Unstacking the Deck: How I Can Use My Privilege to Help Other People

by | February 17, 2015, 8:11am 67

The discussion of privilege is a very tough one to have, so much so that we often avoid the topic altogether. Part of the problem is that the more privilege you have, the less likely you are to join in a discussion about it. That means that the people who could best be using their privilege to make a positive difference are also the people least aware of the extent to which they have it in the first place.

I’m asking top male players to please read and pay close attention to this idea, since they are the population least likely to understand their privilege. When I say “top male players” I’m specifically targeting male ultimate players who have the option of playing in USA Ultimate’s triple crown as well as the AUDL and/or MLU.

Some perspective: Sarah “Surge” Griffith has completely dominated her division since around 2010. She may never have the option to play pro ultimate in her career. How many men’s division players within the top 16 teams in USAU can say we dominated our division for 4 years straight? How many of those players have the option to play pro? Almost 100%.

As a male ultimate player, here’s why I think I’m privileged:

  • I have the option to play in three different leagues, all of which showcase male teams and athletes.
  • I can play in the USAU mixed division without having to worry about whether my teammates will throw to me or not.
  • I know that my men’s team, Sockeye, has both male and female youth fans.
  • I can choose to play in a league where all my costs are paid for.
  • I am automatically assumed to be fit to coach both genders.
  • I don’t have to worry about whether or not my division is getting the attention and resources it deserves.
  • My team has lots of film available to us due to the attention our division gets, making it easier to scout opponents.
  • I have the space to negotiate contracts and have my wants and needs met in order to play in pro leagues.
  • In major events where I play (like the finals of Nationals or Worlds) I’m certain there will be a crowd.
  • Partners and vendors for all three leagues want to market and promote my division.
  • I’m assumed to be athletic unless proven otherwise.
  • I’m often looked to for leadership on whatever team I play for, and I am confident people will listen to me, whereas I wonder if a woman with the same credentials can be so sure.
  • I can be loud, angry, and aggressive on the field without losing credibility.
  • I can be confident that my experiences (and division) will be deemed the most important part of any strategic decisions regarding the sport of ultimate.
  • I can be confident that the group making said decisions will consist mostly of men.

I’m sure there are more that I’m missing, things that from my own perspective are hard to detect, but from someone else’s are easy to pick up on.

Why do I think it’s important to understand your own gender-specific privilege in ultimate? It’s my belief that because of the things on the list above, there is an unbalanced power dynamic which many male players seem to be unaware of. Where does that shift mostly come from? The professional leagues now allow the men’s division to negotiate, because of our newly acquired ability to say “no” to any one league and still be able to play nationally competitive ultimate.

Our negotiation power has shot through the roof, giving the top 16 USAU men’s teams (which are a tiny percentage of the organization’s dues payers) the most leverage in making decisions that affect the sport and how it’s played. Currently we are reaping the benefits of how this power dynamic plays out in our favor, getting more respect and attention than ever while every other division watches to see how our decisions affect their place in the sport.

I do want to say that the men’s division has devoted decades of hard work to get where it is now. The strength of our division didn’t just fall into our laps. There is a strong history of self-promotion, strategic marketing, and intelligent branding, both within the small communities of each team and all the way to the national and international level. Privilege alone didn’t get us to where we are, it just made the hurdles a little more manageable for us. Be proud of your division’s heritage, but be aware of your privilege. Dominique Fontenette once said that “ultimate is like a video game: everyone is playing the same game, but for some people the difficulty is set to a harder mode.” I believe she was speaking to economic status when she said that, but I think it’s very relevant to this topic as well.

I’m not asking you to change your morals or values. I am, however, telling elite-level men who value gender equity that we no longer have an excuse not to make a difference. No more throwing our hands up and saying “well, what can I do?” As it turns out, for a few years now (if not longer), we’ve had more say in the matter than any other subgroup USAU player. We don’t need to “save” the women’s division, and I’m not talking about being a white knight–just acknowledging our privilege and holding ourselves accountable to supporting gender equity.

Being aware of and owning your privilege is important. Making a difference out of guilt or shame is not what I’m asking, and that could in fact be damaging to both male and female divisions. I’m asking that you use your privilege to make a difference out of responsibility to your own values. The last thing I want is some sort of masculine movement believing that “only men can bring gender equity to the sport.” But would we rather the elite men know that they hold more privilege and power than other ultimate players in the US and do nothing about it? If they would like that power to be balanced, it may come down to the choices they make.

Let’s say the elite male is still reading, and has been able to process and understand their privilege (which, no joke, is a lot to take on within 5 minutes). My second list, actions in order from most to least visibile, is for the “what should I be doing?” folks:

  • Step up in ultimate media. This may include writing an article personally, or having your team take a stance on gender equity and holding USAU and pro leagues accountable to it.
  • Negotiate your pro contract to include that the league make a real investment into women’s teams, whether they’re local or not.
  • Vote for USAU candidates who have experience in playing or coaching the women’s division and have proven to be advocates for gender equity.
  • Donate to women’s leadership programs like AGE UP and Without Limits.
  • Wear women’s team gear in public spaces where other ultimate players will see it, like at youth camps, city leagues, or on the sidelines of showcase games.
  • Buy women’s games when they are streamed or released.
  • Share and retweet women’s games and accomplishments on Facebook and twitter.
  • Play mixed the right way. (Side note: why hasn’t mixed made the field 2-3 yards longer on each side and played 8v8 with 4 males and 4 females, or even just kept it the same size and dropped down to 3/3?)

I’ll leave you with probably the most important thing you should be doing: have a conversation with someone on your local women’s team and ask them “what would be most helpful for me or my team to do?”

If we don’t have a balanced power dynamic between males and females in our sport, I believe we are damaging the growth of our sport and lowering its ceiling. I do not want to be part of a culture where “the rich get richer” because It goes against many of my core values; if you are reading thing, I’m willing to bet it goes against yours too.

What do we want the first generation of pro players to be remembered for? For being the guys who couldn’t decide which league to play for, or for being the guys who really tried to make a difference in the ultimate community?

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  • RichDana

    Great column Sam. Thank you.

  • Molly McKeon

    This is an article I’ve been waiting to read. An opinion of an elite male player. Thank you Sam.

  • Becky

    Rad. Thank you for demonstrating what allyship looks like. I hope a lot of guys read and learn from your article.

  • ATXfan

    Excellent column. I especially like the idea that those of us with privilege are least likely to recognize it or want to talk about it.

  • Gwen Ambler

    Thanks for demonstrating so clearly what being an ally can look like.

  • stpollock

    Really enjoyed reading this. Not an elite male player, but I’ve been processing my privilege for about two years. Lots more listening and learning to do.

  • Ben Wiggins

    I wish someone had laid this out for me when I was a young player (especially the list making clear what privilege actually is). I wholeheartedly agree with this. Nice work, Sam.

  • Laura T

    Thanks, Sam, for publicly being an ally and encouraging others to join. I particularly appreciated that you took the time to differentiate being an ally vs. leading the charge to “save” women and women’s ultimate.

  • Heather Waugh

    Thanks for this article. Lots of really great thoughts.

  • maddog

    Sam, thank you.

  • Laura

    Thank you, Sam! The ability to take an honest look at one’s self is an important quality. It has produced a really thoughtful piece that I can see means a lot to people already.

  • Joram Mossink

    Great piece Sam!

  • DeAnna Ball

    Thank you.

  • RISEUPmario


  • MilesMB

    Great article. Thanks for writing. A lot of men are keeping quiet on this issue and it gives people who don’t value women’s sports the false impression that we aren’t speaking up because we agree with them.

    Regarding your idea of changing mixed, I agree that the rules to mixed should be changed, but I don’t think changing the field dimensions or the number of people on at a time is the way to go. I’d like to see a system to make 50% of points be played with four men and three women and 50% be played with four women and three men.

    Suggestions: Even points have four women and odd points have four men or vice versa, decided before each game by a coin flip. Another option would be two points are played four women and three men, then flip it every two points throughout the game. I’m sure there are good arguments for doing one of these over the other or some other way of balancing the number of men and women on the field in mixed.

    Another good change would be to alternate pulls between a male and female player.

    • maddog

      I’m still stuck on dusty.rhodes’ idea. Is there any reason why this wouldn’t work?

      “Well, perhaps we should redefine gender ratios in mixed ultimate. How about a complete “offense decides”? As in, a team can go 7 women or men on O and the opponent must match on D. Then the other team, when on offense, can go whatever ratio they like from 7/0 to 6/1, 5/2, 4/3, 3/4, 2/5, 1/6, 0/7.”

      • MilesMB

        I don’t get to watch much mixed and I haven’t played the mixed series since 2011, but I believe that most mixed teams currently choose to play four men and three women more than they choose to play four women and three men. I remember CLX was an outlier in how frequently they used four women on offense, though I’m not sure they still do that. I think Axis of C’ville did that a bit too when Chase was playing with them.

        My point is that making it completely offense decides would probably cause teams that usually play four men to play even more men, while team that play more women would play even more women. I’m assuming that if a team consistently puts out four men when it could put out four women, they believe the men on their roster are their team’s strength, and if a team consistently puts out four women when it could put out four men, they believe the women on their roster are their team’s strength. If it is true that more teams think the men on their rosters are their strength, then there will be a lot of games played in which women are marginalized.

        I would love to see this rule idea implemented in a tournament as an experiment. It would add another interesting strategic component to mixed that would not be seen in women’s or open.

        • dusty.rhodes

          0. This is a great piece, Mr. Harkness. Thanks.
          I hope the discussion of mixed here does not take us too far afield from that and instead brings more folks in to read your work.

          Gender ratio in Mixed:
          @milesmb:disqus: That a team believes one gender or another is their strength b/c they put more of that gender on the field is indeed an assumption. A team could be choosing a ratio due to the weakness of an opponent. A team could be increasing the number of one gender on the field to increase the relative power of the less-represented gender (Consider putting 4 women on the field in order to minimize help defense on the 3 men… which has definitely been done). Using players on the field is not the same as putting them on the field. If it was, no one would ever hear the heckle “Throw to your women”.

          I hadn’t considered the variation of mandating 4 women on one point and 4 men the next. That’s interesting.
          I’ve been curious about a 3:3 4:4 shift for years. Happy to read here that I’m not the only one… what about the notion of a team choosing to play either 3:3 or 4:4 from point to point?

          The question for a team that wants to marginalize its women or its men so much that they would always choose 7 of one gender quickly becomes “Why is this a mixed team anyway?” And as @disqus_YsTknShpJL:disqus mentioned earlier, they are also subject to the whims of their opponent on the next point.

          Sidebar: Why does the offense choose the gender ratio rather than the defense?

          • Mister Rogers

            You’re giving the advantage of choice to the team that just got scored on. If one team is significantly stronger than the other in one gender, they can win a game by staying on defense and deciding the entire time. By letting the offense choose, it will at least go back and forth, or the worse team will get to choose more frequently.

          • dusty.rhodes

            Is “having the disc thrown to you to start the point” such an insufficient advantage that the team should also get to choose the gender ratio?
            Could letting the defense dictate gender ratio counterbalance the offensive advantage of receiving?
            Could letting the defense dictate gender ratio lead to more/bigger comebacks?
            Why should the gender balance of the game be dependent on who just scored regardless of which team is choosing?
            Why do we want to reward the team which was just scored on?
            What’s wrong with staying on defense the whole time and winning on your terms rather than being forced to win on your opponent’s terms?
            If we agree that the team who gets scored on is “worse”, why would we prefer that team’s judgement to the team which just scored (the “better” team)?

          • SPowell

            1. Yes, medium to heavy weather conditions often cause points with multiple turnovers. A good pull should force the offense to have to move it almost the entire length of the field; for every 3 pass point there’s probably at least one 10 pass point. Offense may have the advantage in ultimate but it’s no sure thing.
            2. Yes, and that’s why it’s bad. Ultimate has that on-serve, break-serve dynamic that’s not found in many other sports apart from tennis

            3. Would probably result in far fewer comebacks, though maybe bigger ones. If you assume the better team is going to be leading in the majority of games, they will most likely be more frequently pulling, giving them a bigger advantage.
            4. Pass
            5. We give choices to the team who got scored on the same reason they give the ball to the team who got scored on in basketball and soccer: it keeps teams who might have gained an advantage based on luck from getting too much of an advantage from one play.
            6+7. It’s neither fun to play or watch a game where the result is heavily decided by one play or where one team can sit on a small advantage to win. Let’s say instead of gender ration, the defense got to choose which side to start on, would you enjoy playing any fall tournaments with those rules? I wouldn’t. “Oh we scored, ya, you’re going to have to break up-wind now”

          • dusty.rhodes

            1. Correct. That’s why the word “advantage” is a more accurate descriptor than “certainty”. And I’m reasonably certain that “advantage” is the word I used. The number of turnovers or throws in a point is irrelevant to the existence of the advantage.
            2. I do not follow how the break dynamic is removed by changing who assigns the gender ratio. If the offense tends to score 70% of the time when they choose the gender ratio while offense scores 65% of the time when the defense chooses, the offense still has the advantage. Just a less significant advantage.
            3. You might be right. I’ve got no idea. Only one way to find out.
            4. And I thought that was the most interesting one. Fair enough. Let’s just suppose that all mixed teams believe their best chance to convert on offense is 4 men 3 women, while their best chance to get a break is 4 women 3 men. How many times would we then see 4 women 3 men? In other words I find it odd that all teams could have a fantastic (and legal) defensive line that they all agree would be good, but not one of those lines would ever get onto the field. (And yes, it works the other way round if you switch who chooses the gender ratio) Now, 100% of teams do not feel that way. But if the number is anything other than 50%, then there will be a bias against one gender ratio and for the other.
            5. Just like in basketball and soccer, we already give the other team the disc. What is the reason for the second advantage?
            6. I don’t enjoy playing tournaments regardless of the rules, but that’s not the point. In the wind scenario, the wind adversely affects the physics of the game for one team more than the other. (Which is why we keep switching sides…which could be an argument for switching gender ratios) In the gender ratio scenario, the physics of the game remain the same. This is not a useful scenario for further understanding. I’m not sure there is a useful analogy to choosing gender on-field gender ratio… I have been utterly failing to come up with one in ultimate or any other sport. I mean… except Calvinball.

          • Mister Rogers

            I think there would be fewer comebacks and more blowouts. As mentioned above, better teams will tend to be on defense more and will now have an added advantage (advantage would be even bigger if they could choose any ratio not 4:3).

            Your last point is interesting. There are very few sports where one team is allowed to decide which set of rules (this is not the best word, set up? scenario?) they would like to play by. To further complicate it, teams make this choice after each point.

            The best I can come up with at the moment is baseball. I believe there was a ridiculous situation when an ambidextrous pitcher faced a switch hitter. Whenever the pitcher throws righty, the hitter wants to bat lefty, and vice versa. So they flip-flopped over and over again in the middle of the at bat. Because of this, I believe they set up a rule where one of them (I forget which) had to choose either righty or left before each at bat, and stick with it. Probably not helpful to the gender ratio question, but possibly a similar choice.

          • b-lo

            Dusty, offense decides because offense is the penthouse, and we have all the privilege. I acknowledge that and am not interested in upsetting that paradigm.

            And Sam, thanks for the great article.

      • Eliot

        I’m not a big fan of ideas that micro-manage gender ratios during points, but I like “complete offense decides” idea except the possibility of 7/0 or 0/7. This would give teams more potential roster flexibility and could create some interesting teams. If your strength is your female players, why not run an offense with five or six women – and create a roster that is majority female? The convention now seems to be a roughly 60/40 male/female roster split with the expectation to play a lot of 4/3 male/female lines. Why not 40/60 if that’s your best team?

        • maddog

          My circular thought process goes like this:

          Say you have a majority female roster and they’re really good. You put out a 6-1 female-male line. If the line is successful, that puts you on defense so you still have to contend with offense decides and your advantage is briefly taken away.

          Say you’re playing a team that’s majority male and they’re really good. If their male-dominated offense is successful, that still puts them on defense and takes away their advantage for the next point.

          So…. seems like either way you kinda have to take a balanced roster?

          Is this any different than having an advantage towards either gender in the current 4-3/3-4 ratios? My mixed stint was too short to understand subbing strategy…

          • Kernal

            I don’t like the “complete offense decides” for the following reason:

            In a totally even playing field, I agree that it would be important to have a balanced roster. In the example you provide, one team has stronger women while the other team has stronger men; each team plays to their strengths (or to their opponents’ weaknesses), and the game is played half by men, half by women. However, while this system *can* promote equal play, I’m hard-pressed to imagine that, especially in the current climate, games would end up this way. Rather, I would expect the “meta” to lean towards male-heavy subbing decisions for both teams.

          • Eliot

            Yea, I agree; teams in practice would skew (more) towards males given the chance. If the goal is to balance the roster (I’d guess most teams are ~60% male or higher) (also, is that a goal?), then allow 3/4 f/m at the lowest and allow 5/2 and/or 6/1 so that teams that want to skew female are able to, which will maybe balance out the 3/4 majority.

          • ray

            devil’s advocate here- I know this conversation about on field ratios is to get more women playing and I’m all for that, but what do we do until that happens? there aren’t as many women now, so some mixed teams will fold as the women players are spread across fewer teams. and those better teams will be dropping their bottom dudes. you end up with a pool of the worst men in mixed without teams. I guess these men will then either stop playing or form the worst men’s team ever. I know it’s a chicken egg argument, but we need to develop more female players as we’re developing playing opportunities.

          • Alex Crew

            This really is a fantastic article and I thought I’d chime in on the mixed discussion with a few observations as someone who’s played and coached mixed at a variety of levels from the mid-regionals level to teams that aspire to win Nationals and Worlds (I’ve been involved with at various points 2 of the 4 US teams that were in Lecco). But first, I want to say that I like what Sam has written and in particular appreciate the list of actionable items ranging in easy to hard things to do. I think it’s a lot easier to confront and adjust one’s own biases/actions when it’s easy to see ‘smaller, simpler’ steps that can be done, rather than having to solve the whole thing in one go.

            As for mixed & gender ratios, and recognizing that these are my thoughts alone: There’s a lot of interesting comments here, but the biggest question I have for any rules changes is that of unintended consequences. There are 2 areas that I see as potentially rife for unintended consequences of the rule (which by itself doesn’t mean it should be immediately panned).

            1) In-game tactics changes (how does a 4/3 or a 3/4 game vary from a 6/1 or 7/0) example.
            2) Larger scale structural changes to team composition and division composition (i.e. Ray’s point).

            For issue #1) There are a bunch of things that I think about in terms of gender ratios for any given point. Sometimes it’s about highlighting a particular strength in a roster (‘it’s windy, I want to get my throwers who throw with the greatest amount of spin on the field’). Sometimes, it’s about highlighting a weakness (I think the other team has a lack of depth in one particular area). As an aside–this is often one of the competitive advantages of going 4 women–if you think the other teams depth falls off faster, it can be a great way to isolate one of your o-line female cutters against the other teams 7th/8th woman who might not otherwise see the field a lot. And if you have particular size/speed challenges you can force the other team to go to uncomfortable places on their bench. These are probably some good things to highlight about mixed as far as some of the choices.

            However, there are other reasons for choices. As someone (Dusty?) highlighted earlier–just having more women on the field doesn’t necessarily require you to use them any better. I’ve seen teams respond to the other team using a 4 women offense (where they are outmatched) respond by on a turn looking to just isolate the guy cutter deep when there is less help as a way of trying to force the other team out of that O. My fear would be that forcing teams into ‘uncomfortable’ ratios might lead to ‘more’ of this behavior rather than less.

            Separately, 6/1 and 7/0 are interesting but open up whole other cans of worms. Imagine a situation where we have a 16 team field, and all the teams in the ‘D’ pool like to run 4/3 or 3/4. At the same time, the A pool has a top team that likes to run 4/3 or 3/4 (and would nominally be the favorite for the tournament) and is seeded with 3 teams that all want to run 7 guys (or 7 women, it doesn’t matter for the point). On day 1, that top team will play 3 games where it can only use 1/2 of it’s roster (for ~half the points), so 3 games so has to run ~13 people into the ground and then cross over with a team that’s been able to run balanced across the roster. Now they’re at a competitive disadvantage in that last game owing solely to the draw of opponents. Is this a contrived situation–absolutely. Is it a deal-breaker? Maybe, maybe not. I’d say that I’d certainly be uncomfortable for the potential for ‘gamesmanship’ or worse if you have situations where one team doesn’t need a win. Right now there’s a reasonable certainty in the range of PT % by gender–expanding that creates more extreme unbalances, and it’s extremes leads to strategies to just run a small section of the other teams roster into realm of exhaustion or even injury even if teams have similar total roster sizes. To accommodate things that would likely require either fewer games in a day, or larger rosters so that a half roster could still be sufficient.

            Finally, even alternating 3/4 & 4/3 opens up some uncomfortable questions. Do you alternate every point–that means that one team is required to play 4 women upwind and the other 4 women downwind if it’s windy. Is that reasonable and fair? I suspect there’s not universal agreement on that question. What about doing 2 in a row and flipping. That might solve some of those issues but can you define a ‘fair’ way to handle that and uncertain game length in way that doesn’t seem heavy-handed?

            2) Accommodating gender ratio changes also means teams have to change their team roster composition, which in turns trickles down to ‘lower’ teams in terms of player availability which can mean decreased playing opportunities overall (in terms of fewer teams). Another question of is the trade-off worth it? I don’t profess to hold the answer. I will note that after 2013, in response to Peri’s proposal I took a quick look at nationals levels mixed teams as we’d seen 15/16 at some point that season. My memory is a little foggy, but I believe my conclusion was that I saw somewhere around 6/7 out of the 15 use 4 women on offense at some point that season (many of which were teams where they were the clear top team in their city/region). For some it was a staple, for others it was for more specialized situations, whereas by contrast, I believe I only saw 1 team that didn’t make nationals that year use 4 women against us. Obviously, the plural of anecdotes is not data, but it suggests that some of the unwillingness to use 4 women may be a function of team level, especially in regions where teams are often losing their best players to other teams. Once again, this isn’t to say that a change wouldn’t necessarily be a good idea, but it’s an issue to think about.

            Didn’t mean for this to be quite so long-winded–I think there are a number of worthwhile ideas to consider out there, but I thought I might highlight some of the tricky things that might need to be considered.

          • dusty.rhodes

            Thanks for adding these.

            It is the unintended consequences which concern me on the whole, and having folks outside my braincase think through them helps us all.

            The things I’ll bring up here are:
            Your paragraph of “Separately, 6/1 and […] still be sufficient.” seems to be a cogent argument against tournament rather than any gender ratio. Considering how dangerous I believe most tournament play to be, and how flawed formats which allow teams to drop games are (single-elimination is the simplest answer), I’m 100% on-board with rethinking tournaments and formats. For the purposes of discussing gender ratio, I believe it is more useful to consider single-game and single-elimination play. It removes the larger inherent issues with tourney play and focuses on the actual game itself. It is just as much of an issue to have the top team in Pool A sitting the top of their roster until day 2 if the teams are single gender.

            In all of my conversations about ultimate… I’m not concerned with lower-level teams. There are a range of reasons for this, beginning with: I’m a total sports elitist interested in the highest levels of play in all sports. I do not believe that one size fits all in terms of team composition, competitive expectations, gender ratio, and just about everything else. I have limited bandwidth (as do we all) and I know which parts of ultimate are most important and interesting to me. If the top of the mixed division is making decisions based on what will work for the bottom of the division, I’ll wager that, by and large, these are decisions with which I’ll disagree.

          • Alex Crew

            Absolutely. And the devil with unintended consequences, is that different people are going to be sensitive to/aware of different kinds of unintended consequences based on their own particular experiences/biases/etc.

            I think a discussion of tournament formats and the benefits and costs of them is a worthwhile one, but I think that from a practical standpoint if a proposed gender ratio rule change requires a complete reworking of the tourney-based approach it has to be dead in the water right now. But that’s a digression.

            You may not be concerned with lower level teams, and that’s fine, but if a change is going to be applied to an entire division and claim to create more meaningful playing opportunities across the board than we should make sure that those more meaningful opportunities truly exist across the board.

          • maddog

            This is exactly the kind of answer I was looking for from someone who knows things about mixed subbing strategy. Thanks for taking the time.

    • Peri Kurshan

      I actually submitted a proposal to USAU to do exactly this (alternate 4/3 & 3/4). Apparently a quick survey of the leadership of several mixed teams (which happen to be predominantly male… go figure) revealed that they were not in favor, so the proposal died. I was told it was something that could be experimented with, but alas I don’t know of any plans to do so…

  • Heather Ann Brauer

    Over the last year and a half working with GUM, we’ve gotten so many questions from male players wondering what they can do to support women and girls in ultimate. This article gives such a great male perspective along with tangible action items that can really make a difference – I will be sharing this again and again. Thanks for being an ally, Sam!

  • Lynch

    Great article, Sam! Very ‘Invisible Knapsack’-esque. I really appreciate the “what should I be doing?” list. Oftentimes I will be aware of a problem and want to help solve it, but not know where to begin. Having a roadmap like this is most helpful, and if anyone has other ideas for actions we can take, I’d love to hear them!

    • Sam Diener

      I’m excited to see this article, Sam, on recognizing sexist power and privilege in ultimate. I think it’s useful, Sam and Lynch, for those of us who try to acknowledge our privileges to explicitly link to Peggy McIntosh’s essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” (http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html).

      I think it’s also useful to acknowledge other dimensions of privilege without taking the focus off a particular form (patriarchal privilege in this valuable instance), for a variety of reasons.

      First, privilege and oppression has many dimensions (based on racist, classist, heterosexist, and other systems of domination), and it’s useful to acknowledge this reality. McIntosh’s essay has motivated many activists to write parallel pieces about other dimensions of privilege: see, for example, this list compiled by “Alas, a Blog” (http://amptoons.com/blog/2006/09/26/a-list-of-privilege-lists/).

      Second, in my work to confront my own and other men’s sexism, many men and boys who experience oppression on one or more dimensions (age, class, and/or race, for example) are more willing to listen to critical descriptions of sexist privilege when the ways in which we’ve experienced oppression have already been acknowledged. Indeed, this is also an insight by analogy from McIntosh’s original piece (in which she notes her frustration with men who seem oblivious to sexist privilege and channels this anger to challenge herself to notice, recognize, acknowledge, and ally to end her own racist privilege.)

      Like many commenters above, I especially appreciate the specific ideas that you shared, Sam, for ways in which boys and men can become better allies against sexism in ultimate. I’d like to share with this thread a two-page handout on becoming better allies (originally written for middle school students but I believe useful for those of us middle school and older). It’s at


      By becoming better allies against injustice, we are becoming better teammates in efforts to build an ultimately more peaceful and just world.

  • Liz Rosa

    This is a superb contribution to the discussion regarding the women’s game and its place within the broader universe of ultimate. I’m so happy to see an elite male player with passion and vision for gender equity in ultimate.

    I’ve heard people say that the continued global growth of ultimate will only further minimize the women’s game, operating on the default assumption that women’s ultimate is less exciting or less worthy than men’s. But by working together toward a common goal of equity and balance, we can secure a future where everyone feels valued and included within the ultimate community, where no one feels as though their victories are undervalued, and where every team’s accomplishments are celebrated within the context they deserve.

    We can start by opening the conversation early on, just as this article does. Hats off, Mr. Harkness — this is great.

    Male players in college, if you support gender equity within our sport, there’s plenty you can do, too. Go watch your women’s team play when you can. Endorse and link to them on your website. Share resources, plan socials, play a little recreational mixed here and there. Show your rookies that you view your school’s female players with respect and camaraderie. You have the ability to permanently affect their perception of women in ultimate, and that’s a big opportunity.

  • Cmonster

    As a constructive place to bring up some ideas, what specifically should professional players be adding to their contracts to push for “investments” from the owners? Great piece, hard topic to articulate and you pulled it off.

    • Sam Harkness

      I’m lucky enough to live in Seattle where the AUDL owners are the Titcomb family. Negotiating my contract to include the Cascades (the Seattle AUDL team I will be playing for) making an investment into women’s ultimate was a fairly easy conversation to have. Knowing that the Titcombs own an ultimate apparel company, I told him that if he outfitted the high school Franklin girls team with 5 ultimate team jackets (it infuriates me how bad high school players are at layering…) I would absolutely play for them without pay. The Rainmakers (the MLU team in Seattle) asked if I would play with them again this year, and I expressed that I believed that the Titcombs have proven to be committed to the Seattle ultimate community and also have more money and wiggle room with their budget to invest in community outreach which is very important to me. It seemed like (and this is total speculation) the MLU had evenly dispersed budgets for outreach in each city that was a sort of a blanket budget covering outreach to women’s ultimate, youth ultimate, and under served populations playing ultimate. I made the choice to play with the Cascades to put myself in a better position to advocate for the amount and type of outreach I felt was most important. As much as this sounds like a strangely placed endorsement for the Cascades, I look forward to putting some pressure on the Cascades owners and the AUDL as a whole to follow up on whatever commitments they make to community outreach.
      So that’s what I did…
      Other ideas would be to maybe ask your AUDL team that they sell your women’s team gear among the team’s vendor during games. In my case it would be the Cascades selling Riot and Underground gear. If not, maybe just ask that banners, signs, and informal pamphlets for Seattle Riot and Underground be displayed somewhere in the stadium.
      When running clinics, invite female coaches from your local women’s team to co-run the clinics, and again allow gear to be sold at the clinics, along with distribution of information about the team.
      Ask that 2 high school girls teams showcase a couple points during a half time of a game.
      I’m sure a lot of other people have really great ideas about it, but if you want to collaborate with your local women’s team, make sure you are asking what would be helpful to their team.

      • maddog

        The Bay Area Women’s All-Star game that the Spiders sponsored/hosted last year was really fun. Great way to showcase the division and I think they gained some female fans in return.

        (Players negotiating their Spiders/Flamethrowers/Dogfish contracts… can we push for that again, especially since your home stadiums are now better located to attract more ticket payers?)

        • Heather Waugh

          And once you have that event negotiated, attend it! It was fun last year.

  • Slick

    Awesome awesome article. Seriously, I almost teared up, because it was so amazing to feel the support and see the call for awareness.

    Three more suggestion to add to Sam’s excellent list:
    – Speak up. Speak up when your friend makes the old “Mixed is 4 on 4 with obstacles” joke, for he’ll think you agree with him if you don’t. Speak up when your teammate is consistently not throwing to your women, for you can bring the point across much more powerfully than she can (see Privilege 13). Speak up when you notice others ignore or discount a female player’s strategic suggestion (see Privilege 12).

    – Listen to your female friends/teammates. The privileges list is very accurate. We are used to being shot down for our strategic suggestions. It means a lot when men go against the grain and make a conscious effort to listen and take suggestions we make seriously.

    – Compliment your female friends/teammates. As women, we are fighting to gain some of the same privileges held by men. We believe we deserve them. And yet…when you are surrounded by a certain mindset, sometimes you start to believe it yourself. “Is Mixed really just 4 on 4? Am I bringing the team down? Am I contributing enough? Will I ever be good enough, fast enough, athletic enough?”. To find out directly from you, that you don’t believe the same thing as general society means a lot.

  • KP

    Great article! Props to Surge too!

  • Ren Caldwell

    Love it, Shark, thank you. :) Privilege is hard to see, and sometimes difficult to confront without defensivenes. Love the positive comments as well…I hope this is a indicative of a positive trend when it comes to talking about gender equity in ultimate, and that it holds when a woman writes an article.

  • alexander

    With such an egalitarian structure in the UPA/USAU model, i do not think negotiating “your pro contract to include…real investment into women’s teams, whether they’re local or not” outweighs the costs. The audl/mlu have calculated gender equality and other matters of Spirit as too expensive. They have a budget for PR measures. Their approach comes from a completely different angle than the UPA effort you mention as including decades of devoted, hard work.

    i agree “the strength of our division didn’t just fall into our laps.” But, if we want to be considered on similar levels as the strategic marketing and intelligent branding developed in DOG, Furious George, Sockeye, and Revolver…we have to see through the gimmicks of D.C. Breeze, Roughnecks, Spiders, Rainmakers, Hustle, and Alleycats.

    That Dominique Fontenette quote is awesome! thank you for sharing.
    The men that should be leading with more awareness are using the cheat codes of the audl/mlu.

    We have to be willing to face some more difficult hurdles, but it is actually easier with the three divisions united. The Women’s division is developing great ways to increase the value and experience of tournaments. We are traveling entertainers. Our focus should be on being the best possible examples. A developing youth will become a very different person if he is aspiring to be more like what the auld is creating or more like a club player who fits within a much larger picture of human development and self-accountability.

    Participation in the audl is ego-stroking. It is not an effort that is attempting contribution to the positive growth of our community. In their 18 sentence summary of Ultimate, the audl mentions the UPA/USAU once. This effort wants to erase decades of hard work and progress made through our community.

  • guest

    Great article. My only issue is with a couple of your points:

    Negotiate your pro contract to include that the league make a real investment into women’s teams, whether they’re local or not

    For the vast majority of the players that you are talking about, they don’t have that kind of power. What would work, though, is all of the players banding together and making that negotiation.

    Wear women’s team gear in public spaces where other ultimate players will see it, like at youth camps, city leagues, or on the sidelines of showcase games.

    I think the first thing on the list should be “purchase women’s team gear if you are able to financially”. For a lot of people (myself included), the only jerseys I own are from teams that I play for – I can’t really afford to go out and spend an extra $50 here and there for a random jersey. But, to your point, I think if I were to do that, I should actively look to see if I can buy gear from a women’s team. Not only can I support them by wearing it but I support them by purchasing it.

  • Chelsea

    Great article! Thanks for writing Sam.

  • Casey Ikeda

    Great article Sam. I finished the article motivated to reach a higher level of ultimate to help support change rather than feeling guilty or shameful. Quiet an accomplishment when dealing with issues of privilege and inequality.

  • John Titcomb

    Like. Thanks.

    • =p

      Haha, I totally read this with a California preppy girl accent.
      “Liiiike thaaaanks”

      • John Titcomb

        Laughing out loud! =jwt

      • John Titcomb

        I proudly wear my Riot and Brute jerseys, not made by Five Ultimate.

  • Joaq

    Great article. Another small thing you can do: pay attention results in the women’s devision.

  • yayultimate

    I agree with some of this and disagree with some of it. Naturally I’m going to only address the parts I disagree with. Hopefully people don’t take that to mean I’m a woman-hating bigot:

    “I can play in the USAU mixed division without having to worry about whether my teammates will throw to me or not.”

    This is something I see a lot but have seen absolutely no substance for. I play open now but I played mixed club a few years ago and know plenty of other people (both men and women) who play mixed club. Literally no one with mixed experience has made this claim. You know who does make this claim all the time? Women who have played exclusively women’s club. There have been multiple occasions where people were trying to get new girls to try out for a mixed team only to be interrupted by more experienced girls who played on women’s teams being like “yeah go play for them if you want to get looked off every point”. The fact of the matter is any team who doesn’t throw to their girls in mixed club is going to get destroyed. I never played for an elite team but at my level girls were way more likely to be mismatches just due to participation rates. Mixed was all about how girls matched up. We were constantly attacking weak girls with our best girls when we had that matchup and when we played really good teams we were forced to tell our guys to constantly be ready to help out on certain matchups. I think anyone who claims that mixed is 4v4 with obstacles or that women don’t get thrown to has never actually played mixed club. Now certainly this kind of thing happens at pickup a lot and I’m one of the first people to tell my teammates to stop looking off open girls for a low-percentage huck to a guy. But even in low-level club that simply doesn’t happen, at least according to any of the guys or girls I’ve talked to who actually play mixed club.

    “I am automatically assumed to be fit to coach both genders.”

    I don’t disagree with this I actually just wanted to quote it to say I agree with this 100%. It’s really sad how men coaching female teams is fine but there are many people who would have an issue with a female coaching a men’s team. On the other hand most women I know are typically wanting to spread women’s ultimate more so are more focused on that but I do agree that there are a lot of men who wouldn’t take a female coach as seriously as they would a male coach and that’s wrong.

    “I don’t have to worry about whether or not my division is getting the attention and resources it deserves.”

    Almost all ultimate players subsidize their own costs. I’m still not sure what my now $52/year is even buying me at usau but every year I pay hundreds of dollars in dues to whatever club team I play on and in college we did a combination of fundraising, college paying for it, and dues. In fact due to the gender equity policy doesn’t usau have to spend (whatever it does spend on) 50% on men 50% on women whereas the membership base is something like 70-30? And it’s not like pro teams are putting up money because they want to promote men’s ultimate they’re doing it because they believe it will be a profitable venture and to get fans to pay money.

    “I have the space to negotiate contracts and have my wants and needs met in order to play in pro leagues.”

    This is true only for the very elite men. Most men I know who played in the pro leagues made under $50 for the entire season. None of them had any bargaining power other than the top stars who actually were able to draw crowds.

    “In major events where I play (like the finals of Nationals or Worlds) I’m certain there will be a crowd.”
    “Partners and vendors for all three leagues want to market and promote my division.”

    This brings up another point and it’s that I don’t believe it is sexist for me to say as a fan I enjoy watching men’s ultimate more than I do women’s. It’s a different game with people who have different skill levels and it’s far more enjoyable to me to watch men’s ultimate. And the fact of the matter is that most people feel the same way. Although by definition it is certainly male privilege, I’m not convinced it’s something that can be solved or even something that should be solved. It’s also not fair that due to height something like 90% of men (and yes ~100% of women) in the country are never going to be able to play in the nba from birth regardless of how hard they work. Should tall people use their tall privilege to support an under 6’0″ league?

    “I’m assumed to be athletic unless proven otherwise.”

    This makes no sense, I don’t even know what you’re trying to say here. Most people can estimate the athleticism of women or men by looking at them. Also athletic is not a binary thing but I would argue that generally men are faster, stronger, and can jump higher than women. So are you saying men are assumed to be able to do these things? I’m sorry I’m just not really sure how to respond because this is something I’ve never heard from anyone before. Mind expanding?

    “I’m often looked to for leadership on whatever team I play for, and I am confident people will listen to me, whereas I wonder if a woman with the same credentials can be so sure.”

    Another good point for low-level play, but the women I’ve talked to haven’t agreed with this happening in mixed club play. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen and we should certainly speak up when it does, but I’m not convinced this is actually a factor in competitive ultimate.

    “I can be loud, angry, and aggressive on the field without losing credibility.”

    Well that’s just not true.

    “I can be confident that my experiences (and division) will be deemed the most important part of any strategic decisions regarding the sport of ultimate.”

    Well this part should be true because you play for Sockeye, not because you’re a man. I’d argue that elite level men’s teams talk and discuss strategy much more than elite level women’s teams. I could definitely be wrong here and I’d be happy to hear from nationals-level female players on how they prepare strategically for matchups but just due to the fact that more men play and thus there is a lot more talent at men’s nationals would make me expect that sockeye probably spends more time discussing strategy/preparing strategically for games than scandal does.

    This doesn’t really negate your initial point though because most of us don’t play elite ultimate. I agree you have a point in that there are some men who would ignore strategy suggested by a woman while being more receptive to the same thing suggested by a man. On the other hand I have encountered a lot of women who are convinced that this is what always happens and consistently interrupt any man trying to suggest strategy with their own suggestions and try to shame them into shutting up due to sexism. I’ve had neither of these happen in competitive mixed club and both happen in low-level mixed rec leagues/hat tournaments.

    “I can be confident that the group making said decisions will consist mostly of men.”

    What decisions? The decisions on supporting/watching/paying to watch ultimate is the general public’s. Last I checked women outnumbered men there. The fact that the NBA is a successful business and the WNBA is a shadow of it is not due to men making decisions to keep women down. It’s due to both men and women being more likely to spend their hard-earned money to watch the best athletes in the world play vs. the best women in the world. The reason the AUDL and MLU are open (again it’s not men it’s open) and haven’t started competing women’s leagues is not due to a vast conspiracy of sexism, but due to the fact that they don’t believe they can make money with a women’s league. If you disagree with this, do you know what you could actually try to do? Start a women’s pro league. There are plenty of ultimate players/fans who would be open to the idea and would be excited to invest in a women’s league if they thought it would be profitable. So if you think that’s the case why not start one?

    That’s sort of my issue with your entire post though. You make some valid concerns about sexism and where men should use their power to encourage people to treat women with the respect they deserve, particularly in low-level pickup/rec league/hat tournaments which are full of that kind of behavior. And I promise I am one of the first people to tell a guy when they’re looking off women/interrupting them/making them feel uncomfortable/etc. But then you start to expand this sexism to include the free market favoring the best athletes vs. the best women, and I absolutely disagree that this is sexism or privilege or whatever other word you want to call it.

    • dusty.rhodes

      I hope someone other than me recommends some good books to read or resources on what privilege actually means. Your comment is about you and your experiences rather than the overall issues at hand rather than about long-standing conventions and norms which have deleterious effects on women who do things as audacious as “play sports”.

      It isn’t even a generation ago that women’s sports were not accepted as normal *right here in the good ol’ US of A*. My mother was a cheerleader not because she loved leading cheers, but because that was the only option for her to be active and a member of the larger sporting community at her school. The other sports were not feminine enough to be played by women. There are far fewer sports which have ever been described as “not masculine enough.” And when they were, it was a term of derision and marginalization rather than a term of affirmation for the women participating in those sports.

      This is what the notion of “I’m assumed to be athletic unless proven otherwise.” gets at. I’ll bet that no one ever told you that you shouldn’t play sports simply because of your gender. Thus you were never defined as a non-athlete solely because of your gender. The number of women who have heard that and girls who are still hearing that today is greater than the zero times in your life that you’ve heard it. That is male privilege in very basic terms.

      Your casual dismissal of women thinking strategically as often or as hard or whatever as men… that’s just insulting. If you don’t see how or why… that’s a teachable moment, but I’m not qualified to be your teacher on this topic. Not only that, that whole section of your comment was woefully off-topic and displayed a lack of understanding of the phrase “strategic decisions regarding the sport of ultimate.” Think more along the lines of long-term planning for the future of the sport: Men never had to argue for their own inclusion via a gender equity policy. It was assumed that they were and would always be involved.

      Mr. Harkness writes: “I can be confident that the group making said decisions will consist mostly of men.”
      You counter: “What decisions?”

      I counter: Pretty much all decisions inside and outside of ultimate and all around the world in the majority of organizations of all stripes. Unless an organization is specifically run by women, it is a safe bet that the majority of decision makers therein are men.

      There are so many other things you write about here that just… raise my hackles. Like assuming that women not being thrown to is due to actively looking off open women for low-percentage throws to men. There is no need to look off someone you never see. But that isn’t even the most galling bit here. Here, at the end, you make this offhanded attempt at… well, I’m not sure what.. and type:

      “sexism or privilege or whatever other word you want to call it.”

      Those words are very specifically not the same word and do not have the same meaning. (There is good reason that the variations of the word “sexist” and “sexism” are exactly nowhere in the original article) That you’re attempting to lump them together along with “whatever other word” means you’re not interested in the nuances of the discussion or the quite relevant differences between sexism and privilege. Which brings me back to the beginning. I hope someone who has a better knowledge base than I can point you in the direction of some knowledge and understanding of the topic at hand. (Similarly, I hope neither my limited knowledge&understanding nor my possibly coarse manner have done more harm than good)

      • yayultimate

        You didn’t read what I wrote. You read what you thought I was implying. I never said anything about women’s sports and a generation ago. My mother played high school softball and said basically she was considered a freak and unladylike for playing sports, whereas now softball players are the popular girls that everyone likes. I even acknowledged sexism that happens in ultimate and that guys should do their best to address it and combat it.

        As for the athletic until proven otherwise, I still don’t think that’s super relevant. I was incredibly skinny even through high school and in our lunchtime pickup football games there were some kids who didn’t like getting beat by the skinny nerdy kid with glasses. So I heard plenty of comments about how I should go back in and study and leave football to the “real men”. Now I played multiple varsity sports all 4 years and played a varsity sport in college as well, but that’s neither here nor there. My point is that everyone has experiences, and while I’m open to listening, I have talked to my friends. As hard as it may be to believe, I do have friends who are female and play ultimate. My girlfriend plays ultimate. I’ve discussed the issues of gender and sexism with them. I am under no impression that sexism does not exist. But based on my conversations, I disagree with that being an issue. Everyone has different experiences and it sucks if any woman is told she shouldn’t play sports due to her gender, but I’m tired of everyone with a differing opinion being told to listen as if their experiences don’t matter unless they match up to the lockstep opinion of the people who are convinced the big bad patriarchy is keeping women down everywhere.

        And I wasn’t equating sexism and privilege. I was using two labels that might be used that I believe are without merit. Although actually by its definition privilege actually does have merit, but it does not by the definition that is typically used by those promoting gender equality. It is a fair point though that sexism wasn’t used in the article, I was merely making the claim that it is not sexist to prefer watching elite male/open ultimate to elite female ultimate and it is not sexist to think this is ok and not fight to reverse the public opinion of this.

        • dusty.rhodes

          I should not have used my specific relations as an example. It serves to frame the discussion poorly and encouraged you to tell a similar anecdote as if either of us “knowing some woman who was discriminated against” is the same as grasping a discussion of privilege. It is irrelevant whose mother these mothers were, just that they were women who were told that they could not play solely because they were women. Your rambling tale of being skinny is even more irrelevant and pointless. (However… the “real men” comment is worth unpacking for a whole book. Or series of books. And not because it happened to involve you, but because so much meaning and thought can be folded out from those two words paired) Your needlessly defensive statement that you indeed have friends and that even your girlfriend is a girl continues down that same path.

          There doesn’t need to be a “big bad patriarchy” or a “conspiracy” for privilege to exist. It can be and frequently is more insidious than that. It is like that thing in the corner of your eye that keeps catching your attention for a moment but is never there when you look straight at it. Again, you don’t have to look someone off if you never even see them.

          There also is no mention in the original article about the preference of watching men’s ultimate to women’s. You’re shoehorning different conversations into this one. Nowhere does this article mention that topic or tell you to watch women’s ultimate instead of men’s or argue that there should be a women’s version of MLU/AUDL. The article does heavy lifting to raise awareness of male privilege and the resultant power dynamic w/in ultimate. It then goes on to say that IF you agree that this is what you see too AND you would like to change it THEN here are some things men can do to use that power dynamic to willfully change the very dynamic which has given men more power. That’s it. No marching in lockstep. No discrediting of another opinion.

          Go back and read it again (I just did [again]… and I was rewarded by thinking some new thoughts and making new observations&connections. That’s a sign of worthy writing!). Slow down, breathe, and don’t knee-jerk respond to it or this comment. The editing of your comments leads me to believe that you’re typing them out hastily and giving a rush-edit. No matter which side you come down on, this discussion is worthy enough (and you seem to value the topic at hand and hold strong enough opinions to engage) to benefit from the investment of time between first response and hitting the “post as” button.

          • yayultimate

            You’re right my last comment was pretty quickly written. My first post had a bit more thought behind it but I didn’t really edit it as if it was a professional piece of writing or anything. I’ve been busy lately and between work and actually playing ultimate I haven’t had a ton of time. I actually appreciate your last comment because it shows that you really are reading and thinking about what the article says and what I’m writing which I really do sincerely appreciate. I get really annoyed when people assume that my views are the same as other people and pigeon-hole me with sexists/MRAs/whatever group. Anyway the main thing I think you’re still misunderstanding is that nowhere did I ever say that privilege did not exist. In fact if you read my initial point I believe I emphasized it multiple times. When I’m writing a response to an article like this I’m not going to spend a ton of time focusing on things I agree with, but I promise you I do realize and agree that male privilege exists and that particularly starting out it is much tougher on women than men in ultimate.

            The article didn’t argue that there should be a woman’s version of audl/mlu, you are correct. But it did equate the fact that men have audl/mlu as a privilege, and insinuated that it was something that should inspire men to speak for gender equality. This further insinuates that the mlu and audl represent the opposite of gender equality and this is a view held by the usau as well as many women. If the author of this article doesn’t hold this view I apologize but then I’d ask him to further expand on why he brings up the audl/mlu so much. If he doesn’t outright state it, he at least insinuates that the mlu/audl are a hindrance to gender equality in ultimate and represent a negative to the sport as a whole.

            As for the marching in lockstep comment I should probably explain what I meant by that. In these types of discussions, whether it’s framed as gender equality in ultimate, feminism in politics, or anything where there is a clear minority and a clear oppressive majority, I feel like the general dialog is consistently poisoned. I feel as if I’m constantly squeezed between those who feel that the oppressed minority is always right and can do no wrong and a narrowminded view that ignores the rights of the minority at all. In terms of ultimate, I feel as if my options are to believe every discussion of discrimination that points out men oppressing women or else to be lumped in with those who believe sexism does not exist. Why can’t I see sexism and male privilege but also have my view considered? Every time I attempt to ask proof of someone who is presenting a claim (a pretty normal occurrence in a debate) of oppression, I am encouraged to listen, check my privilege, and get away from my preconceived ideas. The only problem is I don’t think I have preconceived ideas, and I actually think the nature of this debate has steered people towards having preconceived ideas that assume women are oppressed victims who men need to save and ignore views to the contrary. I’m expressing views that represent my experiences, which includes discussions with various people of various backgrounds. I never claim to hold the right answers. But I do think that I have the right for my opinion to be heard, just as I’d argue the right for women to have their opinions/experiences heard and for theirs to weight just as strongly as mine. Again I am perfectly open to being proven wrong and it’s very possible that I am making errors in logic due to my circle of friends not being representative of the ultimate community at large. But when I post here I never hear that as an argument. It seems as if all I hear are people telling me I’m wrong, I don’t listen enough, and that I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman in ultimate. On the last point you are correct, but I think it’s important for people to listen in general, and listen to not only people who agree with their own worldview.

          • Ross Kinsman

            “If he doesn’t outright state it, he at least insinuates that the mlu/audl are a hindrance to gender equality in ultimate and represent a negative to the sport as a whole.”

            The author played for an MLU team last year and is playing for an AUDL team this year so don’t really follow you on this point. The article does not make a value judgement on the pro leagues, but does outline what privileges he and many other elite players have and try give actionable steps that people with his privilege can use if they value gender equality in ultimate but do not know how to do something to bring that about. I think what he is trying to get at is that these organizations do not necessarily hold themselves to the same moral stances as the players might. But, that men with bargaining influence can try to use that to advance the women’s teams in their area.

          • Justin Pierce

            Here is a response written by a female ultimate player about her reaction to Sam’s piece. I thought it would be useful for everyone to see how a female player viewed the article and the idea of male privilege in ultimate.


            “The list of privileges was eye-opening for me. There were things on that list that I had honestly never imagined having. Having more male fans than a handful of guys on your school team? Being accepted as a coach for an open team? Having a crowd at your games? Not having to prove that you are athletic? Being able to express negative feelings without being labeled a bitch? It’s concerning to realize some of the things I have just accepted…”

          • Yelena

            “The only problem is I don’t think I have preconceived ideas” — I wanted to write something specifically in response to this sentence because in your original comment you said certain things that from my perspective are characterized as preconceived ideas. I do not know what definition you have in mind for this term, but I am using the following: “forming an opinion before receiving the facts.” One example relates to this sentence: “I’d argue that elite level men’s teams talk and discuss strategy much more than elite level women’s teams.” You don’t base this statement on any facts and even reveal later that you do not have any information on the subject (and as already been pointed out by dusty.rhodes, this whole discussion was completely off topic). It is unclear to me why you feel comfortable to both argue this point and later state that you don’t think you have preconceived ideas. One is not consistent with the other.

    • Molly McKeon

      Couple of things: I’m curious if you could expland on your sentence “best athletes vs female athetes.” This sentence does not sit right when me when I read it.

      When you have questions about the “prove you’re good vs prove you’re not good.” This does happen. No not at the elite level, but pickups, hat tournaments, playing in a different city. As an elite female player I have to play in order to show that I’m fast, can throw well and break the mark, huck it deep, get D’s, etc. Whereas guys typically are thrown too easily until they mess up or show that they are not as athletic than people judged them to be. I’ve played in countless leagues and tournaments where I see this happening to other women. Maybe this is more about judging people based on what you think they can do vs treating everyone equally. I’m not sure.

      About mens teams spending more time strategizing than women’s teams. I completely disagree. My team and I have a separate committee that focuses on overall team strategy. Another for in game strategy. One for watching film and taking notes. Another for thinking about matchups. Another for interpersonal development and strategy. Workouts to get in shape to implement the specific strategy. Then everyone meets and we have a meeting and discussion. The amount of time women’s teams spend is a lot. While some teams may spend more time than others is a different story but I don’t think that has much to do with men vs women’s teams.

      In regards to the comment I noted previously, I’d encourage you to take a look at this article with the link below talking about “are men really better athletes.”


      • Molly McKeon

        Sorry for the typos, phones can be difficult.

  • Ben

    Great and thought provoking article! This got me thinking: As the agreed upon goal/value is equality, I wonder if we are promoting equality for youth and masters divisions as well. I wonder if masters players are as well represented and if there are power differentials for them that should be addressed as well? I honestly don’t know myself. I haven’t been doing more than youth coaching in years.

  • E Ryan

    Great article, thanks for speaking up

  • Geoff West

    Back in my day (The antedeluvian period, LOL!) ladies and men played together. While that has clearly become yesteryear’s condition, we owe it to the game to heed this call to encourage Ultimate at every age and venue.
    The singularly unique characteristic of Ultimate over all other sports is the SOTG and the implicit reverence for fair play it embodies. More than any other athletic endeavor, it appeals to our better nature and good people’s quest for doing the right thing.
    We all love this game because of the joy, respect, and beauty it creates and we should all work to make that special feeling as universally enjoyed as possible.
    Nice piece, Sam!

    Geoff West
    CHSVFT ’72
    co-founder Rutgers Machine