MICHAEL MITCHELL was offended and saddened by Mal Brown calling he and fellow indigenous footballers ”cannibals” but believes it merely highlights how much the AFL – and society – would benefit from having an indigenous commissioner.Mitchell, who described the comments, made at a football lunch, as belonging to another era ”that sadly still seems to linger”, said the percentage of indigenous players in the AFL warranted representation among the competition’s governing body.”It would have to be someone with good community knowledge, good corporate knowledge, but also with a vision – with the bigger picture in mind,” Mitchell said. ”Footy’s part of a bigger picture for indigenous folk and families; that’s how it should always be viewed, not as the picture.”As prominent figures from football, politics and across society condemned Brown’s comments yesterday, Mitchell said they presented an opportunity for positive change and for the AFL to back up its pride in its Aboriginal talent.”For 2 per cent of the population, the AFL has 11 per cent indigenous players – that’s 9 per cent over the numbers, and that puts a greater social responsibility on the AFL,” Mitchell said. ”There’s only a couple of organisations in the country that enjoy a positive over-representation of indigenous folk, according to population, and they do luxuriate in it.”There’s a greater requirement on them as an organisation to give back to indigenous folk, to ensure there are more and more indigenous folk given the opportunity to engage at that level – to not just aspire to that, but to see the steps necessary and genuinely be able to achieve it.”Mitchell, who played 81 games for Richmond and now works for the West Australian Department of Health establishing a statewide indigenous mental health service, believes representation on the commission would help to educate society that comments like Brown’s – even made in jest – are inappropriate.Mitchell has met Sam Mostyn, who became the AFL’s first female commissioner in 2005, followed two years later by Linda Dessau, and is enthusiastic about what the women brought to the game. He believes an indigenous commissioner would bring a similar level of education and broader understanding.”It’s needed at every tier, at every level,” he said. ”That ensures the organisation is culturally sound and is willing to demonstrate that as much as talking it up.”A Yamatji man who won a Sandover Medal in the WAFL while playing for Claremont, Mitchell was coached by Brown while playing state football for WA. He said Brown had done a lot not only for indigenous football but indigenous people, and as a pioneer at South Fremantle where he built a team around star Aboriginal players including Stephen Michael, Maurice Rioli, Benny Vigona and Basil Campbell.”He would say that sort of thing, but he’d say it straight to your face, he wouldn’t hide behind it,” Mitchell said of Brown, whom he said had been respected by his players. ”Coming from Mal, it wasn’t surprising. The good news is that he’s apologised and understands that he’s made a huge mistake.”The Marngrook Footy Show panel discussed inviting Brown onto last night’s show on Channel 31, but felt it may trivialise the issue. ”The view was people like that shouldn’t be on our show …,” host Grant Hansen said. ”We can educate people without having him there.”Panel member Ronnie Burns, the former Geelong and Adelaide star and the nephew of Benny Vigona, spoke to his uncle on Melville Island yesterday and said he was disappointed and shocked at Brown’s comments.
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