Pell & McGuire: What’s the problem? They said sorry. Move on now? Er, no.

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Royalty isn’t answerable to commoners. King Richard, by Ali West

Twice in a week we’ve seen a powerful and important man come unstuck because of an inability to put himself in another man’s shoes. Each mystified, even irritated, at the hostile reaction.

At his press conference, Eddie McGuire talked over the top of his questioners in his rush to justify himself. He didn’t, or wouldn’t, hear the questions and criticisms directed at him. It was one of those “sorry you’re upset” apologies. It was the behaviour of a man used to being listened to, used to getting his way.

It reminded me of Cardinal Pell at the Victorian sex abuse inquiry: We’ve dealt with this. We’ve said sorry. We didn’t realise. Yes, we were wrong, but we’re dealing with it. Why are you still badgering us? Can we move on now please? Why are you picking on us?

It’s not about you, Eddie. It’s not about you, George.

Over and over again they insist they mean well. Well I got news for both. Meaning well doesn’t matter. Meaning well doesn’t cut it.

Your intentions are irrelevant. As the church tells us, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. What matters is not intentions, but the outcomes.Conscious intent is NOT required for a remark or action to be racist, or homophobic, or discriminatory.

Intentionally or not, you did harm. At the most charitable interpretation, you did it because you were thoughtless.

Only the person on the receiving end – in this case, Goodes – is qualified to speak to the hurtfulness of what McGuire said. McGuire revealed his unconscious inbuilt racism in his remark. Now he’s busy shoving his racism back into his unconscious, refusing to deal with it.

The way he did with his homophobic remarks about skater Johnny Weir at the winter olympics. Remember that? Gush, gush, gush, sorry, sorry, sorry, let’s forget about this and move on, move on.

As the Cardinal should know, genuine contrition requires sacrifice. What did McGuire do? He went to his board and said “Should I resign?” They said, “Nah, mate. Storm in a teacup.” Hardly surprising. He chose most of them.

A bigger man would have looked at himself in the mirror and said, “Shit, I really stuffed up. Until I figure out how I stuffed up, and how not to stuff up again, I shouldn’t be doing this job.” And told them he was resigning.

As it stands, apart from some passing embarrassment, McGuire is getting away with it. He faces no meaningful and significant sanctions, involving loss of status and income.

Likewise Cardinal Pell. A bigger man would have been horrified and appalled at what was happening in his organisation. If he truly accepted responsibility, he would have donned sackcloth and ashes and made his way to Rome on his knees, not in business class. Would a senior corporate executive of any other multinational business have gotten off so lightly?

Which brings me to the AFL. The AFL is rushing to defend McGuire: they too don’t see any real problem. They dare not.

Because what this little incident reveals is that the AFLs much-vaunted eradication of racism is entirely superficial. Little more than a skin deep PR exercise, you might say. They have suppressed its overt expression, but it’s still there under the surface.

No wonder they shy away from tackling anti-gay prejudice in any deep and meaningful manner.

McGuire and the AFL have not addressed their own racism – only other people’s. Kind of like the mote/beam thing in the bible?

They may say they’ve done a lot for Aboriginal people. Well, here’s a couple of stories.

I once had a white American friend who thought his intimate friendships with several black guys allowed him to use the N-word as and when they did. He found out he was wrong.

A British relative says he’s good friends with the black guys he works with. He tells them that they are OK, but too many of their kind are stealing British jobs and homes. Fairs fair, but whites come first, he tells them, it’s our country. “Not that I’m racist or anything, right?”

Like McGuire and the AFL, they think they’ve purchased indulgences with their ‘friendships’.

All these self-important people – McGuire, Demetriou, Pell – think a little public embarrassment is all their behaviour merits. They judge their offences to be minor. They give themselves a slap on the wrist and declare the matter closed. We don’t get a say. They’re too important to be punished by their subjects..

To steal a much abused phrase, isn’t that distinctly un-Australian?

Or maybe not. Remember Murdoch fronting the British parliamentary enquiry?

Australians, like Americans, are not so egalitarian as we like to pretend.

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About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)