This story was first written for and published by The Roar.
“I regret the comments I made about Caitlyn Jenner. What I said was not appropriate and I’m sorry to anyone offended.”
Another week. Another Sam Newman apology.
This time it was in relation to a gag that went horribly wrong on the AFL Footy Show last week.
In their game against North Melbourne a couple of weeks ago, the St Kilda cheer squad unveiled a banner which read: “Saints R On A Roll, Believe The Hype, Last Week Wasn’t Pretty, Like This Kardashian Lookalike”. At the bottom of the banner was a photo of Caitlyn Jenner.
The AFL Footy Show decided it was an opportune moment to target a marginalised group in Australia and make them the butt of one of their ridiculous jokes.
The ‘joke’ was clearly a set-up. Co-host Billy Brownless asked Sam Newman if he knew who Caitlyn Jenner was. His response?
“I know who he… it is… Oh well, what is she? Is it a he or a she? … Is it transgender, is it?”
There are so many things wrong with this comment. A lack of thought. A lack of consideration for other people and clearly a failure to understand how damaging comments like this can be to people who identify as transgender.
But what was most disappointing about this comment was that I no longer continue to be surprised that Sam Newman says things that are deeply offensive to people. He has history and this history is not confined to just one kind of offensive comment.
I’ve seen his genitals on television. I’ve seen him wear blackface. I’ve seen him shame respected journalist Caroline Wilson several times, including after she stood up and made it very clear that Eddie McGuire’s joke about drowning her was not appropriate.
But I’m not angry at Newman anymore. Any person that thinks it’s appropriate to use marginalised groups to get a cheap laugh is not a person whose opinion I’m interested in.
Instead, I’m angry at the network that continues to give him a platform to air his views on television to millions of people. I’m also angry at the co-hosts who sat through the skit, chuckled uncomfortably and didn’t say anything.
The fact that this ‘joke’ went ahead says plenty about the type of group think that can go on at major networks.
We’ve been through this before. Newman says something stupid. Newman is forced to apologise. The network continues to condone his behaviour by giving him chance after chance to offend on national television.
These apologies no longer mean anything and won’t until he is taken off the air.
If you are an AFL fan and passionate about diversity, then I don’t expect you to be someone who watches the AFL Footy Show in the first place (you probably watch Marngrook instead).
But dwindling ratings don’t seem to be enough to force this show off the air.
I encourage you to use your voices. Tell your footy clubs that you don’t like the sort of pranks pulled on the show and that you no longer want the players that represent your club to appear on the show.
The hosts of The Outer Sanctum podcast last week rightly called out that “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept”. If a player from your team appears on the show and one of these ‘gags’ is made, are you comfortable that your club is associated with that episode?
Are you comfortable with putting your player in a position where they are forced to either be part of gags like this or speak out in a difficult environment?
I’m certainly not, which is why I wrote to the GWS Giants about it this week and I sincerely hope action is taken.
If our sports truly are to be inclusive for everyone, then people like Sam Newman should no longer have a place in the conversation, and initiatives like ‘Rainbow Round’, ‘Indigenous Round’ and ‘Pride Games’ need more support and celebration around them.
Coincidentally, Newman’s comments last week came ahead of the news that a transgender woman is making preparations to try out for the second season of the AFLW. At the moment, this woman has decided to remain anonymous.
Can you blame her? Apart from wanting her football to do the talking, it’s clear that there is still plenty of work to be done to make our sports truly inclusive.
With the support of the AFL and the AFL Player’s Union, she will be trying out at several Victorian clubs.
She has been approved by the International Olympic Committee as a transgender woman so this will not be a barrier to her playing AFL. What may be a barrier is her talent or whether a club is willing to take on someone that doesn’t fit a traditional mould.
The AFLW broke ground for so many wonderful reasons last year – for improved ratings, the amount of interest, the quality of talent and above all, the celebration of diversity.
After all the ground AFLW broke earlier this year, I’m confident the AFL is progressive enough to be able to give this woman an opportunity.
Nobody tell Sam Newman though.