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Harris statue marks a turning point for AFLW

  • 12 September 2019


The photo has it all: the outstretched leg, the eyes looking up, the arm across her body. Her braid and her ponytail. Her tattoo, her taping, her orange boots. Grace and poise and ferocity and talent and work. If only for these things, it would have been a perfect way to reflect the messy, complicated beauty of the first few years of the AFLW.

But it was the response to the photo of Tayla Harris that elevated that moment from the representative to the iconic. While fans of the women’s game praised Harris’ skill and little girls looked at it and thought 'that could be me someday', an army of online commenters decided to make derogatory comments about Harris and her body. Many of the comments were sexually explicit. Harris herself later likened some of the comments to sexual abuse.

Instead of removing the comments, the 7AFL Twitter account removed the photo. The reaction from the women’s sport community was swift and strong. The problem was not the photo; it was the comments. The photo went back up. The point was made.

It felt like a turning point. Female athletes and their supporters were saying no, we will not stand by while this happens. That sexual harassment has no place in our game. That female athletes should be able to do their jobs without abuse. Speaking days later, Harris said that the response made her feel empowered. She went on to reflect on the significance of the moment: 'It's not about me now, it's about a much bigger picture,' she told RSN Radio’s Breakfast Club. 

So when NAB commissioned an artist to create a statue to display in Federation Square during this year’s AFL finals series, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that they picked this moment. The 3.3m statue was unveiled by Harris herself this week. And yet, the decision was mocked and questioned by many.

AFL Hall of Fame legend Malcolm Blight said the decision to display the statue was 'ludicrous'. He went on to comment that it was 'the most mystifying decision I’ve seen in my life thus far. Mystifying! She is getting a statue for being trolled online… One of the most mystifying things I’ve ever heard of.'

Blight’s comments were reflected by other football fans. Those who argued that Harris should not have been honoured at all, and those who argued there was a long line of those who should