Australian rules footballer Tayla Harris became the target of internet trolls after Channel Seven, a broadcast partner of the Australian Football League (AFL), posted a photo of her soaring mid-air while kicking the first points of the match, with the caption “Great athlete at her most powerful”.
Netizens started posting what was widely perceived as sexist and derogatory comments, causing Channel Seven to take down the shot of the 21-year-old Australian from its social media accounts – something which has drawn even more controversy.
After the broadcaster was accused of caving into vicious trolls, it reposted the photo with an apology, saying that removing it “sent the wrong message”.
We're sorry. Removing the photo sent the wrong message.— 7AFL (@7AFL) 19 марта 2019 г.
Many of the comments made on the post were reprehensible & we'll work harder to ban trolls from our pages.
Our intention was to highlight @taylaharriss incredible athleticism & we'll continue to celebrate women's footy. pic.twitter.com/p24Ll08LRC
Although Harris was shocked by the unpleasant incident, she posted the now-viral photo herself with a clear message to haters:
Here’s a pic of me at work… think about this before your derogatory comments, animals. pic.twitter.com/68aBVVbTTj— Tayla Harris (@taylaharriss) 19 марта 2019 г.
The following day, Harris told RSN radio that she was left feeling “sexually abused” and called on the AFL and the police to take action against online harassment.
“The comments that I saw were sexual abuse, if you can call it that, because it was repulsive and it made me uncomfortable so as soon as I’m uncomfortable with something like that that’s what I would consider sexual abuse on social media”, Harris said.
The Aussie, who plays for the Carlton Football Club, even confessed that she feared for her safety:
“These people are behind screens now but no one’s saying they aren’t going to show up at the footy at the weekend. I genuinely consider that they might show up at the footy. If they’re thinking this way and able to write it down, what are they going to do when I’m on sideline meeting some kids? That’s what I’m going to have to think about now”.
Since the ugly story surfaced, Harris has received an overwhelming support from her fans, journalists, fellow athletes, and even Australian Prime Minister Steve Morrison, who branded her abusers “cowardly grubs”.
“Would they say it to our face? No, they haven’t got the guts to do that. They’re cowards. They’re weak. They are… acting out some sort of hatred in a way which really just lessens them as people”, Morrison said.
Take this, trolls 👇🏼 pic.twitter.com/dbCYvVoFET— Michael Willson (@MichaelCWillson) 19 марта 2019 г.
Harris then took to Twitter to thank those who flooded her with messages of support and convinced Channel Seven to reinstate the photo:
THANKYOU!! Everyone who messaged, posted, commented and shared recently. Things have changed… if you’re not with us, you will be left behind. pic.twitter.com/9wqkvskPDV— Tayla Harris (@taylaharriss) 20 марта 2019 г.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, AFL Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan said that the situation around the iconic photo of a “great athlete” was unacceptable.
“It’s more a challenge with the platform, social media, because this is not an isolated incident. But when it’s unacceptable commentary, more and more people are calling that out and that is what has happened here. It is, I think, a remarkable photo which shows a great athlete at her most powerful, doing what she does, which is kick the ball 50 metres”, McLachlan said.