Three AFL players have been sent back to primary school to learn the difference between racism and a harmless schoolyard game. Jack Redden, Alex Witherden and Jamaine Jones will attend Year 1 with Ms. Pankhurst after making a hand signal in a team photo that many people associate with white supremacist movements, but which the players claim refers to a children’s game.
The West Coast Eagles players have earned nominations for The Frownlow Medal after they made the upside-down three-finger OK gesture which Australian mass murderer Brenton Tarrant used during a courtroom appearance in 2019. The official photo was posted on the Eagles official social media page and Jones later tagged Redden and Witherden, along with a tears of joy face emoji.
The Frownlow Medal is awarded to the player whose off-field demeanour epitomises the values of the modern-day footballer and draws attention to the status of footballers as role models to young Australians. It covers Australia’s four major football codes; the National Rugby League (NRL), Australian Football League (AFL), the A-League (Football) and Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition. NRL player Shaun Kenny-Dowall won the inaugural medal in 2015, while AFL player Elijah Taylor is the most recent recipient.
Club bosses quickly defended the players after a strong reaction on social media. They argued that the players were not making a racist gesture, but instead referencing the ‘Circle Game’. In this game, the same hand signal is used by one player to force other players to look below their waistline. If other players do so, they get a punch in the arm.
It seems the players won’t even receive a slap on the wrist.
Jones Redden and Witherden are adults. They are old enough to hold a driver’s licence, drink alcohol and vote, and they are sure to stand out when they sit on the mat during story time with Ms. Pankhurst. They will not stand out intellectually or emotionally however, and will receive the same instruction about avoiding racism as their 6-year-old classmates.
The West Coast club is familiar with racist controversy. In 2016, the Eagles became the first club to earn a Frownlow nomination after its social media channel used the term ‘Yellow Peril’ in a promotional post.
Jones, Redden and Withderden, meanwhile, can still play for the Eagles as long as they get a signed permission note from their parent or guardian.