Tayla Harris: 1, trolls: 0

This week’s award for ‘television network that has consistently missed the mark’ goes to Channel Seven.

Their week began with a Sunday Night exposé into NRL culture.

Many would have tuned in interested in details about the most recent off-field scandals, however Sunday Night instead focused on claims made against former player Bodene Thompson.

While not trying to trivialise any of these claims, this issue is a couple of years old. This episode came across as a lame attempt to take a cheap shot at the NRL while also including interviews with women who have been involved with players from other codes.

Following the devastating events in Christchurch last week, Seven decided to continue to give Pauline Hanson airtime on Sunrise – a woman who has shared anti-Islamic rhetoric and at one point wanted to introduce a motion in Parliament called ‘It’s okay to be white’.

Then, Seven (via their 7AFL accounts) shared an image on Twitter and Facebook of Tayla Harris, who plays for Carlton in the AFLW.

In the stunning photograph, Harris is airborne after she has kicked the ball, displaying her tremendous athleticism.

It immediately calls to mind how skilled she is, but also about how strong and how confident. The pic encapsulates what is worth celebrating about sport.

Unfortunately, a barrage of filthy, derogatory and sexist comments ensued, leading Seven to remove the photo and comments.

Seven made the wrong decision. Another solution would have been to delete or hide the comments.

By removing the photo, the power is given back to the trolls.

By removing that photo, we are back in a world where women in sport are invisible.

This was an opportunity for Seven to make a clear statement that derogatory and sexist comments have no place in sport, particularly given that the network professes to be such strong supporters of women in sport through their coverage of the AFLW and the WBBL. But they did not have the courage to do that.

I’m always told that people that make these sorts of comments are the minority. But is that really the case? The derogatory comments just kept coming and several of them had hundreds of likes. It takes a deeply insecure, pathetic human being to make such comments. It also seeks to drive home a message that women are not welcome in sport and are simply objects for men to make comments about.

How can we expect women and girls to feel confident about their place in the world when this is how a section of the population respond to stunning images demonstrating sporting prowess?

What’s more, the AFLW seems to cop more criticism than any other female sporting competition. I follow a lot of women’s sport and haven’t seen such an outpouring of negativity in relation to the W-League, WNBL, WBBL or NRLW.

Enough of the negativity though. Because there was a fightback.

Tayla tweeted the photo herself, saying, “Here’s a pic of me at work… think about this before your derogatory comments, animals.”

The image was shared thousands of times and my social media feed lit up with support for the image and disappointment with Seven’s position. In the AFL and AFLW world, there was widespread support from clubs, players, journalists and fans.

It was sensational.

By taking down the photo, Seven created a situation where it was given more visibility.

It’s worth noting as well that while Seven made the wrong decision initially, they did tweet an apology, acknowledging that deleting the photo “sent the wrong message” and signalling their intention to continue to highlight the athleticism present in women’s sport.

I commend Seven on this apology and acknowledgement of their mistake, and trust that they have learnt something throughout this process.

This is about more than sport. It’s about bringing up young women in a world where they need to be careful about what they put up on social media. Many in the public eye have become accustomed to it, but that doesn’t make it okay and it certainly doesn’t mean that everyone has the skills to handle it.

‘Get off social media’ is not a response.

While initially sad, this photo has turned into a real celebration of women in sport. I want to take this moment to acknowledge female athletes, many of whom have become accustomed to this type of trolling, which is completely unfair, inappropriate and uncalled for. This episode should demonstrate to all of you that we have your backs, appreciate you and stand with you.

And when that image of Tayla Harris wins ‘Sporting image of the year’ at a prestigious awards night towards the end of the year, I hope Tayla posts it again as a big ‘up yours’ to her haters.