Defeating trolls the Tayla Harris way

A photo of Australian football player Tayla Harris taking a powerful kick, published by Channel Seven on Facebook, contained everything to define beauty with her mesmerising athleticism, writes Alessio Colonnelli, but the first degrading comments were posted almost immediately, soon followed by thousands of cowards of the net.

Imagine a brilliant athletic move, of an Olympic purity to leave you stunned, gasping or even dazed – such would be the beauty of it. Imagine, then, a sublime and sudden motion – inimitable for the rest of us – captured in a photograph; immortalised for the aesthetic enjoyment of today and that of future generations. Just like an overhead kick by Carlo Parola, a jump by Simone Biles or one of Serena Williams’ backspins. Competitive perfection delivered by impeccable muscles. The sun or the floodlights on the shiny, taut skin – ready to play like the drums.

Here, the visual is intertwined with the educational. We are talking about exemplary actions, the ability to inspire us to give the best of ourselves, whatever our field. These infuse us with optimism, but also warn us: behind every enterprise, a great deal of work. Sweat. Sacrifice. And then tears, sometimes; of joy or not. Sport is a school subject for a reason. So, imagine all this and weigh up the value of this story.

Very recently, a wonderful move captured by the photographer Michael Willson was precisely that of a return shot by the Australian football player Tayla Harris. This was a kick akin to those given in Rome’s Flaminio stadium. A kick with an arched instep right up in the sky, abdominals taut under the shirt, while the shorts barely did their duty. And the ball shot from her cannon-leg (all steel) taking a very high curved trajectory, a move that the Socceroos hardly do, but also one that makes you win if it’s Australian rules football you’re playing. Sometimes, the descending ball is on fire, caught by the dazzling reflection of the sun.

The photo taken by Willson, published by Channel Seven on Facebook, received the first degrading comments almost immediately; and then many, many more followed. Yet, that image contained everything you need to define beauty. Or poetry. Just the stuff for the great Italian rhymer Valerio Magrelli to pull out sublime verses. Harris’ athleticism was mesmerising.

However, the aesthetic-educational mechanism did not work. Didn’t click. Jammed. A complete fiasco. The countless cowards of the net – in the thousands – made Harris the object of seriously reprehensible sexual comments. The slime poured from their fingers, to then cake and encrust the keyboards; but they undauntedly kept on hammering on the keys, relentlessly, drooling at the mouth. Stupidly indefatigable. Eternally ignorant. Animals. To some, sport and art convey nothing; they will never teach them anything.

What to do? Remove the photo from the internet as the editorial staff of C7 initially deemed as appropriate? The answer is no. Always. To deny visibility to the tough, talented, tenacious and – let’s be honest – fantastic Harris just because her performance risked being manipulated by male chauvinists, misogynists and the generally violent (for whom women can’t be free agents), who are not mentally ill, because the hatred of women is not psychological issue but an atavistic evil. To deny her public recognition is to give in to the anonymous obscurantists of the web. Their aim is to take away prominence from deserving women, to silence them. To rob them.

The picture was then put back up. Luckily, they got it right in the end. And Harris also pinned it on Twitter, on full display, accompanied by a challenging message, in which she calls the cowardly social media mobsters “animals”. This was the player’s second great move, one steeped in courage and dignity; and fully sporting too, on closer inspection, in the noblest and most audacious sense of the adjective.

Harris – a real champion and a legend of our time.


  • Alessio Colonnelli is an Italian freelance translator, writer and commentator on European political and social affairs, and a contributor to publications that include The New Statesman, The Independent, Prospect Magazine, the Huffington Post (UK), Foreign Policy and Politico Europe. His regularly updated blog, Thoughts on Europe, can be found here.


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