Anthony Costa sports branding

Anthony Costa

Sports Identity & Design

Why Do We Let Them Boo?

July 30, 2015
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Social proof is a powerful influence on our lives. Most marketing relies on it. It’s the scientifically proven effect where the behavior of the crowd tells people the right thing to do.

We see it on TV all the time. ‘The world’s number one brand’. ‘Recommended by nine out of ten women’. If everyone uses a product then it must be the right choice.

Digital marketing is all about social proof. It’s why likes and shares carry so much weight.   

Like many people, I’m over the constant howling-down of Adam Goodes. Listening to talkback radio the other day it struck me that many who defend the booing of Goodes have probably never booed him themselves. Like most Australians they probably watch their footy on television. 

It seems to me that the starting point for these people is that the majority must be right and Adam Goodes must be wrong. Social proof in the form of all-pervasive public booing says so. The facts are worked out backwards from there.

Everyone knows we’re not racist so race can’t possibly play any part in this, or so the thinking goes. After all, racism is something that deviant individuals do. If we don’t notice it in our own everyday lives, it can’t really be a problem, can it?

There have been many reasons put up as to why Adam Goodes is the one to blame for all of this. The articles I’ve read espousing this view are written very rationally. They would appear quite convincing if I thought their facts were based in any type of reality.

I’ve heard people say that Goodes is to blame because he hates Australia, is trying to be divisive and wants to exclude white people. Here’s what he really said.

I’ve heard people say that Goodes attacked the teenager who racially abused him. Here’s what he really said.

I’ve heard that people say he’s a “protected species” ­– a dirty player who gets cheap frees. Here’s what the stats really say.

I’ve heard people say he used to dangerously go into tackles feet first. The same was said about Billy Slater when defending in-goal. Not everyone likes Slater, but he isn’t howled down around the country every single time he touches the ball. Goodes is.

I’ve heard people say he shouldn’t have been allowed to celebrate his culture by dancing on a football field and throwing an invisible spear. I didn't hear of any injuries caused by the spear. Besides, the booing started well before this. 

Reasons are being made up to reinforce the perceived will of the majority. To the ears of apologists, the volume and persistence of the booing sounds like a groundswell of opposition to Goodes.

The boos and the misrepresentations can't be fixed by saying ‘you’re hurting Adam, please stop’. Those booing obviously have little respect for him. Otherwise they wouldn’t constantly boo.

The only way out of this is to create social proof going the other way, spearheaded by strong leadership. Clear displays of popular public support. I commend the Richmond Football Club and sporting greats like Johnathan Thurston for the stand they have taken.

You might say that relying on social proof to manage race relations isn’t really progress. People’s behavior choices should come from internal beliefs, not the threat of public rebuke.

Do people act based on belief or because they want to avoid the consequences of stepping out of line? It’s usually a bit of both. Social learning theory researchers like Albert Bandura have demonstrated that people rely on the moral code of the crowd to shape their own morals. Without publicly enforceable standards of behavior there is no society.

When social proof doesn’t go some people’s way they call it ‘political correctness’. When it does go their way they call it being Australian. The point is that social proof is strong and coercive, but it’s also fluid and contested. Everyone contributes to it and can steer it with their public conduct.

Racism isn’t something you are. It’s something you do. All people in all places rely on discriminations based on prior learning to make decisions. Sometimes discrimination helps us make safe decisions quickly. It lets us buy shampoo without having to test every bottle on the supermarket shelf. But sometimes discrimination leads us to hurt other people, especially in an environment where social proof is based on misinformation.

Whether we feel strongly about what’s happening to Adam Goodes or not we’re all a part of it. Because it’s about us and the country we want to be. What we publicly say, and what we lazily or insensitively assume, carries consequence. What’s happening now might be sad and uncomfortable but confronting it will make Australia a more mature and inclusive place to live.

Follow Anthony @costasports
Anthony Costa

Anthony Costa is a designer specialising in sports branding. Anthony has appeared on Fox Sports News and SEN radio and is an Australian Sports Commission Media Awards finalist. His work has been featured in The Age, The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and Sports Business Insider Australia.

Follow @CostaSports

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