After Eddie

Eddie McGuire is not the end, as much as the AFL would like him to be.

A culture as toxic as the one described in the report that finally ended his 22-year tenure as Collingwood president cannot be seeded and maintained by one man.

No doubt he was a central figure. And the tenor of his resignation speech – “we are not a racist club, far from it” – suggests a lack of serious reckoning within himself about the findings of the report.

But a culture that elevates a figure such as McGuire, venerates him, forgives his continued breaches of expectation and passes off his racist and sexist comments as gaffes is not capable of changing itself.

Rather, the AFL has poured its energies into turning the management of scandal into art.

Already the spinners have pitched McGuire’s resignation as the start of a new chapter, while refusing to acknowledge the risk and personal toll taken by Héritier Lumumba to make public the reality of what was happening inside that club.

Already the columns have started to appear framing McGuire as a victim of a mob mania sparked by a Black man’s complaint that he was given the nickname “Chimp”.

The subtext is there, if you look for it: Lumumba went too far, Eddie took one for the team.

The AFL’s instinct is to close ranks.

It did just that when Adam Goodes spoke out about his racial vilification by Collingwood fans.

It does so every time there’s another sexual assault claim levelled against a player.

In part, this instinct is about money. Every year, the league brings in revenue of nearly $800 million. There are fortunes to be made – on the field, but especially in the executive ranks.

At the heart of it, though, this is about control.

When someone refuses to fall in line – from Goodes to Lumumba – they are cast out of the inner sanctum. Their sanity is questioned, and a powerful media complex is activated to discredit them.

This is how power works in Australia, inside AFL HQ and far beyond.

And it is why McGuire’s resignation should matter to those who’ve never watched a game as much as it does to the most diehard fan.

It is right for McGuire to go, there is no question about that, but leaving in place everything that enabled him to be one of the country’s most connected people is a superficial fix.

There is something deeply broken in a country that recoils from a person asking for basic equality. Something that calls for more than the resignation of one man.

As for McGuire, he will be fine. There will likely be a lucrative commentator job in the near future, as there have been for many scandal-plagued football insiders before him.

The structure will always hold up those it was built to support.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 13, 2021 as "After Eddie".

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