(CNN) -

"A 13-year-old girl called me an ape."

Adam Goodes was not impressed. One of the most successful proponents of a sport that is more Australian than any other, a hero in a country where its stars are gods, he was not going to take such an insult lightly.

"I stopped, I called her out, got her escorted out of the ground, and from that point the awareness and the conversations that have been had around racism in this country have just skyrocketed," he tells CNN's Human to Hero series.

Goodes is a star of Australian Rules Football, best described as an often-confusing mix of the two rugby codes, basketball, and its close Gaelic football cousin.

"Aussie Rules," also known as AFL, reflects the nation's continuing battle with the aftermath of its colonial past.

On one hand it sometimes highlights appalling attitudes towards indigenous peoples -- after the incident with the girl, the president of the host team's club joked on radio that Goode should be used to promote a stage production of King Kong, effectively ending their friendship.

On the other, it has made great efforts to welcome indigenous players; there are 68 registered at the 18 Premiership teams this year, and their 9% total of the sport's overall list is greater proportionally than the 2.5% they make up of the country's total population.

So it was all the harder for Goodes to accept being abused during a game that was part of the AFL's 2013 "Indigenous Round" -- and played at arguably the country's most iconic sporting venue, the 100,000-capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground.

"I hope I'm a person people look up to and say, 'I remember the day Adam Goodes did that at the MCG. Today is the day I'm going to stand up for myself or stand up for somebody else who might not have a voice for themselves,' " he says.

"Since last year, a lot more cases have come through, and I think that's what needs to happen for it to improve. A lot more people need to call it out, need to say no to racism ... and we're going to improve as a community from there."

In recognition of his work helping Aboriginal youth and battling racism, Goodes was named "Australian of the Year" in January, the same month he turned 34.

"It's a very humbling experience," he says. "It's been an amazing platform for me this year to talk about things I'm passionate about -- like eliminating domestic violence and trying to get recognition in the constitution for Aboriginal people.

"It was quite dumbfounding for me to find out that we weren't part of (Australia's) constitution -- this is a document that's over 112 years old that doesn't recognize its first people."

When European settlers came to Australia in the 1800s, they took land from the indigenous people and forced the nomadic tribes to accept new ways of living, often splitting up families under a government policy of "assimilation" -- as highlighted in the acclaimed 2002 film "Rabbit Proof Fence."

Australian politicians have since apologized for the past mistreatment, but Aborigines remain disadvantaged socially and economically compared with the overall population.

Goodes, like many modern Aborigines, is from a mixed-race family, with a father of British descent.

Born in South Australia, his tribal name is Adnyamathanha -- the people who live in the Flinders Ranges, the largest in Australia. His place of birth (Wallaroo, on the York Peninsular near Adelaide, first settled by Europeans in 1836) means he is also Narungga.

"Growing up, I didn't know what it meant to be Aboriginal," Goodes recalls. "My mum was taken away from her family when she was five years old and we weren't really taught anything about what it meant to be Aboriginal -- no language, no culture, no ceremonies, no nothing.

"What we did know was where we came from, and that was Adnyamathanha and Narungga, so I've had to do a lot of that journey, to find out information about that, in the last 10 years.

"So for us, growing up, we just thought we were just like any other normal family. We didn't really see ourselves as mixed race. I copped stuff from people at school because of the different color and whatnot, but I had good support that helped me get through those tough times."

His parents separated when he was young, and he moved state to Victoria with his mother in his early teens, and they settled in another small country town.

Up until that stage, Goodes was a big fan of basketball star Michael Jordan, while his own talents were in soccer.

However, there were no teams in his new hometown -- so his mum suggested having a go at AFL.

"I was very athletic, so the running part of it was good," he says. "Grabbing the ball was quite difficult because it could bounce everywhere, but I was able to pick that up pretty easily."

The main premise of AFL is simple: kick the oval-shaped ball between the two central posts to score maximum points; if it goes through the two outside posts, the score is lower.