification policy’s implementation, but there’s little doubt few have done more than Long to advance the Indigenous cause in Australian football.
“We will see the colours red and black and yellow all around the stadium tomorrow in protest of what has been happening,” Long says, in reference to the fact fans can bring the flag to the Dreamtime game in Darwin, but the AFL can’t display it on the field or on their marketing campaigns without paying.
“I am glad the AFL didn’t pay for it [to use the flag], because it is the people’s flag. It is totally ridiculous.”
On racial abuse on social media, Long is reminded of how he received threatening letters in his playing days.
“Social media, how do you stop that?” he says. “We are doing our part in society to educate and that’s all we can do sometimes. It’s the key.”
The Dreamtime game in Darwin was a happy accident because coronavirus has driven football out of Victoria.
Long, one of the most famous Indigenous players from the NT, along with stars such as Andrew McLeod, Cyril Rioli Jnr, Gilbert McAdam, Daryl White and Maurice Rioli, is “grateful” the game is there for 2020.
“It’s quite special having it here, with Essendon and Richmond’s connection to the Territory with Kevin Sheedy and Maurice Rioli, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and Daniel Rioli,” Long says.
The AFL’s head of inclusion and social policy Tanya Hosch says she continues to be struck by the “incredible pride” Territorians have in their VFL/AFL heroes and the way the game is embedded in the spirit of the area.
“Obviously there’s the players that everyone knows but there’s a lot of football stories here beyond what’s happened at the elite level that are very special,” she says.
“When you think about the Tiwi Bombers and St Mary’s and Buffaloes – the football spirit is so strong and it is an important part of life and an important part of the social fabric here.”
President of powerful local Darwin side St Mary’s, Steve Ludwig, says the city is buzzing, particularly the kids.
“It’s about positive role models for them,” he says. “We don’t need to focus on negative stories about Aboriginal people all the time.
“The commitment, discipline and family support is a huge thing to celebrate in AFL and AFLW players who are Aboriginal.
“Role models who are proud about their culture.”
Long is constantly at the forefront of trying to better social and health outcomes for Indigenous Australians and football in the NT is, for him, the most powerful vehicle for that.
“With some of the programs we run we always use footy as a way to change things, the power to make things better.”
Anthony is a sports reporter at The Age.