For as long as I've been writing for FanBuzz, part of our mission has been to highlight the millions of powerful female athletes around the world who are competing and succeeding at a high level. Every time we do this, without fail, hundreds of men who think they're the first person to invent a sexist joke make sure to discredit women competing in sports. Internet courage allows people to say things that they'd never utter in real life because they're nothing more than cowards with a keyboard.
Those Internet trolls came out in force when broadcast company Channel Seven in Australia posted a photograph of a Carlton Blues player simply kicking a ball during an Australian Football League Women's Pride Game against the Western Bulldogs. There are thousands of other Australian Football League pictures just like this one that came before it, but this time, the photograph's responses sparked widespread outrage that led the company to delete the picture entirely.
That AFLW player is 21-year-old Tayla Harris, who's been named to the AFLW Women's All-Australian team in each of the past two seasons. At first glance, you might think just deleting the picture and saving face was the best idea. Why keep a picture live online when people are saying idiotic things like this:
Mitch Goetz: "About an inch away from seeing the full ham sandwich."
Brad Forey: "If this was Hannah Mouncey you would see a pork log sticking out of the shorts."
For reference on that last one, Mouncey transitioned to become a woman, and now competes on the women's Australian national handball team, as well as in Australian rules football.
The list of comments went on and on until Channel Seven deleted the image that was captioned "Photo of the year" entirely from their Facebook page. After doing so, many AFLW supporters, including Tayla Harris herself, criticized the broadcast company for deleting the photograph and allowing Internet trolls to essentially win in bashing a woman simply for showcasing her incredible athleticism in a professional sport.
Channel Seven later reposted the photo to their Twitter page with this apology:
"It's a picture of me at work kicking a footy. I feel uncomfortable, so I consider that, in some ways, sexual assault," Harris said after the incident began to go viral. "These particular people that commented, I need to think, what are the woman in their lives, and behind closed doors, how are they being treated?"
How would you feel if your daughter, sister, girlfriend, wife or mother was the target of sexual abuse and inappropriate comments simply for doing something she loved?
When we covered Toni Harris becoming the first woman to earn a college football scholarship as a position player, one guy had the audacity to comment, "God forbid us men have anything of our own," like he was fast asleep during every history lesson he's ever had. Throughout all of recorded time, women have fought back AGAINST men just to have basic liberties and rights all over the world. Women in the U.S. have only been voting for the last 100 years. Hell, women in parts of the world aren't even allowed to walk around outside unless they're with a man.
To suggest that men have nothing of their own is not only incorrect, it's honestly one of the dumbest things I've ever read.
Many AFL players — both men and women — were quick to condemn the widespread attacks on Harris. The picture's original photographer, Michael Willson, wasn't going to be watch an AFLW star be defeated by the derogatory comments, either.
Men get away with a lot in this day and age, but things are changing. There's no legal argument for people to get punished for saying mean things online unless a legitimate threat is made, so it's up to outlets like Facebook and Twitter, or the individuals and organizations posting to social media accounts, to affect change.
If you've read this far and still don't see a problem with what happened, you're just another Internet troll who will probably never get it. Respect is such a simple concept that's been lost in the digital age.
The next time you're going to say something nasty and derogatory about a female athlete online, imagine if it was a woman in your life. I guarantee you wouldn't even think about saying that again.
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