News coverage of Tayla Harris generally revolves around the Australian athlete’s competitions in the Australian Football League Women’s team (AFLW), as well as those in the boxing ring. Recently, though, a photo of Harris went viral, making her a target of sexism and exposing her to the stigma of being a female in sports. Her response to social media’s onslaught of hate-filled comments has made her one of the most talked-about athletes in the world and a hero for many.
The Photo that Rocked the Harris’ World
In the viral photo, then 21-year-old Harris is seen mid-air, leg extended high right after sending a ball flying with a single kick. Her figure looks as if she’s doing the splits. It was taken in Harris’ workplace on March 17, 2019, in a game between the Western Bulldogs and Carlton Blues, as she kicked the first goal of the game as the star forward.
Australian broadcaster Channel 7 captioned it “photo of the year” on their Facebook page. Sexist and derogatory hate comments flowed endlessly with the photo’s publication. They deleted the post just 24 hours later, citing that comment moderation was becoming too difficult with the influx of troll commentators.
Here’s a pic of me at work… think about this before your derogatory comments, animals. pic.twitter.com/68aBVVbTTj— Tayla Harris (@taylaharriss) March 19, 2019
Harris took to Twitter to share the photo again, writing, “Here’s a pic of me at work…think about this before your derogatory comments, animals.”
It was the most liked tweet of 2019 in Australia. The iconic image of her silhouette mid-kick lives on through t-shirts and a bronze statue, unveiled on Australian Women’s Day last year in September.
The tirade of social media hate hasn’t stopped, though. Harris has chosen not to submit, instead, serving as a role model for those struggling with the negativity of the online world.
“If my example is going to help someone in any way, I would be happy to go through it all again. I’d rather not, but there’s been so many amazing messages. It’s been an eye-opening experience,” she told CNN Sport.
Online Hate Campaigns Go Beyond Tayla Harris Comments
It’s not just Harris on the receiving end of abusive comments. ALFW athletes and journalists often speak out against the hate they receive. It’s gotten so bad that Australian newspaper The Herald Sun is shutting down comments on its coverage of ALFW to stop giving trolls a platform.
“If you don’t like something, no one is forcing you to read, or watch, or engage,” the paper wrote in an editorial explaining its decision. “Some of the comments that our athletes are subjected to are simply too vile to publish.”
Comments range from telling players to “go back to the kitchen” to matters that couldn’t be repeated, as reported by CNN World Sport.
Now at 22, Harris is a champion for fighting against online hate. She told CNN World Sport, “Bullying online is so bad that young people are committing suicide, which is horrific, so if I can give someone confidence to feel a little bit better about themselves, I will do everything to do that because you just don’t know what could’ve happened otherwise.”