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She was already a champion in not one but two sports, and Adelaide Crows co-captain Erin Phillips cemented her superstar status during Sunday night’s landslide AFLW premiership victory against Carlton.
The admiration felt for Phillips from fans on both sides was clear. After sustaining a serious knee injury in the third quarter, the 33-year-old, who dominated the game with 18 disposals and two goals, received not only a standing ovation from the crowd, but a pat on the back from both teammates and opponents as she exited the field. Despite her injury, Phillips was named the best player in the league’s grand final for the second year in a row.
The premiership was also a massive success for the AFLW. Just three years since launch, the league broke the attendance record for a standalone women’s sporting event in Australia, with 53,034 fans flooding into Adelaide Oval. “It’s an absolute dream come true, not just for our girls but for Carlton as well,” Phillips said. “To play in front of this crowd means so much and is incredible for women’s footy.”
Phillips is a trailblazer in more ways than one. The former basketball champion has played for a number of teams around the world. She represented Australia twice at the Olympics in basketball, first at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she took home a silver medal, as well as the 2016 Rio Olympics. But after her team’s shattering loss in Rio, which Phillips wrote was “one of the darker moments of my career”, she wanted to spend more time in Australia with her family.
Phillips decided to throw away her lucrative $100,000 plus WNBA contract and try her hand at professional AFL. The sport was Phillips’ first love, a game she had not played since she was 13 years old. She was always the only girl on her team and – like most girls pre-AFLW – was forced to quit as she grew older and the boys grew tougher. Although she was 20 years out of the game, the newly established AFL women’s league provided a way for women to play the sport at a professional level. Phillips’ talent and passion shone through and she quickly rose up the ranks, becoming co-captain of the Adelaide Crows and one of the AFLW’s star players.
But Phillips is not only a shining role model for young sports enthusiasts. She has also stepped up as a role model for young LBGTIQ Australians. Phillips, who is married and has two children with her former Adelaide Lightning teammate Tracy Gahan, publicly embraces her same-sex identity. By doing so, Phillips – and the AFLW itself – has been making great strides in normalising same-sex relationships by bringing them into the public eye. A viral photo of Phillips sharing a kiss with her wife after receiving the league’s inaugural best and fairest award in 2017 marked the first time an AFL player had publicly embraced their same-sex partner. It was a moment so powerful that according to Phillips, it saved one young fan’s life.
In an interview for the Fox Footy program Open Mike in 2017, Phillips championed the push for marriage equality in Australia in the lead up to the plebiscite. Addressing young Australians who may be struggling with their sexual identity, Phillips said, “My advice would be ‘be yourself, just own who you are and don’t let outside influences affect your happiness’. There are a lot of people who are worried about what other people think of them. Tracy and I don’t worry about that kind of stuff. I am very comfortable in my own skin and I am comfortable in my own marriage. If we can be role models for girls who are gay or straight… in a positive way, how good is that.”
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