AFL legend and 2014 Australian of the Year Adam Goodes told football broadcaster Mike Sheahan that he would 'walk across the street' to avoid him in the wake of his part in a podcast discussion of former St Kilda player Nicky Winmar's proud declaration of his Blackness at Victoria Park in 1993, now subject of a legal action by Winmar and photographer Wayne Ludbey.
Sheahan appeared on the podcast he shared with former players Sam Newman and Don Scott on Tuesday to address public reaction to the discussion and to state he would be leaving the show. Sheahan also stated that a prospective Fox Footy recording of an episode of Open Mike with Newman this week had also been cancelled, in light of the ongoing legal proceedings.
Winmar's anger at being questioned about his motivations for raising his St Kilda jumper in the direction of Collingwood supporters at Victoria Park and pointing proudly to the colour of his skin -- one of the seminal moments in Australian history -- has been manifest in pursuing legal action through the high powered firm Arnold Bloch Leibler, specifically represented by Leon Zwier. Sheahan explained at length how Goodes and other Indigenous players had made their disappointment crystal clear.
"When Goodesy rang me, and he's almost the elder statesman of the Indigenous players, he wasn't angry and he wasn't nasty, but he certainly was decisive and said a couple of things to me that really cut deeply, and I thought 'well, again this issue of you don't know what things mean to people unless you're on the receiving end of it'," Sheahan said on the podcast.
"I said to Goodesy 'well Adam, I'm sorry about that, but I'd like to think I could turn any corner in any city in Australia and confront an Indigenous player and we would welcome each other warmly'.
"And he said to me 'if you turn the corner tomorrow and you ran into me, I'd cross the road', and I thought 'geez', that really cut me, to think that. When you have such a profound impact on people who you like and respect - I'm not as practiced as you are at dealing with public fallout. He said to me 'we'll stay mates, but the brothers were really disappointed in you and I am too and you have to wear the outcome of what you said'.
"The one thing it reminded me of, was unless you walk in their shoes, in the shoes of the Indigenous boys, you don't understand, we don't comprehend what it means to them and the impact it has on them."
In expressing his apologies for his part in the discussion, Sheahan said that it was clear to him that numerous senior figures in the game had felt let down by someone they believed to be supportive of the cause of Indigenous football. "The thing that worried me most is I definitely did hurt some people who I regard as football friends," Sheahan said. "Indigenous people, Indigenous players, who I have a healthy relationship [with], and they were hurt and angry ... about casting aspersions on what the photo meant.
"This is me speaking in a moral sense. Adam Goodes rang me and was clearly hurt and a little angry about what I'd said. Mick O'Loughlin and I spoke. Micky and I are footy friends, I see quite a bit of him, he was the same, he said 'it won't affect our friendship, but the brothers were disappointed with you' for what I said. I think they felt I had abandoned them, I think they thought I was an ally. I'm speaking about my relationship with guys like Goodes, O'Loughlin, Gavin Wanganeen, Chris Johnson and those guys.
"They're not my lifelong friends because I only know them through footy, but I genuinely like them and I care for them and think they're good people, and I don't like unnecessarily hurting people. I'm speaking for me here, that's all. I think I see myself through their eyes as attacking an Aboriginal monument in football. I genuinely feel that they were hurt by what I said, and that's what I'm addressing. This is the forum where we discussed the issue initially and this is the forum where I should say I'm sorry for the pain I've caused you guys."
Newman had earlier said that he was now eager for a meeting with Winmar to "sort out" the ramifications of the previous week's episode. "Last week we had a fair amount of reaction to a topic we were discussing and you'll remember we were discussing the famous or infamous Nicky Winmar jumper lifting episode at Victoria Park when St Kilda played Collingwood in 1993 and there was a photo of him pointing to his chest," Newman said. "We discussed the two different areas of what people thought that was about. Some thought it was about his fitness, others thought it was about his skin colour. He said it was about his skin colour, and we were just discussing the two varying points of view.
"We were discussing the photo and what the various scenarios of it were. Since we've had that discussion a huge and giant kerfuffle has broken out about whether what we thought we were talking about and what Nicky Winmar has taken exception to. Could I say we meant in no way to cause any offence to Winmar and his team, and now at this stage there are lawyers and attorneys and QCs involved, standing like the O.K. Corral waiting at 10 paces to see what happens next.
"We hope to meet with Mr Winmar later in the week or at a time convenient to him and his team to sort this out, because we have no ulterior motive in trying to cause any offence at all. It was a light-hearted conversation we thought, which he has taken exception to. We're trying to resolve the matter in the best interests of all of us, so that's where that matter is."