The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly: Submitting A Proposal To The USA Ultimate Board

A gender equity proposal was supposed to reach a USAU Board vote. But it was pulled last minute.

Tiina Booth's UPA ID card
Tiina Booth’s UPA ID card, featuring Shannon O’Malley (left) and Emily Baecher.

I have never brought a proposal in front of the USA Ultimate or UPA Board of Directors in my 30+ years of being involved with this sport. I say “never” until about a month ago. My involvement at first was peripheral: I was part of a larger group interested in USAU’s adherence to its gender equity policy. As the days went on, I become more involved and helped edit the proposal for a Gender Equity Ombudsgroup (GEO).

By the time this past weekend came around, I was consumed by its fate. Would the Board vote for the proposal? Did we do enough lobbying? What would it mean if it passed? What would it mean if it were voted down?

I realize that this topic is not particularly sexy, certainly not when compared with Frank’s concept of offensive penetration or the new college rankings. But, for those of you who are interested in how our national governing body operates, please allow me to guide you on the journey of this proposal. I learned about the good, the bad, and the ugly while trying to be part of a change in our sport.

The Good

I ran into Peri Kurshan in Frisco at USAU Club Nationals this past October, between the bathrooms and snack bar. We had not seen each other for many years; we only had time for a few minutes of authentic conversation. I knew that Peri had drafted the original gender equity policy and we immediately started talking about what had been going on in the last few years. I remember her saying that she felt “isolated” and I commiserated and told her that there was a lot more energy around gender issues these days due, in part, to the Emily Effect.

She said she was interested in bringing a proposal for a Gender Equity Ombudsgroup to the USAU Board of Directors. She saw it as a way to ensure that USAU was holding to the original policy and also help explain their decisions to the larger ultimate community. She asked if I wanted to be part of it and, of course, I said yes.

Fast forward to the beginning of January and Peri started reaching out to this new committee who would put forth the GEO proposal. She sent an exploratory email with a first draft and I asked friends and family for their feedback. They counseled me to withdraw because it would be too frustrating. They know me well and on January 8, this is part of an email that I sent to the group:

I am willing to bet serious money that this will never be approved by the board. USAU admin will not support it, the Board will see it as threatening, and we will get a,”This is interesting and thanks for your input but here are our suggestions and please come back in 2016.” They may suggest a general  ombudsgroup as an alternative, in order to avoid the appearance that they are not dedicated to gender equity. But I cannot see them willingly handing over any kind of power to an “outside” group, no matter how fair minded we may be. And they will also cite “contract confidentiality” in order to not let this group be privy to how ESPN and others work. Same old; same old.

I heard little after this semi-rant and I was afraid I had alienated much of the group. I felt like the wizened feminist ogre under the bridge, while the youngsters skipped merrily above, undeterred by my warnings.

I came around pretty quickly, however, when I saw the energy and enthusiasm that people were bringing to this proposal. I decided that, if it ever passed, I did not want serve on the GEO, but I was still proud to add my name to this list of people who eventually became signatories:

– Peri Kurshan (USAU Women’s Club Division Council Rep & former USAU BoD President)
– DeAnna Ball (USAU BoD)
– Josh Seamon (USAU BoD)
– Ness Fajardo (USAU BoD)
– Gwen Ambler (Former USAU BoD Vice President)
– Michelle Ng (USAU Women’s Club Division Council Rep & former USAU College Athlete & Competition Programs Manager)
– Heather Ann Brauer (USAU National Girls Outreach Director)
– Zara Cadoux (Chair of the USAU Girls Ultimate Movement Working Group)
– Tiina Booth (USAU Coaching Instructor)
– Charlie Mercer (USAU Women’s Division NW Regional Coordinator)
– Kath Ratcliff (Current 2-time Women’s Division National Champion)

The proposal itself went through a lot of tweaking and I contributed a sentence here and there. Peri crafted most of it and Gwen added the appendix. The final version is here and for those of you who won’t read it, here is a quick snapshot:

– The USAU gender equity policy is not being fully adhered to, in both coverage and scheduling.

– Advocates are unhappy with the decisions being made and how they are being made.

– The GEO would serve as a “sounding board” for the USAU and an “independent voice” to explain those decisions to the larger community.

– USAU would have control over the composition of the group.

– This would cost nothing.

– This would look good in the eyes of the IOC , other groups, and the USAU membership.

– We need to get this in place as the sport, and its complexities, continue to grow.

This seemed to be a sound proposal to me and I encourage all of you to read the full text. The next step, from what I knew, was to submit it to Tom Crawford and Board President Mike Payne, which Peri did on January 15. Crawford knew it was in the pipeline and their job was to decide whether it should go on the Board’s agenda. They are the screen to keep the Board from wasting its time on proposals that have little chance of passing. If it doesn’t get on the agenda, it doesn’t get discussed or voted on.

The next day, January 16, Peri received word that the proposal had, in fact, been put on the agenda. It was slated for the morning of Sunday, Jan 25. Josh Seamon agreed to take the lead on it and he and I worked on his introduction. Peri continued to contact board members on how the GEO would actually operate. There was a general sense that, in spite of the challenges this group would face, the proposal had a chance of passing and we should start planning for its implementation.

I spent my time planning this column, depending on the outcome of the upcoming vote. It would be entitled either, “I Was Wrong USAU” or “WTF USAU?!” I felt ready to write either one, but I actually was hoping that I had been wrong in my initial assessment. Working on this proposal, with this group of people, had given me hope.

The Bad

Alas, I was not wrong. But it happened in a way that I never anticipated. On the morning of Saturday, Jan. 24, Peri received an email that the GEO proposal had been withdrawn from the agenda. That’s right. About 24 hours before it was supposed to be heard and voted on by the BoD, Mike Payne let Peri know that the proposal was going to be neither voted on nor discussed, as it needed further vetting. It disappeared into the ether of Colorado Springs.

The emails started flying that morning and we did what we could. I cannot imagine the frustration that Peri was feeling as she had lived and breathed this for weeks, if not years. She had also made herself exceedingly available to anyone who wanted to ask questions. She had been interviewed by the Media & Communications working group. Even though she had been on the Board for six years, the vetting process was new to her, but at no time, previous to that Saturday morning email, had she been told that there was a need for more thorough vetting.

Peri continued to lobby those in power all Saturday, trying to get the proposal back on the agenda. She at least wanted the Board to hold some sort of discussion. When would they have the opportunity to hear from these advocates in one room again?

Something Kinda Good

As it turned out, the GEO proposal did get discussed on Sunday morning, thanks to Josh Seamon. He asked for a discussion and I heard there was a reasonable back-and-forth for about 15 minutes. (Since I first wrote this column, I have also heard from the group that there is now a timeline for a larger discussion and, if the proposal passes said vetting, there may be a Board vote sometime this spring.)

So there was no vote but not a complete dismissal. I am looking forward to reading the notes from this meeting. I didn’t have to write my WTF column but I can’t write a positive one either.

The Ugly

There has been a call for transparency from USAU for years. Josh Seamon and John Terry proposed in 2009 that the votes of board members be published and that vote did not pass. Ben Wiggins and Andy Lovseth also proposed a general ombudsman in 2009 and that was voted down. Ultiworld is hosting a USAU mailbag because many want clear answers on why our national governing body makes the decisions that it does.

I don’t really understand what happened with our proposal. We had three board members as signatories on the proposal, the other signatories have a long history with our sport, and it ostensibly went through a vetting process before the meeting. I don’t have the answer, but my questions range from the mundane to the paranoid:

1) Was it as simple as not having enough time? Did moving to Colorado Springs push everyone to the wall and make this proposal not a priority?

2) Is it possible that USAU is not aware of the problems around gender equity?

3) What is the difference between vetting and gatekeeping? Was there a decision made to remove the proposal because it actually had a chance of passing?

4) Does allowing a GEO to exist mean that this is an admittance that USAU has not been doing its job? Does it mean that they will have to open it up to other groups?

5) Why do we keep treading water on gender equity issues? Why does USAU trot out this policy to criticize the pro leagues yet drag its feet when there is an opportunity for real commitment to change?

6) Is there some larger agenda behind the scenes that is driving these actions?

This is not only about gender equity. While some may get sidetracked in the comments about the actual proposal, the larger issue here is how committed members of the Ultimate community have been treated by our governing body. What does it mean to be a “player-governed sport” and not at least seriously consider a proposal with this type of backing? Why can’t board members get a  proposal they have submitted onto the board meeting agenda?

The people listed above have put in untold hours volunteering for this sport. Were we just taken for granted? Why were we treated so unprofessionally? If we had been a group of executives from outside our community with a different proposal, would we have been treated better?

Maybe this story is just a “tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I have worked in lumbering institutions long enough to know that sometimes things get stalled for no good reason. But I had hoped for a better outcome from USAU, particularly on this topic.

These pointed questions are a direct result of being kept in the dark. When there is little transparency and the USAU membership is not allowed real information,
even this loyal oppositionist begins to seriously question where USAU is heading. I cannot help but see my experience, as well as those of other members of the USAU community, as another in a long line of muddled and frustrating interactions with the upper echelons of our national governing body.

Again, I would love to be wrong, but I do not think it is going to happen yet.

If you are interested in the Gender Equity Ombudsgroup, either pro or con, please contact members of the USAU Board of Directors.

  1. Tiina Booth
    Tiina Booth

    Tiina Booth is the director of the National Ultimate Training Camp and a co-coach of the University of Massachusetts men. She founded the Amherst Invitational in 1992 and co-founded Junior Nationals in 1998. In 2006, she published a book about ultimate with Michael Baccarini, entitled Essential Ultimate. She has coached teams to numerous national and international titles. Her ongoing passion is sports psychology, and she offers clinics to coaches of ultimate and other sports. Tiina will be inducted into the Ultimate Hall of Fame at USAU Club Nationals in October of 2018.

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