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The West sports editor Jakeb Waddell opens up on threats of death and violence over Harley Reid back pages

Headshot of Jakeb Waddell
Jakeb WaddellThe West Australian
VideoThe league's new umpires boss went to Geelong for the meeting.

“If I ever see you around Perth, I will assault you. I will take pleasure in it, too.”

“You need to kill yourself.”

“Quit, or I’ll burn your office down.”

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These are just a handful of the dozens and dozens of messages my phone lit up with again on Monday.

They may sound like quotes you would hear in a courtroom where a person is on trial for a heinous crime.

But they are public replies and private messages I received after posting the back page of Monday’s The West Australian to my X, formerly Twitter, account.

A cover that featured a West Coast Eagle taking an incredible mark on an otherwise miserable day for the WA side, who were thumped by reigning premiers Collingwood. You may have heard of the player taking the specky — his name is Harley Reid.

Admittedly, our coverage of the 19-year-old sensation has been over the top since he was drafted late last year.

In the past few weeks alone, I have depicted him as the Harvey Fresh kid (HARLEY FRESH), an Incredibles hero (MR INCREDIBLE), Hulk Hogan (HARLEYMANIA) and even left a page completely blank when he was rested, with the punchline being there is nothing worth reporting on.

Our editorial on April 22 took the words out of my mouth: “We are passionate about footy here at The West Australian newspaper … we wear our emotions on our sleeves when it comes to the West Coast Eagles and the Fremantle Dockers.”

“For those who think we’ve gone a bit crazy with our coverage, we only have one thing to say . . . you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

It was the perfect summary of how I approach our back page and sports section every day — being loud and proud, sparking conversation, and having a bit of fun because, at the end of the day, it is just a game of footy.

This approach, however, opens myself and our newspaper up to criticism from experts and the public – as it should.

Some absolutely love it — and it’s great to see. These back pages are prominently featured on football programs like The Front Bar, Talking Footy and AFL 360 in almost every episode.

I get messages from parents stating their six-year-old child is asking why their favourite player, Harley, wasn’t on the back page today.

But some despise it — and that’s OK as well. Former Eagles player Will Schofield dedicated his News Corp column last week to our coverage of Reid, offering a perspective from someone who has been inside the four walls and seen the impact that media hype can have on the club’s top stars.

I disagreed with almost every word he wrote — especially his view that there’s a “mandate” to keep Harley on the back — but I have no issue with the fact that he wrote it.

It is fair and reasonable commentary from someone within both the AFL and media landscapes.

Most football fans have a lot of fun with the back pages on X and other social media as well. I love the range of views, the display of passion and especially the cheeky banter we can have with one another.

But threats of death and violence? That’s where we can all agree the line has to be drawn.

What’s interesting is that these messages are often from the same people, or often “burner” accounts, who believe that our coverage could impact Reid’s mental health — a subject that my colleagues and I take very seriously.

I hope the irony is not lost on these people, as it isn’t with me.

When it comes to criticism, I say bring it on. Love it or hate it, I want to hear what you have to say. This is football. This is entertainment. Let’s all enjoy it and have our say.

I have a very thick skin — we in the media are trained that way. I have a very strong support network behind me, both personally and at The West.

No doubt, Reid has that, too, at the Eagles. I hope he does because, as we have seen in recent weeks, we aren’t the only ones watching everything he does. We’re just the only ones focusing on the positives of this once-in-a-generation talent.

However, if you are threatening to assault or murder me over the cover of a newspaper’s sports section, I will refer to my usual response to trolls … you need to put your phone down, get outside and touch the grass.

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