For 350 games Eddie Betts has plied his trade on the AFL fields of Australia.
“For me, all I want to do is put smiles on people’s faces,” Betts said.
Betts was the type of player you enjoyed watching in the hope he would kick “goal of the year” - an award he won 4 times in his 17 year career.
Yet despite this glittering career, it is fair to say Eddie Betts brought out the best and worst of Australian sports lovers.
Hitting my heart and attitude
Eddie Betts will go down as one the best small forwards to ever play the game of Australian Rules football.
The 34-year-old unfortunately is no stranger to racism having been at the centre of a number of vile attacks and has long been a voice behind the fight to stamp out racism within the AFL. Recently, as he announced his retirement from the game, he has challenged Australians with incredibly moving and emotional speeches decrying the racism that is still prevalent today.
He appeared on the well-respected sports show AFL360 (10th August 2021), and his comments speaking about his former teammate Taylor Walker (found guilty of racist slurs towards an indigenous player) sum up the emotional toll racism has caused him and other Indigenous players throughout their careers.
"It's been hard, to be honest. It's been really tough to deal with especially when it comes to racism. I've been dealing with this my whole life, my mother has, my father has, and it's tiring. It hurts, it's draining … it actually really hurts to be honest.
“I'm starting to get emotional about it just talking about it here. Everything that's happened over the past 48 hours to the last week, it's been hard. I just need everyone to go on a journey and start educating and start those conversations. Taylor Walker's going on his journey at the moment, and I know what kind of person Taylor Walker is and I know he'll keep to his word. He'll do this to 110 per cent.”
“It just hurts. And you have to look at it, last night Kozzy Pickett getting racially abused again over in Western Australia. I was racially abused last week and the week before – I don't know if you saw my story in The Age – it just keeps happening.”
“I'm sick of it. I'm sick of fighting. It's draining. I've been on this show pouring my heart out begging, hoping Australia would listen and it's hard. We need to start having those conversations in the workplace, in the schooling. The only way we're going to work together is when we start educating ourselves.”
“I can't do it, I can't, it's hard. And I need everyone, I need you guys, I need the people at home tonight watching this. You guys that are sitting at home on the couch, you guys are going to be the ones with the powerful voice here, you guys are going to be the ones to make change. Because I can't keep doing it.”
Are we listening?
It’s about time people other than Indigenous players start speaking out against the slurs, the stereotypes, the assumptions, and the jokes.
Problems are human problems, they’re not just aboriginal problems.
I spent 4 years playing Australian Rules football in Alice Springs for South Alice Springs Kangaroos. An indigenous run club, I was fortunate to be accepted, treated respectfully, and given the time of my life. There were times I was the only white fella on the field. The indigenous players were skilful, hard at the footy and loved the contest. They definitely came hard at me at times, and I have a few good scars to prove it.
I was awarded The Tony Cusack medal for best player on the field v Yuendemu. The medal honours former South player injured left a quadriplegic during a football game. - a tough game against our “family” team from the remote community. With a nice cut under my eye, I was battered pillar to post that game. As I walked out the stadium in Alice Springs (ok, limped), I was confronted by a number of Yuendemu players.
“God bless you number 19, good game.” This was also after standing in the middle of Traeger Park after the game in one circle, arm in arm, and a player prayed in their own language.
In my final game at South, the preliminary final v Federal, I injured myself quite badly towards the end of the first quarter and could not play out the game. This did not stop my indigenous brothers chairing me off the field at the end of the game. I cried and felt an overwhelming sense of honour and love.
I learnt to listen.
I learnt to play the game I love in a totally different way.
I learnt the value of friendship and family.
Not once was I the subject of racial abuse. I was the minority. There was hurt, pain and disillusionment with Australia expressed and the way things were and had been, but I was not the subject of their frustrations.
So, why target Eddie?
I never really have understood the reasoning behind the racist tone, slurs or comments from spectators some players have been subjected to.
There is no room for racism. Anywhere.
Your job and my job, as we learn to follow Jesus on our own journeys, includes reconciliation with our first Australians, because the message of Jesus is that we all belong with God, together—no separation, no difference in status or worth.
The phrase that was the motto at Yirara College where I worked for those four years was:
We are one family – God’s family.
Russell Modlin teaches English and Physical Education at a Christian School on the Sunshine Coast. He is married to Belinda and they have three children.
Russell Modlin’s archive of previous article can be found at www.pressserviceinternational.org/russell-modlin.html