Education: it’s a word thrown around quite often in football.
A player’s need to learn about structures, game plans, where to be in different scenarios, where not to be, how to read the play - the list is just about endless.
While education has become paramount in the world of football performance, the opportunities to learn off-field in the football environment have become more prevalent.
The football environment provides a great opportunity for players, staff and supporters to educate themselves on topics which they may not have been previously exposed to.
Anything from learning more about the LGBTIQ+ community during Pride Round, or the importance of Gender Equality through the Carlton Respects program – today’s football club has evolved into a place of learning and growth.
Sir Doug Nicholls Round is no different.
The Round is a celebration of those past and present Indigenous players who have transformed the game into something that keeps us coming back for more each week.
From trailblazers like Syd Jackson, to show stoppers like Eddie Betts and the next generation of superstars like Maddy Prespakis – Carlton’s tie to the Indigenous community and players is one to be proud of.
However, that does not mean that there isn’t still the opportunity to keep learning and challenging non-Indigenous players to become better allies within the community.
At the core of education and learning is questions – the barrier between non-Indigenous people becoming allies is sometimes as simple as asking.
Carlton co-captain Sam Docherty believes questions are at the core of developing a better understanding for Australia’s Indigenous culture and history.
“It’s one of my favourite rounds of the year where we get to represent the culture that’s been in Australia for a long time,” Docherty said.
“I think the hardest part is that a lot of us just don’t know. The big part is just asking questions and being curious about the stories and culture that’s around it.
“I’m not very knowledgeable about the whole area so it’s always great to learn and ask questions around this time of the year and I think it’s an important time for, not only within society, but also for the AFL to take notice.”
With education being the focus of much of the Club’s activities during both Sir Doug Nicholls Round and National Reconciliation Week, players and staff were given the opportunity to hear from Clothing the Gaps co-founder and 2021 AFL Indigenous Guernsey designer Laura Thompson.
It was one of two sessions held in the lead up to the round and gave players the opportunity to learn more about the 2021 design, its significance and how it represented the seven current Indigenous players on Carlton’s list.
Thompson’s presentation also brought to the forefront an ongoing fight for the Indigenous community – the fight to free the flag.
Spectators may be aware of the message, with players and coaches across the competition wearing t-shirts designed by Clothing the Gaps in the lead up to Sir Doug Nicholls Round.
However, they may not be aware of the history of the message and its importance to Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike.
The ‘Free the Flag’ campaign’s aim is to help return the ownership of the Aboriginal Flag to the Indigenous people of Australia and have it once again proudly displayed in the community.
“I want to see the Aboriginal flag back in Indigenous round. I want to see it back in the centre square and I want to see it back on the Indigenous round guernsey,” Thompson said.
“Unfortunately, the Aboriginal flag has a copyright on it and we have to ask permission to use the flag now and we have to pay.
“I would like to see the flag free for everyone to use.
“The Aboriginal flag is a powerful symbol and we want to see it free and we want to see more of the flag in the community.
“The only way we can do that is if all of the community, including the non-Indigenous Australians get around us to free the flag.”
At the conclusion of Thompson’s presentation, players and staff sat in silence for a brief moment reflecting on the reality of the situation and the impact it has had on the Indigenous community.
A single question broke the silence.
“What can we as non-Indigenous people do?”
Without hesitation, Thompson reinforced two key points: keep educating yourselves and keep the conversation going.
“I guess with these things you need to be front of mind a lot of the time,” Carlton midfielder Michael Gibbons reflected following Thompson’s session.
“We do well in terms of when something is spoken about to us or with us, we’re all very invested in. But it’s when two or three weeks later that when something goes away that you have to keep invested and these are how these situations continue to get better.”
The sentiment was further echoed by co-captain Sam Docherty, who encouraged those who may not have spent time learning about Indigenous culture to do so and to do so with both a curiosity and enthusiasm that would keep the conversation going
“It’s more conversations,” Docherty said.
“There are a lot of us who are non-Indigenous at this footy club and we always want to know more and learn more and this time of year really represents a time to open our minds and be curious about First Nations people and their culture and everything that’s come before us.”
This round is many things to many people.
It’s a celebration of Indigenous players who have come before us and those still to come.
It invites us in to learn, to ask questions, to share in the achievements of Indigenous people and recognise what still needs to be done.
But next week when guernsey’s across the league return to their traditional form and the highlights of the Indigenous greats leave our screens, there will still be work to do.