Gender Equity in Ultimate: A Guide for the Young Gentleman

by | September 26, 2016, 9:47am 5

We’re happy to announce that USAU has responded to our initial Gender Equity Belief Statement letter and we are in discussion with them. Almost 2000 people also signed our petition to show their support, and the comments section further inspired and affirmed that we are advocating for something that’s meaningful to our community.

That said, we think it’s important to continue spreading awareness and understanding of our movementA day after we published our Belief Statement, Andy Lovseth (Seattle Riot Co-Coach) wrote the inspiring piece below (originally posted here) and we love how it looks at our mission through a different lens. He’s agreed to have it re-posted here on Skyd. Enjoy!


This guide provides a summary of the discussion of gender equity in ultimate, and can serve as a companion piece to the “Gender Equity Belief Statement” published in Skyd Magazine on September 9, 2016.

For whom this is intended?

Primarily: male youth and college players, as well as adult males who play league, club, and semi-professional ultimate.

So, what is gender equity anyway?

In a word: fairness. Striving for gender equity means working towards equal access of opportunity for men and women, boys and girls.

And what’s the difference between equity and equality?

Equality aims to provide the same opportunity to each person. Equity aims to provide a fair opportunity to each person. Equality can be fair if each person starts from the same place. Equity can be fair when it acknowledges (amongst many other things) the cultural, social, economic, historical, and geographic differences between people that create barriers for opportunity.

The picture below attempts to illustrate the differences of these concepts.

Original concept by Craig Froehle. Illustration by Angus Maguire.

Original concept by Craig Froehle. Illustration by Angus Maguire.

Why are we talking about this in ultimate?

Three reasons come straight to mind:

1. The birth of semi-professional ultimate

In the past five years two semi-professional leagues have sprouted up: theAmerican Ultimate Disc League (2012-present) and Major League Ultimate(2013-present).

Both leagues subsidize and pay male athletes to travel and compete across the country, and have their games streamed and broadcast.

These opportunities are not afforded to female athletes.

2. ESPN’s partnership with USA Ultimate

In 2013 USA Ultimate began showcasing tournaments on the ESPN3 platform. The semifinals and finals from the College Championship, the US Open, and the Club Championship have been streamed on ESPN3.

For most of the history of this partnership, ESPN3 has aired two men’s semifinals, one women’s semifinal, and one mixed semifinals. And for the most part, the men’s semifinals and finals have aired during primetime viewing hours.

The difference in amount and type of coverage the men’s division receives perpetuates the notion of male-dominance in sports.

3. A gender gap in participation

Female athletes only make up 30% of USA Ultimate’s membership.

So? Men are better athletes, play better ultimate, and participate in sports more. And people want to watch men more than women!

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow your roll, ‘lil fella.

There’s a lot to unpack there.

Men are better athletes
Like the Dude said, “Yeah, well, that’s just like your opinion, man.”

Men play better ultimate
Do I need to quote the Dude again?

Men participate in sports more
You are correct about this. But is this a fact of nature we accept without inquiry? As a society we’ve normalized men playing sports — most young boy’s heroes are sports stars. They dream of being them. I wanted to be Ken Griffey Jr. We have not created a culture that inspires women to play sports to the same degree as men. Not even close.

People want to watch men more than women
Perhaps. But that’s based on what evidence besides your own intuition? It might be more accurate to speculate that “men want to watch men more than women.” Our society has not only fostered the idea of men dominating sports, but also participates in a culture of denigrating women in sports. Wake up, this kind of shit is not okay anymore.

But a thousand times out of a thousand a men’s team will beat a women’s team on the field.

“Good point,” said no one ever.

Our community needs male allies that believe in the inherent value of female athletes. These lines of thought belittle every girl and woman who steps onto the field.

But if we want to showcase and grow our sport we need to have the best on ESPN?

Can we imagine a definition of “best” that doesn’t place men above women?

Can we imagine a definition of “best” that isn’t simply constructed by the values of men watching men’s sports.

Can we imagine a definition of “best” that is inclusive?

If so, then of course we can and will have the best on ESPN.

But if we want these streaming and TV deals to work, we need to make sure they’re profitable ventures.

No one is making money on this. And no one is trying to. Not yet at least.

The only folks making money on streaming deals are the companies USA Ultimate contracts to produce the broadcasts.

There’s probably a small amount of ad revenue split between the production companies and USA Ultimate — but it is likely a pittance.

USA Ultimate is hoping there will be a tipping point where these championships that are streamed on the internet will eventually get broadcast on basic cable.

But until we have new and different information — that tipping point is still a ways off.

So why does it matter then if we show more men than women on ESPN?

1. You can’t be what you can’t see.

As men we take for granted that we see men in ultimate performing at the highest levels, and intrinsically know that if we wanted it enough, worked hard, and were gifted athletically, every opportunity would be afforded to us to reach the highest echelons of the sport.

Women in ultimate fight an uphill battle everyday to receive the same visibility and privileges as men, and are denied both at times simply because of their gender.

2. We need to go above and beyond to address the inequity of participation and visibility of women in ultimate.

More than basketball or soccer or tennis, ultimate has the chance to be a truly equitable sport in the future.

We must proactively promote women in ultimate to grow awareness and participation in the sport for young girls and new female players.

Okay, okay, okay. So what is the Gender Equity Action Group asking for?

The statement published in Skyd Magazine details requests for:

  • Updated language in the USA Ultimate Gender Equity Policy explicitly requiring outside partners (such as video production companies and broadcast platforms) to adhere to the values of gender equity in their coverage.
  • A response within 1 week to the Gender Equity Action Group from USA Ultimate.
  • Continued collaboration between USA Ultimate and the Gender Equity Action Group on possible revisions to current policies to promote further equity in the sport.

Why now?

USA Ultimate is currently renegotiating its contract with ESPN for rights to broadcast college and club tournaments.

Okay. I hear you. What can I do?

  • Add your name to this petition.
  • Talk with and listen to female players about their experiences.
  • Reach out to AUDL, MLU, and USA Ultimate leadership about improving gender equity.
  • Support the visibility of women’s ultimate by watching livestreams, reading articles, and asking for more women’s content and media.
  • Buy a GUM headband.
  • Open your heart to everyone.

Comments Policy: At Skyd, we value all legitimate contributions to the discussion of ultimate. However, please ensure your input is respectful. Hateful, slanderous, or disrespectful comments will be deleted. For grammatical, factual, and typographic errors, instead of leaving a comment, please e-mail our editors directly at editors [at]

  • Aurelien J

    Far from trying to justify the gender gap, people who play mixed struggle to find women to play in their team (well at least here in Europe). “Courting” people to play in your team, failing to do so, and having to resort to a backup from outside each tournament is not pleasant. I don’t see how the things above will drastically change this specific situation.

    Furthermore, it is easy to pick specific cases like the ESPN partnership and say “Why only men”? I can think of the Swiss Women team in the London World Championship which had a sponsor, while the men team didn’t.

    • John

      Recruiting enough women for mixed is a struggle on both sides of the Atlantic.

  • Lucky Mosola

    This article leaves me with a couple serious questions that I’d really like answers to. I have 2 main points to draw attention to.

    1. Tennis is mentioned as a sport that ultimate can do better than to bring gender equity. In my mind I can think of no sport that exemplifies it more to be brutally honest. The money and exposure for male and female athletes is incredibly close. As an individual sport the score totals that are played to accommodate the biological differences in men and women, recognizing that having an equally long format leaves women more prone to injury (this is not necessary in team sports) and having it different for women demonstrates how equitable the format is for an individual stamina-based sport. Tournaments are co-organized so that every one has male and female games at the same complexes at the same times. I think the fact that USAU has a tournament format that is the same to this makes it much easier to make it more equitable. Frankly I think USAU should be unwilling to settle for less than equal coverage of all three formats (2 semi-finals for each, or hopefully more all around). USAU does a great job with the visibility of women’s ultimate and I agree it can do that little bit more to make it equal.

    I am a current AUDL player, and it is apparent to me that the league format makes this much more difficult. Women’s leagues for team based sports trail behind their male counterparts massively (soccer and basketball are prime examples).

    My questions:
    As Semi-Pro teams are not truly profitable, is pushing for a women’s league something that should happen now, or be delayed until the men’s leagues are self sustaining? Bear in mind that other women’s leagues didn’t pop up until after the success of the men’s leagues.

    These Semi-Pro teams are financed overwhelmingly by men who played ultimate and who do so at financial risk for themselves; would it not be difficult to find men and women willing to take that risk for a women’s league when they have proven to be much less financially profitable in other sports?

    2. You list the lack of participation of women in sports relative to men as a problem. I understand we live in a country, in a world, that glorifies sports. As you say “We have not created a culture that inspires women to play sports to the same degree as men.” However most sports present a significant source of injury for both boys and girls. I would argue the high-pressure we put on young boys to play sports is a problem, and that making that pressure equal for girls isn’t really making things better. Boys who play are very often pushed to, girls who play are more likely to have chosen to. I generalize to all sports because most athletes that play ultimate played others first as kids. More boys playing those other sports naturally leads to a larger pool of potential ultimate athletes than girls. America already has one of the highest rates of participation in sports by women in the world.

    My question:
    Isn’t the size of that gap more a problem of pressuring boys into sports than “inspiring” girls to play them?

    3. Petty semantics: Is men being better athletes really an opinion? The male populations tendency towards greater speed, strength, endurance, and (questionably) coordination is the very core of what an athlete is. The field of sports specifically referred to as athletics (what Americans call track and field) is male dominated in every regard.

    Great article and thanks for all you do

    • DJ

      Good points. Always good to hash out things that potentially change the fundamental aspects of an organization, of a culture, of behavior, of people.

      I think asking for language adjustments in contracts between USAU and ESPN is a good step. But I have questions about other key points to the GEBS plan.

      There are questions about the lack of participation of (young, especially) women in sports. How do the supporters of the GEBS plan on changing this? You can’t force women, or men, to play sports, or play with dolls, or any other activity. If you change your marketing strategy to focus on women in sports during Monday Night Football broadcasts, you may make some headway. But what else can you do? I genuinely want to know their thoughts on this.

      I must add that I don’t think #1 in the article is entirely true. At least, a misrepresentation, by my understanding. Women have been afforded the opportunity to play in the semi-pro leagues. There were a few women who tried out for teams. They did not make the teams, but they were still given the opportunity. The semi-pro leagues are inclusive and do not prohibit anyone from attempting to make the leagues.

  • Maureen Lincke

    I am the female captain of Knox College ultimate frisbee team, and I would like to thank the writers of this article. I am proud to be a part of a sport that openly gives its support to undermining the gender standard we have become accustomed to in sports. This standard tells me that I am not as athletic as men, that my team is not as exciting to watch, and that I, as a female player on mixed teams, bring the athleticism and competitiveness down. Regardless of the biological factors that exist in this argument, it is extremely discouraging to hear men tell me this every mixed season.

    It is articles like these that reaffirm my love of this sport, and continue to motivate me every season. I am not as fast or as tall or as strong as the male players on my team, but we share a similar mentality that includes spirit of the game and a driven mindset. These mentalities have helped me to become a competitive athlete in my own way on the mixed teams I have joined. So thank you for supporting this mentality, and I hope more people commit to signing the petition! Much love, peace and respect.