Keeping it all in the family business
An excellent past article about Jonathon Griffin for your light reading.
The Adelaide ruckman is embracing his indigenous heritage and it’s helping him further his football career with the Crows, writes Emma Quayle.
It was a little over a year ago that Jonathon Griffin’s teammates found out. At the end of his third and best year in Adelaide, the young ruckman invited his mother and grandfather to the club’s best and fairest night, to show them what it was like. As he wandered by their table during the night, Griffin’s teammate Graham Johncock looked, paused, and then doubled back.
“Who are you here with?” he asked Griffin’s grandfather, Henry, an indigenous man. “Jonathon Griffin,” he replied. “He’s my grandson.”
Griffin’s aboriginality was never some thing he kept to himself, or denied in any way. When kids came around to his place after school and he knew his pop would be there, he never worried about what they would think, but he did wonder how they would react.
“I was just a bit conscious of it,” he said. “But it was never some thing that concerned me. I had a couple of friends sort of ask the question, and I explained, and that was it, everything was fine.”
But when Johncock and another teammate Andrew McLeod bailed him up at the function, wondering why he had never said anything, Griffin pointed to his long legs, white skin and freckles.
“I just said, ‘Look at me,”‘ Griffin recalled. “It was mostly because of my appearance, I guess – the way I look. I was a bit shy as well, and I didn’t really talk too much about anything. I knew in time they would find out, but I thought it would have been a bit stupid for me to come out and tell people out of nowhere.
“It’s not like you sit around after training and talk about your family background. I just wanted to let time do its thing, and that’s the way it happened.”
Still, Griffin’s life has changed since that night. “When I did come out and everyone knew, there was this sense of belonging, like people knew who I was,” he said.
Even he, though, was still figuring that out. Griffin’s mother had always told him about where their family was from but it is only in the past six years, since his grandmother died, that he has found himself wanting to know more and has sought that information out. It has been an enlightening time and an emotional one.
“I’ve only known which tribe I come from for a couple of months and it’s a funny thing because the more I’ve found out about my family and my ancestors … it’s hard to describe, but it’s like I’ve been answering all these questions I didn’t really know I had,” said the 23-year-old, from the Bibbulman people in the south-west corner of Western Australia.
Even his football talent has begun to make more sense to him: Griffin wasn’t even going to nominate for the draft before the Crows found him playing for the under-17 East Fremantle team, and then tried to keep him a secret. Since then, Griffin has found out that some of his relatives were great players in the local league and it has made him feel, even more strongly, that he has come from somewhere.
“It’s like a switch. I guess it takes something to happen for you to realise what you don’t know, what you’re missing out on,” Griffin said. “I suppose what I’m saying is that your mother tells you these things as you grow up, and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, whatever.’ Then you look at it again and think, ‘Why wasn’t I paying attention?’ It’s sort of been like that for me. I’ve lived my life without really paying attention, that deep attention to my family.
“But something in my mind has thought, ‘I want to know more, I need to know more.”‘
Those around him have noticed the difference. McLeod never thought it was strange that Griffin had kept things to himself, but he was curious.
“He’s a very shy person and that’s just his nature but we just wanted him to not be afraid to let it out,” McLeod said. “We just tried to massage him a bit, I suppose, to try and get it all out of him.”
He enjoyed watching Griffin recently mingle with about 70 other indigenous players at the AFL Players’ Association camp, and suspects his experiences will help to make him a more assured and confident footballer.
“It’s been pretty emotional for Griffo to get to the stage where he is, to be able to talk about it so openly,” McLeod said.
“It’s been a big step for him to be up here this week and talking to him, I know he feels a part of it. He’s having all these guys come up to him and call him their brother – Adam Goodes, Chris Johnson, Shaun Burgoyne – and he knows he’s a part of that bond we all share.
“I don’t think he knows how good he could be, as a player. He’s got so much potential waiting to be let out and that’s something that’s a part of his journey. It will come one day.”
Griffin has an extra reason to succeed. “I feel as though my pop is living through my career a bit, living a bit of what he aspired to be,” he said.
“He hasn’t actually told me that, but I can feel it and I can feel that it’s not just me out there, that I take him with me as well.
“All week long I’ve been thinking about it, thinking about the game and what it means to me.”