2014’s Australian of the Year is taking a break from Australian rules football because of persistent racial abuse

Australian rules football is a weird sport. Think a cross between soccer, rugby, and mixed martial arts. It’s not a proper match until at least one player’s been rushed to the emergency room.

Sadly, though, it has more in common with soccer than just the use of feet to kick the ball. It, too, has a racism problem.

A scandal’s been rumbling for weeks because the sport’s star Indigenous player is getting booed at games and reportedly considering retirement as a result: Adam Goodes, 2014’s Australian of the Year.

The Guardian reports that the booing started in 2013 when a 13-year-old girl called the Sydney Swans player an “ape” during a match and he pointed her out, leading to her ejection. The jeering has escalated lately and now he’s on indefinite leave.

Other articles suggest that it stems from anger at strong anti-racism comments he has made in the press. Which, if true, is a rather depressing way to back up his argument.

“He became Australian of the Year and tells us that we’re all racists,” Alan Jones, a radio host, told Channel Seven. (That would be the same Alan Jones previously convicted in court of racial vilification.)

“What we’re talking about is a really complex issue that’s currently sitting in the sports area and involves Adam, but I think it’s something that constantly is part of Australia, and disappointingly so,” Swans CEO Andrew Ireland told reporters.

All in all, given Goodes’ inspirational personal story of success despite obstacles and his desire to use his profile to encourage equality, it’s an example of how sports has the potential to promote positive change but often ends up reflecting and reinforcing some of society’s worst traits.