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The minute she’s back, the suitcase hits the floor and she lives out of it for days. Harris is at that age when star athletes often begin to sense their worth and clam up, offering only rare peeks into their authenticity.She was five when she played her first game of footy, with her only sibling, big brother Jack, then seven. Harris loves kicking and marking but acknowledges that kicking and marking is all it is. I struggled to understand it, so school was a bit of a strange time.”The AFLW’s best mark and Australian champion boxer knows how to roll with the punches – yet even she was stunned at what happened after a photo of her kicking a shot at goal went viral. When Harris interlocks her fingers, the middle knuckles line up to spell OXYMORON.“She is an A-type athlete,” says journalist Samantha Lane.
“Bullying at school just blew my mind,” she says, throwing up her hands. It’s about a moment.”I was going to talk my way into a pre-game team meeting with the Carlton Football Club, which until the 2020 AFLW season was cancelled after round six was tipped to challenge for a premiership, with Harris as their dominant and high-flying centre half-forward.She recently trademarked her boxing logo – TH with a lightning bolt in the centre – and after lengthy negotiations Harris has permission to use the kick photo (owned by the AFL) to sell T-shirts with its silhouette online. There’s a longer-term cultural and behavioural issue we need to tackle.”That week, a club security guard nicknamed Meatball walked Harris between her car and the club rooms. I’ll declare that I like her, that I want her to excel and the AFL women’s league to become strong and more followed, but I also want it to have the kind of substance that she showed in that moment. “This was my moment. I actually enjoy training, which makes it that much better,” she confirms. “Definitely messy!” says Dargan. Never let them know she was hurt.”She’s remarkably upbeat in isolation, which I put down to endorphins.
She won’t even lock herself into footy.“The one thing fighting is definitely not about – for me – is aggression. At 12, she was rag-dolled by a bigger opponent and began boxing lessons at the local Police-Citizens Youth Club. She doesn’t care what “old-mate misogynistic sexist arsehole” thinks, nor does she truck with the growing impatience of fervent AFLW boosters.Harris was far from alone at this time. (Sept. 22, 2019 - … But I find it profoundly sad. Early life and amateur career. But in reality I hate hurting people, physically or emotionally,” she says. It’s about protecting herself online, by muting and blocking, deleting and reporting, or refraining from tagging her location. Tayla (right), pictured with fellow AFLW star Sarah Dargan returns to the AFL field next year AFL great Malcolm Blight was among the harshest critics before Harris hit back at the backlash. “Yet I always felt like at footy – at a game, or training, or at the club – I was in my element. Sarah Dargan sits on Tayla’s lap during one Zoom meeting and recalls the outpouring.“Her ability to compartmentalise what was thrown at her, and give this composed message right between the eyes – it was remarkable,” says Harford. “When I was 21 there’s no way I would have been able to deal with what she did, with all the humility and class and polish that she showed.”“If there was graphic vile graffiti on the front of your workplace, you would remove it, straightaway. Flying back from the US when the drama unfolded, she recalls landing in Sydney to a missed call from the Prime Minister. Still does.She turned it into a teachable moment. Because make no mistake, Tayla Harris is famous. “We’ve just gotta find a way to make something work.”Hopefully, amid all of this image curation, she remains unvarnished. The following is a small sample, not even the most egregious:“I couldn’t erase the comments – all I could do was make sure Tayla was okay,” Dargan says. “I just like shapes.” On one bum cheek, a picture of Judge Judy and the words “Only Judy can judge me.” And on the other cheek? I think there’s a bit more patience needed in this conversation.”Tayla Harris greets me in her lounge room, but also in my kitchen. “I just felt happy, and proud. Seemingly all her teeth are involved. “The only thing that I changed was that I started filtering out particular words, from my comments,” she says, holding up her mobile. “Some just wanted to smash me more,” she says, shrugging.
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