Tayla Harris lifts the hem of her training shorts and grins. Her royal blue Carlton footy nicks hide a tattoo of American television doyenne Judge Judy in trademark ‘talk to the hand’ pose. The words ‘Only Judy Can Judge Me’ are inked underneath.
“It was a spur of the moment thing when it was all happening,” Tayla says. “I was feeling very high and mighty, and feeling like no one could judge me.”
The ‘it’ she is referring to is the moment, 12 months ago, when an image of Tayla kicking a goal almost broke the internet – for all the wrong reasons.
It had begun as a normal Sunday afternoon of footy for the AFLW marquee recruit. Tayla’s beloved Carlton Blues were taking on bitter rivals the Western Bulldogs. It was a hard-fought game and the teams were neck and neck. Then, as the clock ticked down and pressure mounted, Tayla marked the ball 40 metres out of the goal square. It was a crucial moment.
The 22-year-old took a few steps back, pacing herself, then launched a blistering kick. Every tendon in her hamstrings visibly flexed to breaking point as her right leg stretched into a grand jeté-like leap, her toes almost touching the heavens.
She propelled the Sherrin straight through the goals. “It was just another day at work for me,” says the talented athlete. “That’s just what I do.”
It was a triumphant moment on the sporting field and Tayla’s majestic athleticism was captured by award-winning photographer Michael Willson, who later posted the striking picture to 7AFL’s social media page in recognition of Tayla’s skill.
The powerful image rightly attracted high praise, but among the thousands of comments were also many so shocking that, within hours, 7AFL rushed to take it down. Among the congratulations were dozens of explicit and grotesque threats of sexual violence and rape. Others doctored the image, removing clothes and superimposing genitals on Tayla's body.
“What scared me most was that the people who posted them, by their own profiles, were clearly husbands and fathers pictured with their own daughters.
“You have to be really sick in the head not just to think of those things, but to then actually write them publicly, not even anonymously. Some had tagged in other mates to their comments and they’d say, ‘I’d like to do xyz to her ...’ What are they thinking? I just can’t understand it.
“I have a thick skin and I can scroll past it and not let it bother me. But I started to think about what would happen if this wasn’t me reading it, if it was a young girl, a footy fan, or another woman playing sport who didn’t have the same strength as me. I thought about what it would be like to read this and not be able to handle it, and it started to make me really angry. I understand 7AFL were trying to protect me, but taking it down wasn’t the answer, I knew I had to fight back.”
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