Former AFL star Héritier Lumumba.
In this edition of Presence, I look at the past week where the disgusting treatment of star footballer Héritier Lumumba by his former club Collingwood made the headlines again in the wake of a damning leaked report that found systemic racism was endemic at the club. I reported on Lumumba’s reaction for the Guardian earlier this week where he rightly called out both Collingwood President Eddie Maguire and the club’s tactics to bypass their own complicity: “Instead of addressing the findings in the report, they issued a whole [lot] of meaningless statements, refusing to show accountability for the past and dismissed addressing historical complaints as ‘semantics’,” Lumumba said.
Prof Chelsea Watego presented a brilliant analysis of Maguire’s tactics in IndigenousX where she speaks to the way white men position themselves as innocent and powerless even in the face of a review - conducted by a black woman - which calls for transparency and accountability. I urge you to read it in full here.
Also in this edition, I bring you a podcast, which you can find at the top of this newsletter. I’m combining ‘Curtain the Podcast’ with Presence as both pieces of work inform each other. ‘Curtain the Podcast’ is an investigative podcast that is produced by myself and Yuin human rights lawyer Martin Hodgson. Our main goal is the exoneration of wrongfully convicted Aboriginal man Kevin Henry, but as part of this, we also probe the issues in the justice system that work to oppress and brutalise Aboriginal men, women and children. In this episode, we analyse the wrongful conviction case of Aboriginal man Zac Grieve - who was given a 20-year prison sentence for a murder in which he was not involved in, or even present (a fact even the trial judge acknowledges.)
One of the best ways you can support Kevin Henry and Zac Grieve is to help them financially - even the smallest contribution helps. I am currently awaiting details of where we can donate to Zac, but for Kevin, we have an ongoing Go Fund Me that goes directly to him. The funds help him in daily living costs that help him set up his life after 29 years of wrongful incarceration. Click here to donate.
Eddie Maguire must resign
A screenshot of Collingwood President Eddie Maguire’s press conference following the leaking of a damning report which uncovered systemic racism at the club.
In early December, Collingwood Football Club - which had been enmeshed in several high profile racist incidents and whose President once likened First Nations superstar Adam Goodes to ‘King Kong’ - was handed a draft report that found systemic racism was endemic at the club.
The independent report was led by one of Aboriginal Australia - and in fact, Australia’s - greatest thinkers - Distinguished Professor Larissa Behrendt, and was investigated by an all-Aboriginal team of researchers. Collingwood had commissioned the report in the wake of the treatment of Héritier Lumumba, a former Collingwood player of African and Indigenous Brazilian descent - who had over the course of a decade had endured racist nicknames and gaslighting from within the club. When he publicly called out Collingwood President Eddie Maguire’s comments claiming Goodes could play King Kong in 2013 - a highly racialised image that again equated black men to monkeys - Lumumba was ostracised and ultimately pushed out of the club.
The report did not investigate Lumumba’s claims but instead probed the culture of systemic racism that was endemic in Collingwood. And it did not sugar coat anything. It was a damning indictment of a club that had refused to even acknowledge its own racism or the effect this refusal to recognise this racism had on its own players. As the report stated: “It is clear that players and fans have experienced incidents of racism and that Collingwood’s response to these incidents has been at best ineffective, or at worst exacerbated the impact of the racist incidents. The continual failures in this regard speak to systemic racism within the Collingwood Football Club that must be addressed in things are to change.”
The report said that Collingwood had no clear avenue to make complaints, and often only responded when these complaints were aired in the media. When these incidents did come out in the media, Collingwood’s response was often defensive, rather than proactive: “The club takes a ‘gun pointing out’ or ‘double down’ approach rather than taking the lead in investigating and addressing complaints or issues raised.”
That paragraph was proven by Collingwood’s refusal to disseminate the report. This writer understands that despite Collingwood agreeing to make the report public, it ended up sitting on it for over a month until it was leaked on the front cover of the Herald Sun. This writer understands that the draft version of the report was handed down in December and within two days, Collingwood President Eddie Maguire had announced his retirement at the end of 2021.
Despite Collingwood claiming to have read the report in-depth, their response only further validated the truth of the report. Despite claiming to be supportive of the recommendations, and promising to implement all of them, Collingwood sent its media machine into overdrive. It was defensive. It ‘doubled down’.
The first outrage was the farcical press conference in which President Eddie Maguire claimed that actually, Collingwood wasn’t a ‘racist’ club, despite the report showing the opposite. He claimed it was a “proud” and “historic” day despite the club being dragged kicking and screaming to acknowledge the findings of the report. The club’s spin tried to claim that Collingwood was ahead of the rest of the country in dealing with racism when really it is exactly the opposite, and Héritier Lumumba’s experiences attest to that.
Yesterday, Collingwood released the latest defence in their arsenal, in the form of a brief statement endorsed by 120 footballers, netballers and staff at the club ‘apologising’ for the ‘past’. There were no names on the statement, and one wonders if those signatures included the Indigenous, black and POC staff at Collingwood.
The statement is worded to make it seem like racism at Collingwood was ‘historic’, and it was in the past. There is the use of the word ‘occurred’, to claim that the club had changed and somehow had magically cured its racism, despite the shining beacon of this racism - the figurehead of Eddie Maguire - still sitting high on his throne until the end of the year.
Like Maguire’s ridiculous claims that Collingwood was not ‘racist’, this claim, used to distance themselves and deny accountability for Collingwood’s treatment of victims, is completely without logic. The report was handed down in December. It was conducted last year. This is the now, and the consequences - the pain and the hurt - that stems from these experiences is still keenly felt. And as the report explains, its policies, including its bullying policies which were only changed in 2020 to include racism - have not been tested. It’s amazing how the testimony of the white witness - in this case Eddie Maguire and his cronies as well as white players at Collingwood like Darcy Moore (who did the media rounds yesterday) can make claims like this without evidence when the burden on the black witness is so often enormous. You don’t have to look further to see this than in the treatment of Héritier Lumumba by the club, the media and the wider AFL fraternity.
Lumumba has been validated by this report, but his testimony should have been believed. Instead, he was slandered by the press. His concerns were invalidated. He was questioned about whether he was lying by ‘journalists’ like Waleed Aly and Peter Hellier.
The club backgrounded journalists about him holding a grudge and insinuated his claims were a result of mental health issues. He was continually gaslighted and made to look like the irrational angry black man even while standing defiant against a powerful machine that heralded him for his athletic ability on the field, but which did everything possible to silence him when he walked off it. In Prof Chelsea Watego’s IndigenousX piece this week, she reminds us again of how white men as perpetrators of racism obscure their complicity by claiming innocence and powerlessness. They attempt to distance themselves even while being perpetrators of racist violence.
“The concept of ‘systemic racism’ in the press conference, much like that of ‘colonisation’ in High Ground, is strangely framed as something white men have nothing to do with. McGuire and his mates point to racism as existing somewhere else, out there, in other clubs, in the community, and in policies, procedures and processes, but not belonging to any person, and certainly not a white man. This otherness renders them helpless, as we observed when McGuire laments having forgot his thesaurus.”
There have to be consequences for not only Heritier’s treatment but the treatment of other Indigenous and black players at Collingwood. Eddie Maguire must resign.
I’m going to continue reporting on the Collingwood racism scandal over the next week, but for now, I would love to hear your thoughts.
This Aboriginal man was given 20 years for a crime he did not commit. In fact, he was never even there.
I have a keen interest in cases of wrongful conviction, which in Australia, does not have the same level of awareness as in the United States. And yet, we have several high profile cases of wrongfully convicted men and women - and many of them have been Aboriginal.
Yuin lawyer Martin Hodgson - who has worked on high profile cases like Rodney Reed in the US - and I have been documenting these cases through our podcast ‘Curtain’, named after Kevin Henry - who is an Aboriginal man who spent 29 years in jail for a crime we have shown he did not do. Over this year, we are ramping up our fight for Kevin. Our first step was getting him out of jail on parole, and our next is his full exoneration.
But in the meantime, we also want to cover other cases. And the case of Zac Greives in the Northern Territory is an outrage. Zac Grieves is an Aboriginal man who was senteced to 20 years in jail for a murder he did not commit, and for which he was not even present at the crime scene. Because of his involvement - and there are even questions raised about the extent of his knowledge about the crime (he maintains he thought it was a bashing and not a murder), he was handed a sentence that was even heavier than the perpetrators under the NT’s mandatory sentencing laws. Even the judge at his sentencing stated that his hands were tied.
In this episode, Martin and I analyse Zac’s case. We explain why it’s a wrongful conviction, give some background around mandatory sentencing and also tell our listeners how we can support Zac and his mother’s fight for justice. You can listen in the file up the top of this newsletter, or wherever you get your podcasts (type in Curtain the Podcast).
That’s all from me for this week! Let me know your thoughts… my plans for the coming weeks are to continue following Collingwood, and I have a few other stories I’m researching in the background. If you have any tips or suggestions, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org