Another AFL season, another racist slur directed at an indigenous player.
Sadly, it seems that these two things will be forever linked.
But the AFL must not carry the blame and responsibility for this act.
This time it was emerging indigenous player Joel Wilkinson who was verbally abused by a Collingwood fan when the Pies took on Gold Coast.
In this circumstance you have to feel sorry for Wilkinson, who even today has to tolerate this unacceptable behaviour when he is trying to do something that he loves.
Collingwood star Harry O’Brien put it best when he said that both he and Wilkinson agreed that it is “really unfortunate” that there are still people with that “level of awareness and ignorance”.
More broadly, you have to feel for the AFL.
It is the business of the Australian Football League to confront the complicated issue of racism in their game, and every time a player is verbally abused by an ignorant fan it reflects badly on the AFL.
But image isn’t the big problem here because quite frankly, racism isn’t a problem a sporting association can solve.
Before indigenous round this year, Michael Long called for a sharing of knowledge between AFL clubs for a better understanding of the leagues indigenous players.
Long believes the “power of football” can have a great effect on AFL culture and he’s not wrong.
Football, as well as most national sports, unites the masses and the AFL can use that to deliver messages to players and fans alike.
But the AFL already does this, primarily through indigenous round, which raises awareness and knowledge about this country’s traditional owners while celebrating the indigenous talent in our game.
The high point of this past fortnight, the Dream Time at the G match, highlights all of these messages and celebrations and through Michael Long’s “Long walk to the G” all Australians are invited to unite not as indigenous and non-indigenous people, but as football fans.
Put that alongside a host of programs such as “AFL Kickstart” and the “Indigenous employment strategy” which promote healthy lifestyles, foster leadership and cultural values and set challenging targets for indigenous employment across the country.
Even Andrew Demetriou’s response to the Matt Rendell scandal, describing his hesitation to recruit indigenous players as “shockingly ignorant and disappointing” sends a clear message about the AFL’s view on racism.
The AFL does a good job trying to educate the community and the clubs about indigenous players while condemning racist actions but the truth is that the problem is far too big for a sporting association to handle.
No matter how many programs they have, or how many messages they send, players like Joel Wilkinson will always have to deal with these things.
Racism is global and endemic across all societies, and the AFL’s efforts represent a small slice of a much bigger problem.
So by all means, celebrate indigenous culture, continue to educate players and assist the indigenous community.
But do not condemn the AFL when racism seeps into the sporting arena.