6 Very Important Questions from the Eurostars Tour

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By #99 Caitlin Murphy

I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting over the last week about my experience with the Eurostars tour. Lots of my people have asked about it, and the support for Heist is overwhelmingly positive (in the most literal sense of the expression). So here y’all have it: the most salient features of the night/week to me. You’ll notice that none of the commentary below has much to do with our actual performance on the field – in fact, especially after watching the film, my own opportunities for growth in the rest of the season abound.

In reflecting about the Eurostars game, I worked with more feelings than I knew I had. I learned so much about myself, my team, and our community. The Eurostars game has had me reflecting [more than usual] about power, privilege, representation, agency, and change. So, I’m choosing to write about those things instead. (If you want to hear my take on my play on the field, just ask my fall league team what a “Eurostars throw” is. Thanks for making us look good, Sharon Yee.)

As with most sports, there is a learning curve with ultimate. Some of that learning extends beyond the boundaries of the field and seeps into our interactions, values, and conversations. For humans, much of our learning happens implicitly. We come to our current understanding about the world based on what we observe. We adjust our behavior and values accordingly, and often do so without knowing. On the ultimate field, this can work both for and against us. When we still high-five someone despite them having thrown a turnover, we implicitly define “team”. When we crowd a new player for a reset before the stall is two, we implicitly define “trust”. When a foul is called, contested, and respectfully discussed during a physical elite game of ultimate, we implicitly define “spirit”.

In this way, we build and define our community, piece by piece.

To me, this is the beauty of playing in the EuroStars game: more people than normal were watching, and I’m proud of what we taught them and each other. Here are some things I noticed throughout the course of the evening and the days following.

1. Who sold our tickets?

On typical night at Breese Stevens, Heist sells tickets for Radicals games. It’s hard for some of us to be financially bound to the AUDL or complicit in its perpetuating inequity, but many Heist women wouldn’t be able to afford club ultimate if not for fundraising. For this, we are appreciative of our local organization’s generosity toward us. On this night, however, three professional male ultimate players sat in the same chairs we do and sold our tickets. Every kid that walked through the gate last Tuesday night saw them support us. Every kid that has gotten a disc signed after a Radicals game by Pat Schriwise, Colin Camp, or Tom Annen saw them support us. Every kid who has no idea that it’s harder for women to be respected in ultimate saw them support us.

2. Who was there? How did they know about it? What were they wearing?

Of course, my use of these questions isn’t intended to be subtle. Like most of us, I’m tired of these questions and their implications for women in the world. In fact, you could add “were they drinking?” to the list. But, for once, the answers to these questions actually matter. My friends showed up. Kids and their parents. The youth boys I coach. My old teammates. Our community. They drank beer and ate food and heckled like they do at other home games under the lights. They wore our jerseys with our names. They shared the Facebook invite for our game. They asked each other if they were attending “the game tonight”. Some of them came after their league games. Or after club practice.

In noticing who showed up, I also noticed that our Madison ultimate community is more white than the city itself is. This is likely not a surprise. While gender equity seems central to the current conversation, equity is not unidimensional. It is intersectional, multi-faceted, and complex. Listening to POC is paramount to the equity conversation (and any actions that ‘the conversation’ engenders).

3. How did it feel to be streamed? To watch the stream?

Fulcrum Media is an incredible company. They are intentional and crystal clear in their mission – to tell stories that matter. They streamed our game. A world-class athlete commentated it (thanks Becky!). I got scored on 10 feet from the camera (did I mention that people are always watching?). And it still felt GOOD. Our families don’t get to watch us very often. Hell, we don’t get to watch us very often. In the last week, I’ve watched the game half a dozen times just to analyze our play. Film is not just an invaluable tool for analyzing play, but it’s motivating and unifying. My teammates who couldn’t come to the game got to watch (and provide live commentary on the GroupMe). Watching your mistakes and your triumphs gets you itching to get back out there with your people and keep building the thing you’re working for. I fall in love with my team and this sport all over again every time I watch the highlights.

4. Who was watching at halftime?

I’m the first person to take a break at halftime, as both an athlete and a spectator. No blame for anyone who grabbed a beer at the break. But, while leaders of women in our community were recognized and as the Youth Club Championship team scrimmaged, I didn’t notice who was still watching from the stands until I watched the film.

Heist v Eurostars halftime

I’m not crying, you’re crying.

People. Are. Always. Watching.

When we say “representation matters”, we’re usually talking about those girls in the stands. There is plenty of evidence to suggest people are more likely to believe they can achieve their goals if they see people who look like them doing it (and if you say “Well, I didn’t need that to be successful!” you’re probably either a white man, painfully oblivious to your own implicit learning, or just really super extraordinary). But, I also think “representation matters” in the way that others (men and young boys) can see people who don’t look like them showcasing the things we all show up for: a high level of athleticism, beautiful throws, exciting plays, and a good game. Of course, it’s hard to measure the economic return that will eventually be realized from folks seeing women on the field; but, to me, uncertainty has never been a reasonable excuse to avoid striving for equity.

5. What did it feel like?

I remember watching the spirit circle last year as a spectator. The EuroStars communicated how powerful it was to end their tour in Madison with a spirited, intense match. How the game was very physical, but calls were fair and players had integrity. How they don’t have such a beautiful community in Europe. Friends and old teammates and parents and kids and community stayed to listen. No one cared about the score. It was like the resonant frequency of the magic in the stadium was mutually experienced by everyone there. It was warm and humid and those dust particles floated under the lights in the laziest way. The spirit of the game and of the EuroStars and of Heist completely overwhelmed me in that moment. I cried.

Welp, same story this year. But I was drenched in sweat and smelled bad and this was our team. We looked each other in the eyeballs and lived it. You can’t capture that moment in words, but I’m grateful for it.

6. Who was the last out of the stadium?

We make a big deal about “the last one to leave the turf” in competitive sports. Leave your “blood, sweat, and tears”, or whatever. I think this verbiage just emphasizes the intentional commitment of an individual’s time and emotional energy to a collective cause. Or, more simply put, it is a concrete example of “actions as values”. Building a team like Heist, or an equitable league, or a night like the EuroStars game, takes a huge investment of capital. I’ve said this over and over, but I am willing to dig the dirt to build the hill I will die on. It’s also very helpful if you are digging in solidarity with a beautiful community of humans who share the hill with you. Thank you for sticking around for us, for grinding with us, and for being the last one to leave the turf.

At the end of the day, I’m at a loss when trying to describe how grateful I am for this game and the opportunity. For my team to feel important. For an opportunity to showcase our athleticism and grit and investment. For a free kit. For the people who love and support us unconditionally. For the opportunity to notice these things and learn from them.

After I wrote this, I read it, and it seems super dramatic. Like it was the final game of the AUDL Championship in Madison or the 1999 World Cup in Pasadena. But, this is a genuine expression of my thoughts. Hopefully this just helps clarify two things: 1) we should not underestimate the power of the little things to effect change, and 2) we are not close to achieving equity in ultimate. On Heist, we use our social, intellectual, time-based, and financial capital to build a better team, to empower each other, and to invest in our community. As a community, we can always be better, more mindful, and more engaged. And to be clear, this does not apply only at the professional and elite levels. We have a responsibility to use our sport and the capital it affords us as a means to achieve better for everyone who steps into our circle – from the AUDL to recreational leagues to pick-up.

Thank you so, so much to Heist and the Eurostars for this. To all the givers of time and money that went it to it. Thank you for investing in women and in equity beyond gender identity. I see you. And I will continue to faithfully raise my expectations of our community as we demand more of each other. I’m excited to see what’s next!

Alex Hu