Ultimate Frisbee allowed me to play on the same competitive stage as men
I started playing ultimate Frisbee in eighth grade. I had thrown a Frisbee around before, but I had never seen a game of ultimate. I was surprised to find that the sport was extremely athletic, entertaining, and better yet, it was co-ed.
Throughout my childhood, I had played pickup games of soccer, hockey, and basketball with boys, but this was the first sport that allowed me to play at a competitive level and on the same team as the boys. Grade eight was around the time that I started to really notice the split in boys’ and girls’ sports. Girls who had played baseball growing up started to switch to softball and many girls I knew who played hockey joined ringette. Frisbee allowed us to play together throughout high school, and competitively into the adult club scene.
“…my coach taught us that we were equals on the field.”
From my first practice as an eager eighth-grader, my coach taught us that we were equals on the field. He encouraged us to throw to everyone and he would put the girls in dominant positions on the field that were typically viewed as male roles at the time. I was lucky to be coached by him at the provincial level in my later years, where he always told us that having the best girls wins games.
Fast forward a few years, I am now in my fourth year of university at Guelph. I play mixed (co-ed) ultimate in the summer and for the Guelph women’s team in the fall. However, our sport has changed. Mixed ultimate has become increasingly recreational as our sport has consistently put more emphasis on gender separation and specifically, more emphasis has been put on men’s ultimate. Last year, ultimate Frisbee received Olympic recognition as the International Olympic Committee valued the high level of co-ed competition that we can bring to the table. Despite that, our sport has created opportunities for men to play professionally and continues to move away from the balanced platform we once had.
“Mixed ultimate has become increasingly recreational as our sport has consistently put more emphasis on gender separation…”
A few weeks ago, a group of high level players from all over the United States—men’s, women’s and mixed—released a gender equity statement calling for change in how broadcasting of ultimate prioritizes men’s games over women’s and mixed games. The statement discussed the imbalances in our sport, and some solutions that the community could use to work towards a more equitable future.
Although the statement has created new and important dialogue within the sport, I am still continuously experiencing indirect and direct sexisms towards myself and women in ultimate. When I started playing ultimate at Guelph, the women’s and men’s teams (we don’t have a mixed team) were like a family. We didn’t do everything together, but we supported each other by watching each other’s games and practicing together when we couldn’t get enough people at practice. Now, when one of those options is suggested by the women’s team, it is often denied with a string of excuses.
“…I am still continuously experiencing indirect and direct sexisms towards myself and women in ultimate.”
Somewhere along the way it was decided that we were no longer in the same realm as the men’s team. Not only do they not support us at tournaments, even though we still go and watch their games when we can, they appear to not want to associate with us in any form. I should say now that there are a select few men from the team who do support us, unfortunately their efforts are easy to overlook when I am constantly hearing negative comments about women’s ultimate from other players on their team.
Overhearing, and being told to my face, that women’s ultimate is a joke is hurtful at best. How would you feel if someone told you that something you dedicate hours of your life to is a joke?
“Somewhere along the way it was decided that we were no longer in the same realm as the men’s team.”
I don’t play ultimate as a hobby. This is a sport that I love and have invested in. Why is it that these comments get thrown around without challenge from other men on the team? It is hard to attend tournaments and watch almost every other university program support each other. Women watching the men’s games when they have a break, and the men’s team watching their women’s team play during their breaks, it looks like a reality I could only dream of for Guelph ultimate.
The lack of respect I feel from many of our male counterparts is a daily distraction. It is a time consuming stressor that weighs down on me every time I arrive at practice. Showing up to practice and wondering, “What comment am I going to hear today?” is unnerving. Ultimate is in a position to set a tone for many other sports, yet I feel devalued as a women’s player by the comments and actions made by our men. Many of these comments aren’t made with the intention of causing hurt, however, it is nearly impossible not to take them personally as a woman who wants to compete at the highest level I can in this sport.
“…is a sport truly growing if it is only prioritizing one gender?”
I started playing ultimate Frisbee because it put me on an equal playing surface with men. Frisbee allowed me to compete against the top men and women in the country and to better myself as an athlete and as a person. When our sport decided to prioritize men’s ultimate over women’s and mixed, it created negative changes in our community that have hindered the sport more than it has grown. The introduction of professional leagues and broadcasting of high level men’s ultimate has been good for advertising our sport, but is a sport truly growing if it is only prioritizing one gender? We need to continue to ask the important and hard questions within the ultimate community and to hold people accountable for sexisms in the sport, whether they are direct or indirect.
Photo courtesy of Ed Kung.