The Elephant In The Room

Jeremy Ziskind, a writer for Skyd Magazine, released a list of 21 influential people in ultimate yesterday. The piece has sparked a bit of a firestorm for its inclusion of only three women — Gwen Ambler, Tiina Booth, and Michelle Ng — alongside 18 men. It reopened a frequent conversation about expanding the size of, respect for, and importance of the women’s ultimate scene.

But I think this conversation misses the mark.

Here’s what I notice when I look at those 21 people: not a single African American or hispanic face. There are 19 white people — including me — and two asians.

There is an elephant in the room in ultimate that has nothing to do with gender: the vast majority of players are white, college educated, and well-off. The socioeconomic spectrum skews far towards the right tail.

Why don’t we talk about this? It’s simple: representation.

Women’s players are lucky to be well represented by important and outspoken leaders like Ambler, the VP of the USA Ultimate board. There are many other women’s figures doing tireless work to grow participation, insist on equality, and build up the various women’s divisions. That is hugely important work, and you see it reflected in both the culture of the sport and the decisions of policy makers.

USA Ultimate’s gender equity policy is unrivaled in any other sport, and it has fostered incredible investment in and development of women’s ultimate. There are women’s and girls specific programs and a keen focus on getting more women coaching.

Where is this same drive to get poor, inner city youth involved? You don’t see op-eds about it, you don’t hear it being discussed on social media, you don’t hear chatter about it on the sidelines. That constituency just isn’t well represented in ultimate, especially at the insider levels that might be reading this column.

It’s not that this issue is entirely invisible. USA Ultimate is getting the process started for creating a Foundation¬†that will focus on creating programs and opportunities for disadvantaged youth — good for them. But the awareness of this issue often seems absent.

Minority outreach should also be a major concern for policy makers, who have to look at the demographics of ultimate and be more worried about the well below 10% participation of African Americans and Hispanics than the 33% women’s participation.

None of this is to say that the conversations happening about boosting women’s ultimate are illegitimate in any way. They are important, and have been a key driver of the growth of the women’s division. But is women’s ultimate really being underserved by USA Ultimate? Should there really be more money allocated to growing the women’s side of the sport than is already being dispersed, when there are other vital, but less visible issues that need to be addressed as well?

A diverse community of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds is just as important as a diverse community of men and women. Let’s shift the Overton window of our demographic discussions to something beyond simply gender.

  1. Charlie Eisenhood
    Charlie Eisenhood

    Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email (charlie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

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