Infotainment Factory: Heartbreaking warning given to Tayla Harris

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Thursday, 21 March 2019

Heartbreaking warning given to Tayla Harris


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Tayla Harris is one of about 20 women at Murphy’s Boxing Gym and Gerry Murphy can still remember his first impression of her from two years ago.

“Very strong. A strong-willed girl. Nice girl. Very intelligent and for her age, quite worldly,” he told Wide World of Sports, after Harris was thrust into the national spotlight by this week’s social media photo-trolling furore.

“I used to be the boxing coach at Hawthorn footy club. I trained Buddy and Luke Hodge, all those people. I would call Tayla the female Buddy Franklin. She’s a freak, an absolute freak as far as physical ability goes.”

Hawthorn players train at Murphy's Boxing Gym.

Harris, 21, is not just an AFLW star for Carlton, but the unbeaten world No.7 pro middleweight. She’s been offered a world title fight (it didn’t fit in with footy). She spars often; usually against men, including seasoned professionals.

“There’s guys that have had four, five, six fights that can’t hold up with her, at the same weight. She beats them,” Murphy says.

“The more experienced professional fighters, she can’t get the better of them, but your average Joe Blow she’d deal with quite easily. Tayla can hit as hard as some of my top amateur fighters.

“She’s very courageous. She’s the sort of girl who can take a punch and it doesn’t faze her when she gets hit. She doesn’t panic, which a lot of males and females do. She doesn’t at all.”

Tayla Harris 'can take a punch'.

So, who are the other women in the gym? Their number has swelled to about 30 per cent of Murphy’s clientele.

“Mostly I think it’s from fear of being assaulted [by men],” Murphy says. “A lot of them are women who come for self-defence. It’s from about 11 years-old, right up to 60.”

Murphy trains Olympians and pros, but this has become a critical part of his job. Practical life-or-death lessons, even for girls. He sees increases in numbers around high-profile tragedies. After Jill Meagher’s rape and murder in 2012, fearful mothers asked him to help their daughters protect themselves.

How to punch a would-be rapist and stun him long enough to run away; and because most rapists hit, how to slip or duck a punch. How to avoid dangerous situations on the train, on the streets or in the park. How to monitor which men are around and whether they are stalkers.

“It’s just something that needs to be done, so I do it,” Murphy says, adding that women of any size can pack a punch. “It’s balance and timing. Once they learn how to do it, they can hit bloody hard.”

This week, Murphy saw Harris, a formidable boxer and a colossal athlete in Australia’s biggest mainstream sport, subjected to those same sinister threats posed by toxic masculinity. They take different forms for a sports star; in this case, waves of mass abuse on high-profile social media accounts. Yet they do not discriminate, and they are devastating.

The sexually-explicit comments directed at Harris came from the worst of men, and they spooked even a most exceptional woman. She no longer feels safe. She feels like a potential target.

Harris calls on AFL to take drastic action

“They’re behind screens now but there is no one saying that they aren’t going to show up at the footy on the weekend, and how do I identify if that was the person who made this vulgar comment directed at me – because now I’m uncomfortable at my workplace," she said.

“The way that I felt reading some of the stuff, I thought, ‘This makes me feel uncomfortable’. It’s referring to my body, not what I was doing which was playing footy. It was obviously quite graphic.

“How can anybody actually be sure that they won’t take action on what they think? 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? That’s what I’m going to have to think about now, that’s the reality of it.”

Murphy revealed that he had warned Harris to take extra caution after the photo furore. His street smarts are A-grade. Nearly 50 years in boxing began at age 17 in the infamous Kevin Watterson gym near Queen Victoria Market, where he met the likes of Les and Brian Kane, Mick Gatto and Alphonse Gangitano. He had the guts to stay straight despite interest in his talents from the gangsters.

Murphy has seen plenty and he is concerned for Harris. A digital-age pervert is a faceless, frightening enemy.

The now iconic Tayla Harris photo.

“I did speak to her [Wednesday] night and just said with these idiots sexualising her picture and whatever, that she just has to be very, very careful when she’s on her own,” he said.

“Make sure she doesn’t really go out on the street on her own, anything like that, because unfortunately it brings out the nutters. People get obsessed with things like that. I said that you’ve got to be extra vigilant now because of that. It’s unfortunate, but she has to be very careful.

“She spent most of the day with my son [Thursday]. She’s got people around her looking after her, keeping an eye on her. The biggest worry is you just don’t know where an idiot can come from. You get these people, for whatever reason, and it can become a problem. I said don’t be alarmed, but you’ve got to be vigilant, especially if you go into a park or on the street on your own. You’ve got to have someone with you. At least for a couple of months.”

Mitchell discusses Harris picture furore

It should not be this way, for any woman; yet it is, even for the strongest. Murphy’s warning was smart, but also heartbreaking in its necessity. He can’t stand men who harass and threaten violence against women, slamming the online trolls who targeted Harris.

“They’re just disgusting. Just terrible,” he says.

“I think the majority of people that are saying something are just trying to be funny; they think they’re being funny, think being crass is funny, think sexualising something like that is being funny. And they’re just dickheads, they really are.

“But then you’ve got your hardcore one per cent that are really dangerous nutters, and they’re the ones that you worry about. Some of the comments you hear, you can see that there’s definitely some of those out there as well.

“And there seems to be a strong resistance to the AFLW and the fact that women are actually making a bit of a splash out there. I think a lot of it is chest-beating by men who are a little bit insecure.”

Yet Harris was also left feeling empowered by the outpouring of support from the football community; from their condemnation of the trolls and their love of the sport that the photo of her kick so brilliantly illustrated. She then showed maturity beyond her years to elevate the discussion and highlight the mortal threat that women face every day from violent men.

Tayla Harris speaks out against online trolls.

The men who wrote offensive messages in response to her powerful image may have made Harris uneasy, but they also weaponised her against their own existence. The AFL is hunting them down with a view to banning them from footy. The game has no place for such people.

Harris intends to keep speaking out against trolls and it seems another thing at which she’ll excel. Murphy has no doubt. Never has, ever since she walked into his Surrey Hills gym above the paint shop, already a star with her boot and a potential world champion with her fists. Her power to raise up women, and to inspire men to be better, is extraordinary. This week proved that.

The female Buddy is undisputedly “a very strong young girl”.

Tayla Harris is one of about 20 women at Murphy’s Boxing Gym and Gerry Murphy can still remember his first impression of her from two years ago.

“Very strong. A strong-willed girl. Nice girl. Very intelligent and for her age, quite worldly,” he told Wide World of Sports, after Harris was thrust into the national spotlight by this week’s social media photo-trolling furore.

“I used to be the boxing coach at Hawthorn footy club. I trained Buddy and Luke Hodge, all those people. I would call Tayla the female Buddy Franklin. She’s a freak, an absolute freak as far as physical ability goes.”

Hawthorn players train at Murphy's Boxing Gym.

Harris, 21, is not just an AFLW star for Carlton, but the unbeaten world No.7 pro middleweight. She’s been offered a world title fight (it didn’t fit in with footy). She spars often; usually against men, including seasoned professionals.

“There’s guys that have had four, five, six fights that can’t hold up with her, at the same weight. She beats them,” Murphy says.

“The more experienced professional fighters, she can’t get the better of them, but your average Joe Blow she’d deal with quite easily. Tayla can hit as hard as some of my top amateur fighters.

“She’s very courageous. She’s the sort of girl who can take a punch and it doesn’t faze her when she gets hit. She doesn’t panic, which a lot of males and females do. She doesn’t at all.”

Tayla Harris 'can take a punch'.

So, who are the other women in the gym? Their number has swelled to about 30 per cent of Murphy’s clientele.

“Mostly I think it’s from fear of being assaulted [by men],” Murphy says. “A lot of them are women who come for self-defence. It’s from about 11 years-old, right up to 60.”

Murphy trains Olympians and pros, but this has become a critical part of his job. Practical life-or-death lessons, even for girls. He sees increases in numbers around high-profile tragedies. After Jill Meagher’s rape and murder in 2012, fearful mothers asked him to help their daughters protect themselves.

How to punch a would-be rapist and stun him long enough to run away; and because most rapists hit, how to slip or duck a punch. How to avoid dangerous situations on the train, on the streets or in the park. How to monitor which men are around and whether they are stalkers.

“It’s just something that needs to be done, so I do it,” Murphy says, adding that women of any size can pack a punch. “It’s balance and timing. Once they learn how to do it, they can hit bloody hard.”

This week, Murphy saw Harris, a formidable boxer and a colossal athlete in Australia’s biggest mainstream sport, subjected to those same sinister threats posed by toxic masculinity. They take different forms for a sports star; in this case, waves of mass abuse on high-profile social media accounts. Yet they do not discriminate, and they are devastating.

The sexually-explicit comments directed at Harris came from the worst of men, and they spooked even a most exceptional woman. She no longer feels safe. She feels like a potential target.

Harris calls on AFL to take drastic action

“They’re behind screens now but there is no one saying that they aren’t going to show up at the footy on the weekend, and how do I identify if that was the person who made this vulgar comment directed at me – because now I’m uncomfortable at my workplace," she said.

“The way that I felt reading some of the stuff, I thought, ‘This makes me feel uncomfortable’. It’s referring to my body, not what I was doing which was playing footy. It was obviously quite graphic.

“How can anybody actually be sure that they won’t take action on what they think? 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? That’s what I’m going to have to think about now, that’s the reality of it.”

Murphy revealed that he had warned Harris to take extra caution after the photo furore. His street smarts are A-grade. Nearly 50 years in boxing began at age 17 in the infamous Kevin Watterson gym near Queen Victoria Market, where he met the likes of Les and Brian Kane, Mick Gatto and Alphonse Gangitano. He had the guts to stay straight despite interest in his talents from the gangsters.

Murphy has seen plenty and he is concerned for Harris. A digital-age pervert is a faceless, frightening enemy.

The now iconic Tayla Harris photo.

“I did speak to her [Wednesday] night and just said with these idiots sexualising her picture and whatever, that she just has to be very, very careful when she’s on her own,” he said.

“Make sure she doesn’t really go out on the street on her own, anything like that, because unfortunately it brings out the nutters. People get obsessed with things like that. I said that you’ve got to be extra vigilant now because of that. It’s unfortunate, but she has to be very careful.

“She spent most of the day with my son [Thursday]. She’s got people around her looking after her, keeping an eye on her. The biggest worry is you just don’t know where an idiot can come from. You get these people, for whatever reason, and it can become a problem. I said don’t be alarmed, but you’ve got to be vigilant, especially if you go into a park or on the street on your own. You’ve got to have someone with you. At least for a couple of months.”

Mitchell discusses Harris picture furore

It should not be this way, for any woman; yet it is, even for the strongest. Murphy’s warning was smart, but also heartbreaking in its necessity. He can’t stand men who harass and threaten violence against women, slamming the online trolls who targeted Harris.

“They’re just disgusting. Just terrible,” he says.

“I think the majority of people that are saying something are just trying to be funny; they think they’re being funny, think being crass is funny, think sexualising something like that is being funny. And they’re just dickheads, they really are.

“But then you’ve got your hardcore one per cent that are really dangerous nutters, and they’re the ones that you worry about. Some of the comments you hear, you can see that there’s definitely some of those out there as well.

“And there seems to be a strong resistance to the AFLW and the fact that women are actually making a bit of a splash out there. I think a lot of it is chest-beating by men who are a little bit insecure.”

Yet Harris was also left feeling empowered by the outpouring of support from the football community; from their condemnation of the trolls and their love of the sport that the photo of her kick so brilliantly illustrated. She then showed maturity beyond her years to elevate the discussion and highlight the mortal threat that women face every day from violent men.

Tayla Harris speaks out against online trolls.

The men who wrote offensive messages in response to her powerful image may have made Harris uneasy, but they also weaponised her against their own existence. The AFL is hunting them down with a view to banning them from footy. The game has no place for such people.

Harris intends to keep speaking out against trolls and it seems another thing at which she’ll excel. Murphy has no doubt. Never has, ever since she walked into his Surrey Hills gym above the paint shop, already a star with her boot and a potential world champion with her fists. Her power to raise up women, and to inspire men to be better, is extraordinary. This week proved that.

The female Buddy is undisputedly “a very strong young girl”.

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