AFL women’s star Tayla Harris says she feels empowered after the sports community rallied around her following the removal of a photo which had attracted offensive and derogatory comments online.
But the 21-year-old Carlton player has also called for authorities such as the police and social media giants to play a greater role in stamping out the abuse of women on social media.
Channel Seven came under fire on Tuesday night for removing a photo of the AFLW player, which was taken of Harris kicking a goal during the weekend’s clash between Carlton and the Western Bulldogs.
The photo of the Carlton star was posted on Tuesday afternoon by the broadcaster’s 7AFL social media channels before it was removed about 6.30pm.
The original purpose in publishing the image was to celebrate the power, athleticism and skills on show in Carlton’s thrilling win over the Western Bulldogs,” a statement from Seven read.
“The image attracted a number of comments, some of which were inappropriate and offensive. As a consequence we have removed the image and the comments.”
However, that response drew heavy criticism online, with many slamming the broadcaster for removing the photo rather than removing and managing the comments.
Within five hours, 7AFL had reposted the photo with an apology. “We’re sorry. Removing the photo sent the wrong message,” it read.
“Many of the comments made on the post were reprehensible and we’ll work harder to ban trolls from our pages. Our intention was to highlight Tayla Harris’s incredible athleticism and we’ll continue to celebrate women’s footy.”
Harris said on Wednesday morning she was feeling empowered after the swift and strong reaction from the sports community.
“It’s been a bit of whirlwind,” she told RSN Racing & Sport radio.
“I kind of saw that and felt warm inside, it’s great. Obviously the AFL community got around me and that was awesome.
“But it isn’t about me now, it’s about the way bigger picture … I don’t care about people who have cars as their cover photos. That’s not the people I’m worried about right now.
“I can talk about it because I’m feeling fine now, but there are people in this incident who may have experienced something to do with sexual assault or something like that, [they] would be much more affected and those are the people who, if this can help a little bit or deter people from making comments like that or suggestive comments, that’s all I can do.”
Harris said many of the people who posted offensive comments had daughters in their profile pictures.
“That’s the stuff I’m worried about. Perhaps this is an issue that needs to go further. If these people are saying things like this to someone they don’t know on a public platform, what are they saying behind closed doors?” she questioned.
“These people need to be called out by the AFL, yes, but taken even further. Maybe this is the start of domestic violence, the start of abuse. And the comments I saw were sexual abuse … it was repulsive and made me uncomfortable. As soon as I’m uncomfortable with that, that’s what I would call sexual abuse on social media.”
Police and social media platforms could potentially do more to thwart trolls, she said.
“Something needs to happen. We can talk all we want but they’re not listening and they are probaly smiling that we are talking about it. So something needs to go further, I think.”
Harris responded to the furore just after 8pm on Tuesday night, re-posting the photo with the caption: “Here’s a pic of me at work… think about this before your derogatory comments, animals.”
She also posted the picture on Instagram and said: “My hamstring is ok but derogatory and sexist comments aren’t.”
Sports stars rallied behind Harris, re-posting the photo with words of support.
“Deleting the post is giving in to trolls,” wrote fellow Carlton player Darcy Vescio. “Also, you’re eliminating all the positive conversation. Also, you’re removing more content around women in sport – which there’s already so little of. It’s up to everyone to moderate hate.”
Australian track cyclist and Olympic gold medallist Anna Meares said the choice to remove the “incredible image” of Harris had astounded her, while Matildas soccer player Sam Kerr wrote: “THE PROBLEM WAS NOT THE PHOTO”.
The AFLW posted the same picture on Twitter, saying “This is Tayla Harris – epic athlete & footballer. This is AFLW”.
Harris has played in the AFLW since 2017. Last year she won the AFLW Mark of the Year.