Jun 13, 2010


I find the story of Timana Tahu's exit from the New South Wales State of Origin team quite fascinating.

I don't profess myself to be any kind of rugby league expert, and forgive me for perhaps painting with a sweeping brushstroke here, but the code strikes me as being the kind of environment where one could expect to find a range of attitudes/discriminatory language that may otherwise be less common in ordinary society.

So it was with a fair bit of interest that I read that Tahu had upped and quit the Blues after hearing assistant coach Andrew Johns reportedly call another player a "black c***". I find it pretty incredible that Tahu was appalled enough to leave the team even though he himself wasn't the target of the slur - but even MORE amazed because the subject, Greg Inglis, actually plays for Queensland! That's right, in this brutal state-against-state, mate-against-mate competition, a player was insulted enough on a bitter rival's behalf to turn his back on his own team. In a code where the word "meat" is often accurately placed immediately before "head" when describing players, I found that an almost heart-warming example of across-the-divide humanity.

So pat on the back for Timana Tahu for sticking to his anti-racism guns, and turning the spotlight on Andrew Johns, who's come out all contrite for a remark that you know he wouldn't feel in the slightest bit sorry for were it not for the fact Tahu's exit brought the whole steaming mess out into the open.

But it makes me wonder exactly what part of the "black c***" remark was the worst. It seems to be the combination of the two words. Certainly I suspect the C-bomb is dropped amongst rugby league players like cookies over Dresden circa Feb '45. But suffixing it to "black" seems to ramp up that word's inherent racism. Could "black bastard" have the same impact? Would "black idiot"? have caused Tahu to upsticks and leave? I mean, I hope so, if the same intent was there. But I don't know.

Having said that, I do believe racist language is unacceptable in modern parlance. I personally don't get upset if someone calls me a dodgy Polack, or a dodgy Mick, or even a dodgy Aussie, but really I probably should. My uncomfortable silences whenever a cab driver is derided simply because they're Indian should be replaced by an active statement that such assumptions are racist and intolerable. I never thought I would say this, but in this case, I should follow the example of a rugby league player.

But language is a funny thing. I firmly believe in the power of words, and yet I believe words cannot hurt you if you don't let them. You could leave a comment on my blog slamming me as a bad writer and I'd probably have a wee cry. But call me a "c***" fifty times, and I would not be injured by it. But then, I hopped onboard the C*** train to C*** station a long time ago. I'm only using asterisks here because I know the word still offends some people, even though they've probably heard and maybe even agree with the argument that surely it's a BIT rude to say that a euphemism for ladyparts is the worst thing you could call someone. Frankly, I know more "p***ks", "d**ks" and "c***ks" in this world, but blokepart-focused insults just don't have the cache they should.

So - in summary. For me,  "black" is offensive, "c***" is not. So why is it that I'm replacing letters in the C-word with asterisks, but not the B-word?

I hope that Andrew Johns' resignation as assistant NSW coach and the publicity around this event may further help improve attitudes in rugby league, and therefore among those in the population who enjoy rugby league.

Of course, I daresay if Joey had thrown an insult like "poof c***" around, it probably wouldn't be news. But maybe we just have to conquer one "ism" at a time.


  1. 'I find it pretty incredible that Tahu was appalled enough to leave the team even though he himself wasn't the target of the slur - but even MORE amazed because the subject, Greg Inglis, actually plays for Queensland!'

    Although he should legally be playing for NSW, but that's another story.

    While Inglis is Aboriginal, Tahu is Maori (Ngai Tahu are the tribe of the south island) so the extent of Tahu's empathy goes further. Indeed Maori and Polynesian people self-identify (in NZ popular culture at least) as 'brown' rather than black - similar to the way the southern European migrant community reclaimed 'wog' - so it's a little odd if Tahu's taking the slur on Inglis as reflecting on him. Then again Tahu grew up in Australia, so his experience and self-identity probably doesn't reflect that of Maori and Polynesian kids here.

  2. I believed he said his leaving on this particular exclamation was his final stand on a perceived culture within the code. I don't believe this one was any more abhorrent to him more so than any other, in particular. I think he mentioned that others within the "inner circle" that comments like this were becoming some sort of norm so he made a stand and told them to get fucked...

    Bravo to him.

    ...also, "black c***" is offensive and deservedly so if you consider deeper meanings and history of both the terms with the intention behind them.

    "You're on my team but you're just a black c***". That's insulting and hurtful on many levels. Racially, personally as a "friend", reflective on his efforts at getting to that level. I think it's also indicative of the racist undertone of Australian society that Australians really don't get.

    "It's not offensive to me so it isn't offensive" doesn't work. Every body wants to be treated equally and be judged on their merits, abilities, and as a human. Not on their colour.

    And saying he's not Polynesian and grew up in Australia so he really shouldn't be offended is retarded too. He's got a family and historical culture as well.

    Ignorant white c***s.

  3. Yeah, that's why I didn't say that. You slightly off-white c**t.

  4. What I found particularly interesting was with more Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders playing Rugby League then any other sport, these sort of stupid, race related comments have become relatively rare in RL. Add to that the huge number of Polynesians, and at least half the players are brown/black/tanned/unfit-for-the-hitler-youth.

    So for Andrew Johns, moron extraordinaire, to use any racial vilification in front of Rugby League players is like complaining your wife won't cook you dinner at a women's liberation march.

  5. Hey guys, thanks for your comments. I don't have a deep knowledge of the who's who of rugby league, and who's Polynesian/Melanesian/Maori/Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander, etc.

    I hope that shows my ignorance of the game in general, rather than ignorance of particular persons' race.

    Moko - I didn't say "I don't find it offensive so it's not offensive" about the "black" part of the insult - I said it about the word "c***". But that's just my personal view, shaped by various experiences. I did state that I realise it offends others still, hence the asterisks.

    And I like the idea of reclaiming that word so that it ISN'T the most offensive thing, and that using the term "black" in a derogatory way would be enough for Tahu and others to upsticks and leave.

    And Doyle - I think it just proves Andrew Johns' stupidity, if nothing else. :)

  6. Okay. I can see how what I said may be taken as a direct shot at you, but it wasn't my intention.

    What I was trying to ineffectively say was, racism - (in regards to the Johns comment) - is defined by offence taken by the recipient. Full stop.

    I understand and appreciate your ponderings, now. lol

  7. Tahu's mother is Aboriginal. There was a pretty interesting profile on him in the lead up to game one. http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/rugby-league/league-news/bitter-memories-drive-battlers-indigenous-pride-20100522-w2vx.html The article also provides some insight into Greg Inglis's motivations for playing for Queensland.

    Apparently Tahu has said he has been listening to Johns spout racist crap since he was 18 (they played for the same club). It's a shame that no one has told Johns he's being a racist dick before now but unfortunately he's been protected from the consequences of his actions throughout his career so it's no huge surprise that racist comments got through as well.

  8. Kudos to Tahu. It always annoys the hell out of me that people in professional sports get away with not only discrimination, but other illegal actions like assault that anyone else would actually get criminally charged for, not just publicly rebuked. I don't think they should be protected from taking the responsibility for their actions.

  9. I see now that Tahu says there was more than one remark that caused him to leave the NSW camp.


    Which makes sense really. Sounds like the kind of thing that he might have complained about internally, but after not seeing any change would make it public.

    Of course, I'm surmising here.