How An Independent Journalist Brought Eddie McGuire’s Sexist Comments To Account

How did this take an entire week to come to light?

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A week after he “joked” about drowning sports journalist Caroline Wilson, Collingwood Football Club President Eddie McGuire has finally offered up an apology. Sort of.

The comments – made by McGuire and other commentators at last week’s ‘Big Freeze’ event at the MCG – were “in the spirit of the fun on the day,” McGuire, a high profile Melbourne media personality, said on Triple M this morning. “I have been really disappointed that these comment have led to these feelings from people. I apologise and retract them in the spirit of what we’re trying to achieve,” he said later.

But Erin Riley, the writer who propelled the story into the mainstream last night, has a different take. “It’s not an apology, it’s completely unacceptable,” she told Junkee this morning. “It’s nowhere near where he should’ve been on the issue. Saying it’s a joke isn’t an excuse.”

So How Did It Take A Week To Be Exposed?

Despite making the comments on Triple M last Monday, the McGuire story wasn’t reported by mainstream media outlets late yesterday. Riley, a freelance sports writer, transcribed the comments over the weekend and pushed the story out onto social media where it was eventually picked up by news outlets across the country.

ERIN RILEY profile pic

Erin Riley, the writer who pushed the Eddie McGuire story into the mainstream

“The Outer Sanctum podcast covers stories about football that are a bit outside the mainstream. That was actually how I first found out about the comments, when they reported on them last week,” Riley told Junkee. “Josh Pinn, who runs The Footy Gospel, pointed me to the podcast on Triple M, so I went and transcribed it, it was a pretty quick turn around. I just really wanted to frame the comments properly.”

McGuire has attempted to defend the comments as “banter”, the kind of thing that blokes always joke about to each other. But Riley thinks that’s exactly the problem. “These are the kind of things that go on constantly under the radar in football. They contribute to racism, sexism and homophobia. It’s not the dominant culture of footy but it is there. We need to shed light on it,” she explained.

If a politician made these kinds of comments it’s hard to imagine the media failing to report on them for a week. McGuire is the president of the Collingwood Football Club, a high profile media personality and the former CEO of Channel 9. Given his high profile shouldn’t his comments have come under scrutiny earlier?

“I’m shocked that it didn’t get more of a run,” Riley said. Indeed, it took independent freelance journalists to break one of the biggest news story of the day; a fact noted by CEO Gillon McLachlan at a press conference this morning. “The fact that the comments were made a week OK are an indictment on everyone working in football,” he told reporters.

So What Now For McGuire And Sexism In Sport More Broadly?

Well, plenty of people aren’t convinced by McGuire’s lacklustre apology this morning for a start.

Riley told Junkee that there are a number of concrete things McGuire can do now that the community is demanding a stronger response. “He should say sorry to both Caroline Wilson and all of the women who were hurt by his comments. Women are hurt by it. It confirms your worst fears about what they are saying about you behind your back,” she said. “He should put his money where his mouth is, support frontline domestic violence services, not just awareness programs, and support women who are genuinely suffering.”

It’s not the first time Riley’s covered the issue of sexism in sporting culture. She’s passionately and articulately argued for change in Australian sport and has regularly called out sexism, racism and homophobia in the AFL. In light of this recent incident, she has a number of concrete suggestions for what the code should do to stamp out sexism and discrimination.

“Unlike other sports codes, sexist comments don’t get you booted from the ground in AFL. It should be included as a condition of entry. The AFL should institute education programs, clearly highlight what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour and there needs to be consequences for breaking the rules,” Riley explained. “The AFL also needs more women in high profile positions. Diversity would do a world of good to improving culture.”

Last Friday the AFL, along with a  number of other sports codes, signed onto the Our Watch Leadership Statement that calls for gender equality and an end to violence against women. On Saturday the AFL White Ribbon round was a held, to raise awareness of domestic violence. This symbolism seems to contrast starkly with the fact that the AFL’s most high profile club President offered $50,000 to drown a female sports journalist. According to Riley, the symbolism is good but isn’t enough. She said the AFL needs to act.

“Symbolism without action doesn’t mean anything.”