AFL great Tim Watson has come under fire for his comments expressing surprise over Sydney Swans legend Adam Goodes' decision to decline his unanimous nomination for the league's Hall fo Fame.
Goodes retired from the AFL in 2015, after more than a year of boos and racial taunts directed at him by AFL fans stemming from an incident in which a teenage girl called him an 'ape'.
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The AFL was highly criticised for not doing more to shield Goodes, a dual Brownlow Medal winner and premiership star, from the taunts, with each of the league's 18 clubs formally apologising for their failures in 2019.
The circumstances of Goodes' retirement mean his decision to respectfully decline the nomination should come as little surprise - however Essendon champion Watson said he was taken aback that Goodes hadn't 'repaired some of those bridges' between himself and the AFL in the five years since his retirement.
He and co-host Garry Lyon were both surprised by Goodes' decision.
“(I’m surprised) because I would have thought … he’s been retired for five years, I would’ve thought in that five years repatriation had taken place and that the damage that occurred at that time I thought it might have eased on him mentally and he might have been able to repair some of those bridges between himself and the game and feel differently about his time and then just appreciated all the great things about the game that were delivered to him and that he earned for himself," Watson said on SEN Radio on Monday.
“We always say time is a great healer, I just thought that the time may have healed all those differences. Clearly, it hasn’t.
“It’s his right, it’s his entitlement not to accept an induction if that’s the way that he feels. I’m saddened by all that though. I’m sad that it cut him so deeply that five years on, he still feels like he doesn’t have a place in AFL football.”
His comments, particularly the suggestion that Goodes should have worked to repair the relationship between himself and the AFL, drew significant backlash.
Former Socceroos star Francis Awaritefe said it was proof many in the AFL world still 'don't get it' when it comes to the lasting pain caused by racial vilification.
Yep, they still don’t get it. Many just don’t get how harmful the impacts of racism on the likes of Goodes, Lumumba, Wilkinson and many many Indigenous players over the years," he wrote on Twitter.
"The wounds go deep. In some instances, some never fully recover.”
Eddie Betts backs Adam Goodes over Hall of Fame decision
Carlton forward Eddie Betts, another Indigenous footballer to have been targeted with racial abuse over the course of his career, fully supported Goodes' decision to decline the nomination.
In an interview with AFL 360, Betts said time doesn't heal all wounds, adding that his own memories of racial abuse linger painfully to this day.
“It leaves a scar and when you talk about racial abuse and would time heal that, time can’t heal racism, that sticks with you forever,” Betts said.
“When I think about it, I think about every time I’ve been racially abused and it cuts me deep, it really does, it still cuts me to this day and I think it’s going to hurt for the rest of my life. I think what happened to Adam will hurt him for the rest of his life.
“I think people out there have to respect his decision and understand his decision, I know it’s been out in the media today and I know there will be a lot of comments about Adam and his life but I just believe that people need to respect Adam’s decision, this is his decision, he’s been racially abused.
“If you haven’t been racially abused, then you don’t know what it feels like, it cuts you deep and obviously it cut Adam really deep and hopefully people out there can respect the decision that Adam doesn’t want to accept that.”
AFL commission chair Richard Goyder confirmed on Tuesday that the dual Brownlow medallist had knocked back the nomination and Goodes had asked for the reasons why not to be detailed.
"Adam was clear he did not want his decision to detract from the moment for the 2021 inductees," Goyder said.
"Adam remains a great champion and leader of our game who has given more to our sport than he received in return."
Goodes' final three seasons, particularly his last, were marred by ugly booing from crowds, and he also became a target for controversial figures in the media.
The AFL eventually apologised for how the saga was handled by the league but Goyder has again conceded Goodes was let down by the game's governing body.
"The treatment of Adam in his final years at AFL level drove him from football. The AFL and our game did not do enough to stand with him at the time, and call it out," Goyder said.
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