Why this image could become a landmark moment in Australian sport

Related Story: Tayla Harris says trolls' comments on AFLW photo were 'sexual abuse'

The now-famous photo of AFLW player Tayla Harris could become a landmark moment in Australian sport, according to the photographer who snapped the image.

Key points:

  • The photographer hopes the reaction to the image marks a "line in the sand"
  • Parallels have been drawn with the famous image of Nicky Winmar defying racist taunts
  • Moderators of social media pages are being urged to take strong action against trolls

"I think we'll look back on this moment and hopefully it's a line-in-the-sand moment where we take a stand against these online bullies," photographer Michael Willson said.

"Women especially shouldn't have to put up with derogatory comments and negative feedback just because you've got these keyboard warriors out there who think they can hide behind their screens."

Willson's photo captures Harris kicking the opening goal for Carlton during Sunday's match against the Western Bulldogs.

The image was posted on the Seven Network's social media accounts, where it was swamped by misogynistic online trolls.

The network deleted the image, but then re-posted it with an apology, after a torrent of protest.

Harris said she felt she had been subjected to "sexual abuse on social media" through the comments and was worried about how the people who made them were behaving in their private lives.

Tayla Harris says trolls have — at the very least — started a conversation

Willson said Seven made the "wrong call" by taking the photo down.

"I think it's important to remember that these people, these trolls they're just the minority and we can't let them dictate what should or shouldn't be published," he said.

"I just want people to see that photograph and be blown away by the athleticism. It doesn't matter that it's a man or a woman — it's just a beautiful football photo."

A composite image of Tayla Harris and Ted Whitten, both mid-air after kicking a football.

Willson said the power of the image lies not only in what's contained within the frame, but also in the response it provoked.

"The positive to come out of it was the whole AFL community rallying online, which is very rare, coming together to support Tayla, and to just take a stand against these trolls," he said.

Social media a 'double-edged sword' for female athletes

Sociologist Kim Toffoletti from Deakin University said the impact of the photo needed to be understood in the context of women making inroads into the male-dominated world of professional AFL.

"The AFL is one of our national sports, it's at the cultural centre, and there's still a strong association with AFL and masculinity," she said.

Dr Toffoletti said the photo belongs to a rich tradition of sports images which trigger debate about broader social issues — for example, the famous photo of Aboriginal footballer Nicky Winmar responding to racial taunts from Collingwood supporters in 1993.

An Indigenous AFL player lifts his shirt and points to the colour of his skin in response to racial vilification by the crowd.

"The [Harris] photo speaks to a wider moment in our culture, where we are seeing female empowerment," she said.

Dr Toffoletti said the online trolling of the image shows social media remains a "double-edged sword" for women athletes, providing greater prominence and visibility, but also exposing them to various forms of online abuse.

"Even though the representation of women in sport might be changing towards more positive images of active and dynamic sportswomen, there's still a section of society who are resistant to it and in fact, hostile to it," she said.

"Moderators on social media pages need to recognise this for what it is — it's not neutral opinion, it's harassment and they need to stop it."

In recent years, sporting codes have used CCTV, telephone hotlines and other measures to crack down on anti-social behaviour at venues.

Dr Toffoletti said similar efforts needed to be made in the online space.

"This is a social space, just like a football field is a social space — this is where sports experience happens for so many people," she said.

"Sports organisations need to take a much more active role and send a really strong message that this [abuse] won't be tolerated."

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