This week, Héritier Lumumba has again managed to break through a media wall of silence with his experiences of racism in the AFL. A veteran of 12 years as a professional footballer, Lumumba was playing for Collingwood in the 2013 season when Adam Goodes was called an “ape” by a Collingwood fan.
The following week, then Collingwood club president Eddie McGuire joked on live radio that Adam Goodes could promote the new King Kong movie.
This was evidently the final straw for Lumumba, who publicly criticised McGuire. “I’m extremely disappointed with Eddie’s comments and do not care what position he holds, I disagree with what came out his mouth this morning on radio,” said Lumumba. “To me Eddie’s comments are reflective of common attitudes that we as a society face.”
Lumumba then appeared in a joint interview with McGuire on Fox Sports. He accepted McGuire’s apology on air, saying, “This is not just about Adam Goodes. This is a far greater issue.”
Yet Lumumba says he was then removed from Collingwood’s leadership group, though he had been playing for the club since 2005. His then coach, Nathan Buckley, said he had been “spared the burden of leadership” due to mental health concerns.
In December 2013, Lumumba formally changed his surname from O’Brien back to Lumumba. He had gone by the name of Harry O’Brien in order to make it through the 90s in Western Australia, where his parents immigrated from Brazil when he was three years old.
On Tuesday, Lumumba released a recording of a 2014 conversation with Buckley.
“You threw him under the bus,” Buckley said in relation to Lumumba’s comments about McGuire. “What the whole thing comes back to is do you actually think about the best interests of the club.”
“This is part of my issue,” Lumumba replies, “Because you still believe that.” He left the club at the end of that season.
During this time, Lumumba began working on a documentary called Fair Game, released in 2017. It documented a culture of racism in the club, where he was called “chimp,” “slave, and much worse,” in his words.
After the documentary’s release, Lumumba’s appeared on The Project, where his account was called into question because it was only corroborated by three indigenous players (Leon Davis, Andrew Krakouer, and Chris Egan). Project co-host Peter Helliar said, “He’s smearing the entire club.”
Yet the 2021 ‘Do Better’ report on the systemic tolerance of racism at Collingwood eventually forced Eddie McGuire to resign, after 22 years as club president. Buckley stepped down shortly afterward.
Lumumba says the club did nothing to reach out to he and the club’s indigenous players after the report’s release. The club’s subsequent discussions with him have been mediated by lawyers.
Testament to his incredible patient and persistence, he continues to speak out on racism in sport as well as police racism and violence, both in Australia and Brazil. “I didn’t want to be labelled ‘crazy’ or the ‘angry Black man’,” said Lumumba. “Who the hell does? But that is the consequence that you face for speaking the truth.”
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