The game has come so far since Nicky Winmar's stand, says Port Adelaide's Chad Wingard

CHAD Wingard was not born 20 years ago when St Kilda great Nicky Winmar raised his jumper against the verbal abuse from the terraces to proudly point to his skin at Victoria Park.

It is the moment being relived this weekend in the AFL Indigenous Round so no player of any race or religious background is vilified for his cultural background.

But while Wingard can only look at a videotape of Winmar's stand against racism, the 19-year-old Port Adelaide midfielder does not have to search far in his memory to know the AFL's mission statement for this weekend is far from complete.

Six years ago, in the suburban fields of Australian football, Wingard has his own Winmar moment of racial taunting from the mounds.

"At 13," he says, "I was too young to understand."

Now in his second year in the AFL system - and at a club that makes cultural awareness for all a major priority - Wingard can appreciate why Winmar made a stand.

He has never been sledged for his Aboriginal background or skin colour on an AFL field.

Wingard takes pride in how Winmar's moment has led to much-needed education and awareness among AFL players that they respect each other for their cultural diversity rather than keep their tongues in check because of a rule.

"For me," says Wingard, "there is that reassurance we are all equal on the football field.

"No one is being discriminated for how they look or for where they come from.

"It just shows the game is more important than anyone.

"The (racial vilification) rule is there in case there is a slip-up. But the awareness has improved dramatically and we've learned from that."

AFL venues with thousands of spectators are far different from the suburban grounds where Wingard as a 13-year-old heard ignorant fans taunt him for his skin colour.

"In the AFL, honestly, it becomes a blur," said Wingard.

"You don't hear what anyone thinks. And in the end, it is not about what anyone thinks."

By the time Wingard leaves the AFL he can hope the league's indigenous round moves from the Winmar moment to celebrating the game's great moments from Aboriginal players.

Such as Michael Long's tearaway runs through the MCG corridor in the 1993 grand final, months after Winmar lifted his jumper. Or former Port Adelaide captain Gavin Wanganeen's extraordinary last-quarter goal in the 2004 preliminary final at AAMI Stadium.

And the list can go on with Graham Farmer, Adam Goodes, Andrew McLeod in the 1997-98 grand finals, Michael O'Loughlin . . .

"It will be good when we can celebrate that way not just for one round, but for the whole year," said Wingard.

"For one week, it is perfect for how the Indigenous Round promotes that success.

"I hope this week highlights what the game means to us as an indigenous group and more about our culture.

"To see someone from the indigenous race succeed," says Wingard, noting this goes beyond Australian football to touch him with Cathy Freeman's Olympic triumph in Sydney in 2000, "gives you belief.

"It is proof that anyone can do it, no matter where you are from," adds Wingard, who was handed that philosophy at Alberton by Wanganeen.

"Gavin has definitely left a massive mark on me as inspiration.

"His message was about trust in your ability and don't let anyone get in your way."

"Australia's game," as the AFL promotes its code, has been enriched by Aboriginal footballers and now their cultural stories.

Wingard says the game also serves the indigenous community.

"Football to indigenous folk is almost like a culture," said Wingard, who today will wear boots painted to an Aboriginal style by Shane Cook from the arts company, Mankitya Art.

"It is part of us and what brings us all together.

"It is a lifestyle for most people."

Wingard sought his awareness of his indigenous culture three years ago.

"I found my inspiration at 16, 17 by looking further into my ancestors," said Wingard.

"I wanted to know more - and I've learned more here at Port Adelaide (from the Power's Aboriginal engagement and employment manager Paul Vandenbergh)."

Wingard will be Port's lone Aboriginal player at AAMI Stadium today when 30 seconds before the clash with Geelong the indigenous culture will be emphasised with an unprecedented exchange between the two AFL clubs.

Wingard will hand to Geelong's Aboriginal forward Steven Motlop a shield from the Kuarna people whose traditional lands cover the Adelaide region.

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