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An inspiring image of professional Australian football star Tayla Harris, airborne and frozen amidst a powerful kick, was been assailed with misogynistic comments on social media. Now the Australian Football League (AFL) Women’s athlete is calling out the internet trolls for “sexual abuse.”
“The comments I saw were sexual abuse, if you can call it that, because it was repulsive and it made me uncomfortable,” Harris told Melbourne’s RSN radio in a March 20 interview. She later reposted the photo in question — which major Australian television network Seven had deleted from its social media accounts — and tweeted, “Here’s a pic of me at work… think about this before your derogatory comments, animals.”
Although Harris called for the AFL and possibly even Australian police to take action against the sexist trolls, the five-foot-ten football player isn’t waiting for their assistance, striking back instead on their own playing field of social media.
Harris started the #TAYLAKICKCHALLENGE on her Twitter account, calling for people to send in photos and videos of their best impersonation of her now-iconic move in exchange for a pair of new Nike tennis shoes with her autograph, and it’s gone viral. “Good morning everybody — except online trolls,” Harris says in the March 21 video announcing the challenge, which has already racked up more than 3,200 likes.
Harris’ response stands in stark contrast to how the Seven Network’s handled the barrage of offensive comments on the athlete’s photo, which began to appear after the network posted the epic image of kicking a goal to their social media accounts, with the intent of praising her. The photo mirrors that of an iconic statue of Australian football legend Ted Whitman, the Guardian notes.
When the image instead became a target of sexist insults, Seven Network quickly took down the photo, citing the “inappropriate and offensive” comments in a statement posted on Twitter. But many online criticized Seven for not standing by the athlete and leaving her photo up.
“This is a brilliant athlete in full flight. Something to celebrate. Just over three years ago women did not play Australian Football at the elite level. The result of this leap — a goal from 40m out,” wrote one Twitter user. Meanwhile, fellow AFL star Patrick Dangerfield also tweeted the photo with the hashtag #Fthehaters.
Following the widespread public outcry, Seven Network reposted Harris’ photo with an apology and a promise to “work harder to ban trolls from our page.”
“Our intention was to highlight Tayla Harris’ incredible athleticism & we’ll continue to celebrate women’s footy,” the network said in statement on its Twitter account
Now Harris is being praised for her maturity in turning the online debacle into a positive call-to-action. And many online users have posted photos of their young daughters mimicking Harris’ punt.
Others have praised Harris for being an inspiration, paving the way for future female footballers. The AFL Women’s league started its first season with eight teams in February 2017.
“She is amazing and I am so EXCITED for the next generation of girls,” wrote one Twitter user. “I am so inspired by Tayla and all our ladies currently playing!!”
Another Twitter user added, “I was watching a group of girls at athletics practicing your kick tonight. They see you. And they want to be you. It was a perfect moment.”
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