Lively Debate and Further Discussion on Latest Tiina Booth Column

If you haven’t had a chance to check out the comments on the latest Tiina Booth column, then you’re missing out on what I predict will become an increasingly important issue: How should USAU interact with the semi-professional leagues?

There were a few prominent threads of discussion, but perhaps none more so than Tiina’s decision to discuss the publicity and prominence of womens ultimate in a separate column — which quite a few commenters, including Liz, took notice of:

Is the marginalization of women in ultimate really a topic for another column? You only mentioned male campers decked out in MLU gear. Sidestepping the fact that pro ultimate only welcomes half the athletes in our sport by dismissing it as a philosophical debate doesn’t change the reality that young women in ultimate don’t get much from admiring athletes in leagues they can’t join. Using USAU dues to promote men’s pro leagues won’t help the female half of our young players learn about Brute Squad.

And, in a more recent comment:

[Quoting Tiina:] “We all know that women in ultimate inhabit the margins of publicity. But that’s a topic for another column.”

Wow! Why are you dismissing this concern? It’s tied intimately to the situation and a key initiative of USAU’s commitment to gender equity and programs like the Girls’ Ultimate Movement (GUM). Their official position –… – takes issue with the semi-pro leagues’ focus on male-only (formerly misnamed “open” division) ultimate. It’s sad to hear you both validate that concern and dismiss it simultaneously. I’ve lost a LOT of respect for you in this column.

Luke Johnson (Riot videographer extraordinaire) made an interesting point that:

What will be interesting to see unfold is how a few of the AUDL teams who are owned in part by women respond this season to the opportunities that are available to promote and grow girls ultimate.

The larger point I read out of Luke’s comment is that there is no real unanimity on this issue, nor should we really expect there be one.  While some females take hardlined stances against pro leagues, others are going to look to be involved in ownership, management, and staff positions (the New York Rumble, for example, have had a female GM for two years now.) And, as Luke points out, the way those women are treated and valued, as well as team’s proactive actions in the community, will make a difference in some corners of this debate.

Our latest podcast addresses a lot of these issues head-on, and I’ve become increasingly convinced that many of us (myself included!) are doing a real disservice to the debate by quickly categorizing things or placing them in camps. Despite the strong rhetoric in our comments, there’s a lot of nuance.

Which is why, coming full circle, I’ll weigh in on Tiina’s point. My primary criticism of the column is that it takes an idea that I suspect a majority of the community supports in theory (two of the most powerful organizations in Ultimate coming together to work together) but punts a bit on the hard part:

If you notice, I did not mention refs or SOTG or gender equity or the definition of “real” ultimate. These debates are often too theoretical and miss the real, practical work that still needs to be done. I understand that this would not be an easy compromise but I believe it is one worth embracing.

But finding a consensus on the idea of compromising is different from finding a consensus on the actual implementation, and I’m afraid there is none.  Enumerating the specifics of a compromise strikes me as the inherently more difficult project.  Troy Revell tried to outline the specifics:

Can I formally arbitrate an agreement? USAU agrees to avoid major scheduling conflicts and provides their trained observer base, AUDL agrees to let players call their own fouls while keeping most of the “ref” system. USAU agrees to fully promote pro leagues and help with the streaming coverage (and both sides bring the NexGen network back from the ashes), AUDL agrees to grow USAU membership by requiring it of all it’s players and coaches (imagine kids at an AUDL game signing up for USAU clinics). PLAYERS get to decide which format they like better for the top of the game, and YAY both versions have the ear of ESPN already anyway, who’s probably just waiting for us to figure out what we are . . . Maybe the US Open could include the AUDL championship game that Saturday night… now THAT would be a party!

Perhaps Tiina is making a larger point, that the drop in consensus from idea of compromise to implementation of compromise is precisely the problem: To the extent you’re someone who knows a compromise would be good, don’t let your support be inhibited by an overly philosophical position; be careful about tying yourself to a cross of gold.  And this wraps back into the gender debate, too: Do successful semi-professional leagues indirectly support or inhibit the growth of women’s ultimate and the place of female athletics generally?  I don’t know there’s an easy answer there, but I suspect that is motivating a significant amount of the disagreement seen in the comments.

Stay tuned from more coming in this week’s podcast.

  1. Sean Childers

    Sean Childers is Ultiworld's Editor Emeritus. He started playing ultimate in 2008 for UNC-Chapel Hill Darkside, where he studied Political Science and Computer Science before graduating from NYU School of Law. He has played for LOS, District 5, Empire, PoNY, Truck Stop, Polar Bears, and Mischief (current team). You can email him at [email protected].

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