June 24, 2015 by Katie Raynolds in Analysis with 2 comments
Today Ultiworld is proud to help announce the inaugural Michelle Ng Inspiration Award. This award, along with the True Veteran Award, will be given out at the beginning of every club season. Both awards were established and funded by Mike Lawler, a longtime women’s ultimate coach. The Michelle Ng Inspiration Award will be awarded to women who have been recognized as leaders for the sport. The Michelle Ng Inspiration Award includes a $1,000 prize to be used at the winner’s discretion.
There are a lot of voices talking about the state of women’s ultimate. Some complain, many argue, and each voice calls for development and growth. Michelle Ng does it. Since founding Without Limits in 2010, Ng has been the driving force behind some of the college and club divisions’ biggest tournaments as well as countless clinics. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say she’s influenced the lives of most women playing the sport today. Michelle Ng is running a business, but she’s really running a mission.
Mike Lawler, former coach of Brute Squad, explains why he named this award after Michelle Ng:
“Anyone who’s been even tangentially involved in ultimate in the last ten years knows about the work Michelle has done. It would be hard to think of anyone who has done more work to promote the game at a grass roots level. The reason I wanted to name the inspiration award after her is to make sure the work she’s done – and continues to do – isn’t ever forgotten.”
The 2015 Michelle Ng Inspiration Award Winner: Emily Baecher
Last year Emily Baecher, a Boston Brute Squad veteran, carved out a small piece of ultimate history for herself when she attended the MLU Boston Whitecaps tryout. She had attended for fun, but when she mused about the possibility of a mixed professional league, her tryout quickly became a statement. Another article and 200 comments later, Emily Baecher had quickly become another kind of leader in women’s ultimate: she was a voice for women across the country who loved the sport but were fed up with the unending battle for equal treatment.
The articles touched a nerve in the community. Opinions were shared, tough conversations happened, and at least one mind was changed. Emily wasn’t asking that our sport get measured by the same yardstick as men’s: she was arguing for a yardstick of our own.
In conversations with Ultiworld, Emily admitted she doesn’t think she deserves the award. A demanding job with long hours has limited her ability to put actions behind her words, a fact she is painfully aware of. Despite coordinating Brute Squad’s full-ride scholarship for one girl to attend NUTC, Emily is quick to point to others who are doing more legwork than herself.
Allow us to respectfully disagree.
There were a lot of women who were frustrated, jaded, and fed up last year at the time she wrote her article. There still are. But many women don’t speak up because they worry about facing scorn and anger from other commenters. Even this fear of commenters has been scorned by commenters. It’s a sad reality, but it takes a lot of heart to put yourself out there like Emily did. It was a big step for Emily, who describes herself as non-confrontational. She almost didn’t publish the piece.
She wrote about developing as a female athlete, learning how to be a good teammate, and facing bias from men who insisted on comparing men’s and women’s ultimate. Women’s ultimate always lost. She wrote hopefully of a future when girls could aspire to be the best players in women’s ultimate, respected in the same ways the best players in men’s ultimate are. Women don’t want to be Brodie Smith; they want to be Opi Payne.
“I think that her essay will serve as a touchstone for many ultimate players in the years to come,” writes Tiina Booth, “Her experience generated a much deeper and more thoughtful look at gender equity than we have ever had in the US ultimate community.
“I think we will not know the true impact for years, but she ‘made the personal political’ and for that we owe her a debt of gratitude.”
Almost a year and a half later, Emily has worked hard to come into her own agency, forcing herself to have the difficult conversations and analyzing her moments of discomfort. On the other hand, not much has changed for the player’s association she belongs to. From the rejection of the Gender Equity Ombudsgroup proposal to the unequal filming at Club Nationals, USA Ultimate is still struggling to find equal footing in the community, despite vocal displeasure from many advocates.
But Emily’s message, to her peers and to young women in the sport, isn’t about vilifying USAU. It’s about learning to stand up for yourself; to speak your mind; and to stop fearing what others will think.
“It’s okay to be angry,” said Emily during an interview with Ultiworld. “I think a big part of why we don’t end up doing a lot for ourselves as women in the sport is we feel lucky to be playing – which is great, we are lucky to be playing – but it’s okay to stand up for ourselves.
“I think that sometimes we miss out on opportunities for change because we don’t get angry enough.”
The word “angry” doesn’t often lead to inspiration awards. But Emily is an inspiration; so many of us feel frustrated and helpless with the state of our sport, but few have stood up and spoken out, and none have done so as thoughtfully and eloquently as Emily did. She captured every half-joking slight female players endure, every undertone of “wait your turn.” She didn’t impose her opinions, but she expressed them. She compelled other women to raise their hands and add their voices.
Emily sees herself as a player, and a teammate. We see her as a leader, and an inspiration.