AFL legend Adam Goodes has delivered a captivating address to indigenous NRL players at this weekend’s Indigenous Festival of Rugby League.
Speaking to a group including Greg Inglis, Alex Johnston, Cody Walker, Joel Thompson, Bevan French and Wade Graham, he spoke about breaking the cycle of poverty that can ruin the post-playing careers of even highly successful indigenous athletes through poor decisions or simply not understanding how to manage their money.
Goodes also spoke about his own history, bravely confronting racism throughout his playing days and how he came to find his voice and gain the confidence to make a stand.
Speaking to NRL.com after the address, Goodes said he felt passionately about helping young Indigenous men – regardless of what code or sport they played – break that cycle.
“It’s just about providing other indigenous men advice on my story and how I was able to put my money to work whilst I was playing to be able to retire from footy debt-free,” Goodes said.
“It’s about how young indigenous men who are out there playing professional sport, that they should have goals for their money, they should be putting their money into investments and making that money work for them.”
As Goodes addressed the crowd in a small conference room at Sydney’s Hyatt Regency Hotel on Friday afternoon, every pair of eyes was transfixed on the 2014 Australian of the Year as he commanded the full attention of everyone in attendance.
“The brutal honesty of being an indigenous person is that our life expectancy isn’t going to be as high as other non-indigenous people,” Goodes said.
“Our wealth generation’s not going to be as high as other people. They’re just the statistics. For me it’s about trying to break those statistics, trying to break the back of poverty, trying to bring as many other indigenous people as possible on the same journey and the best way to do that is for them to be the best footballer they possibly can be.
“Because if they’re the best footballer they possibly can be they’re going to have the potential to earn a lot more money and hopefully have that money working for them.”
Goodes also took a pragmatic approach to the targeted racist abuse directed at him from some supporters throughout his career and encouraged NRL players who faced similar issues to do the same, aiming for an educational and conciliatory approach.
“I don’t blame people for the views they have,” Goodes said.
“They need to learn a little bit more empathy, learn a little but more about indigenous culture because it’s a very inclusive culture.
“The people that do frown upon us, look down upon us, say negative things about us – come walk in our shoes, come live a day in our life and see if that might change your mind.”
Goodes also had high praise for the inclusive approach the NRL and rugby league community took regarding indigenous culture through events such as the current festival and also the annual Indigenous All Stars fixtures.
“I think the NRL and these guys that are part of the camp over the weekend, the indigenous boys, they’ve got a real opportunity to help mould the NRL and future generations,” Goodes said.
“[They can] make the competition for future Indigenous men coming through a really positive experience about celebrating culture and celebrating who we are, where we come from and even though we’re from all different parts of Australia we can come together and celebrate the way we do.”
Joel Thompson told NRL.com Goodes’s message had very much resonated with the NRL players.
“He’s a really powerful speaker and spoke about identity and different things boys can relate to about how to utilise your money that you earn,” Thompson said.
“It was really good to hear him speak, even about how important it was for him to make a stand when he did and how comfortable he was doing that and the boys got a lot out of it.
“I think a lot of people, sometimes we stick our heads in the sand and pretend things aren’t there when they really are. It was good for guys like him and other people in our community to stand up and be confident standing up. It shows young people and the next generation that it’s OK to do that.
“If you feel passionate and strongly about something then you stand up. That’s the message he delivered and when he spoke it was so powerful, he had the whole room and we got a lot out of it.”