Tayla Harris is just one of many AFLW players to cop abusive and inappropriate comments. Picture: AAP/Daniel Pockett
Tayla Harris is just one of many AFLW players to cop abusive and inappropriate comments. Picture: AAP/Daniel Pockett

This is a kick in the guts for women’s sport

I don't think anyone would be shocked to learn that female athletes have a long way to go in earning the same respect as their male counterparts.

But I do think they would be shocked to learn of some of the vitriol that can be cast the way of these athletes.

They were given some level of understanding on Tuesday night when Channel 7 took down an amazing photo of Carlton player Tayla Harris at full stretch as she kicked the ball in last weekend's win over the Western Bulldogs.

Earlier, among football circles, football photographer Michael Willson's image was being lauded. But very quickly, things had gone a different direction.

7 Sport deleted this photo of AFLW star Tayla Harris after it attracted abusive comments. Picture: Michael Willson/AFL Media
7 Sport deleted this photo of AFLW star Tayla Harris after it attracted abusive comments. Picture: Michael Willson/AFL Media

Early in the evening, Seven posted that they had taken the photo down, because: "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".

Some of the comments were inappropriate and offensive, disgusting and vile too.

But these kind of things can't be solved with a simple 'delete' because there is more to it than just a few horrible comments.

For once, social media got it right, and immediately took Seven to task for making the photo part of the problem, rather than simply blocking, banning, or deleting the comments that were the issue.

Harris is an incredible athlete with an unrivalled kicking style, and Willson's shot captured it spectacularly.

You can find plenty of photos of male AFL players that are not too dissimilar to Harris'. That some people chose to degrade her in the comments section, to reduce her to being merely an object, sadly, isn't surprising. It is sad these people are still there.

But the upshot was the swift reaction on social media calling out Seven's misstep.

Sure, removing the photo was probably just a quick and easy way for Seven to stop the trolls' comments. No doubt the alternative would have been a stressed-out junior staff member spending the evening moderating them.

But Seven's decision to delete sent the wrong message.

A section of the 7AFL's response to deleting its photo of Tayla Harris. Picture: Twitter
A section of the 7AFL's response to deleting its photo of Tayla Harris. Picture: Twitter

Social media managers will tell you to hide bad comments, delete the worst ones and follow up with a post from the account stating that poor behaviour won't be tolerated. Even make an example of some trolls.

The NRL did a great job when a similar thing happened last year after they posted a photo of Origin players and partners Vanessa Foliaki and Karina Brown kissing after the game.

Outraged commenters were put in their place with a swift rebuke from the NRL's official page: "Welcome to 2018 … can't wait for you to join us."

A short, sharp comeback. That was the end of that.

Ultimately, it comes back to respect. And for large organisations like AFLW broadcaster Seven, backing female athletes and women's sport goes a long way to not only building respect in the public for women's sport, but also gaining respect themselves as the host of the game.

By deleting the Harris' photo, they hindered the respect.

Thankfully the public stepped up in Harris's case, including Harris herself.

"Here's a pic of me at work … think about this before your derogatory comments, animals" she posted on Twitter with the photo. On Facebook, alongside the photo, Harris wrote, "My hamstring is OK but derogatory and sexist comments aren't."

Many others began circulating the image too, and it resulted in Seven issuing an apology and reposting the shot.

Tayla Harris has been quick to condemn the comments the photo of her simply doing her job well received. Picture: Michael Willson/AFL Media
Tayla Harris has been quick to condemn the comments the photo of her simply doing her job well received. Picture: Michael Willson/AFL Media

Female footballers, just like male footballers, are just doing their jobs. Everyone has a choice of whether they want to watch them, but if you choose not to, well, take your opinion with you too on your way out.

We're in a peak time of our evolution. Some say we now live in an 'outrage society' or that it's 'political correctness gone mad'. But what is wrong with learning to be better humans and to respect each other without lowbrow degradation?

Harris was even stronger on radio this morning saying, "The comments I saw were sexual abuse if you can call it that, because it was repulsive and it made me uncomfortable."

Her case should be a pivotal moment for women's sport, a time when a player stood up and called it out and the people rose also from the benches to say 'enough'.

Fiona Bollen is the editor of Swoop

@FiBollen



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