Sport AFL Footy players among sexist trolls attacking female athletes
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Footy players among sexist trolls attacking female athletes

AFLW player Tayla Harris copped social media abuse after this picture was published. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media
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Vulgar online harassment of female AFL players continued on Wednesday even after a star athlete took a stand against “sex abuse” by misogynists who left her fearful of going to work.

As fans, clubs and high-profile Australians condemned the degrading remarks on a photo of Carlton’s Tayla Harris it emerged that women playing AFL have been victims of sexism even by fellow players.

It can be revealed that one recent post mocking a female Collingwood team member came from the account of former Fremantle player Josh Mellington, who now plays in a suburban Melbourne team.

The New Daily has found that many young men behind vulgar, sexually-degrading comments on AFLW photos are players from Victorian sporting clubs.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday the men behind the comments were “grubs” and cowards who were taking out their hatred online, usually targeting women.

One comment on a spectacular action shot of Harris mid-kick referred to her genitals and came from the account of a former player from the Ringwood area who is now believed to be playing in a Yarra Ranges league in Melbourne’s east.

The teenager, who according to his social media is friends with a Collingwood rookie, had also tagged other young cricket and footy teammates in his post about Harris.

Another comment, made on Wednesday even as the sexism storm brewed, was from a young man who tweeted that women should not play sport. Another post made by the same man days earlier had referred to women as “sl–s”.

His social media photos showed that his girlfriend played soccer.

Many local footy leagues, as with the AFL and AFLW, conduct social media policies and online etiquette and law training.

But revelations fellow players were behind some of the online trolling pointed to a cultural issue within the code.

On Wednesday, another AFLW star Erin Phillips, of Adelaide Crows, called for social media accounts to be linked to driver’s licences.

Cyber security expert and former police officer Susan McLean said it was “disgusting” that other players would abuse their female counterparts and she warned trolls could be breaking a number of laws.

“There is online argy-bargy that all sports people get and you accept that, but when it becomes targeted and personal that is abuse, and it needs to be reported,” Ms McLean said.

“And you certainly don’t accept sexual harassment.”

Ms McLean blasted 7AFL for its handling of the trolls after the organisation removed the photograph of Harris from social media instead of calling out the perpetrators.

She said trolls should be blocked, have their sport memberships cancelled and – if severe or repeated – reported to police.

“It is not hard to track these people down,” Ms McLean said.

Not all of the remarks that contributed to the widespread outrage were about women’s genitals or sexually explicit, but alarmingly even many that were criticisms of playing abilities used gendered language or poked fun at a female’s sporting abilities.

Mocking of McIntosh photo
Comments on the AFL post about Cecilia McIntosh retiring included one from a former Fremantle player poking fun at the women’s league.

A public post on Monday, since deleted, from Mellington’s Facebook profile mocked retiring AFLW player and former Olympian Cecilia McIntosh.

Another Facebook comment, criticising Harris’s kicking abilities, was from a midfielder from Oakleigh District Football Netball Club.

The comment read: “big stretch for a 20m shank”.

Harris, 21, told a press conference on Wednesday that she expected criticism of her playing performance, but that she needed to take a stand against the degrading and sexist comments she had received.

She called on police and authorities to take more action to stamp out abuse of women online.

Harris later said she would not report the incidents to police, but hoped by speaking out that men would understand the consequences of their words.

“These people are behind screens now, but no one’s saying they aren’t going to show up at the footy at the weekend,” she said.

“I genuinely consider that they might show up at the footy. If they’re thinking this way and able to write it down, what are they going to do when I’m on the sideline meeting some kids?”

Carlton CEO Cain Liddle said the club had blocked some offenders on social media, but he said it was too early to say whether their memberships would be revoked.

A number of prominent players and AFL supporters celebrated Harris’s strength and remarkable athleticism.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison slammed the “cowardly grubs” behind the online abuse.

Asked if he had seen the image, the Prime Minister said it was “a great photo.”

“Yeah, I have. And it’s a great photo. I think it’s a cracker photo,” Mr Morrison said.

“I think they’re grubs. I think they’re cowardly grubs, who need to wake up to themselves.”

Mr Morrison said that sadly it was women who got the most attention from anonymous “cowardly” trolls.”

“You know, trolls on social media, you know, they’re nothing new these days, sadly, but I think what’s horrible is those trolls tend to target women and they tend to be the target for an inordinate share of the abuse that happens online.

“I think that’s a shameful indictment on the grubs who get on there. I don’t know what’s up with them. Would they say it to our face? No, they haven’t got the guts to do that. They’re cowards. They’re weak. They are, you know, acing out some sort of hatred in a way which really just lessens them as people.

“And they just need to wake up to themselves and we should give them no quarter and we should treat them as the grubs they are.”