Players and supporters at the Gender Equity Forum at the 2016 Club Championships. Photo by Paul Rutherford of UltiPhotos.com
Ultimate needs more like Babbitt, Dillon, and El-Salaam.
Jeff Babbitt’s recently published tips on how men in ultimate can best support gender equity and truly be an ally is a welcome sight. So too is Trent Dillon’s well-reasoned thoughts on why he hasn’t and won’t be trying out for any of the semi-professional teams. And of course, if you follow him on Twitter, Khalif El-Salaam is always speaking positively of the mixed game and how important it is.
In this tweet from Trent, he gives the community a glimpse into what he told the Seattle Cascades general manager when tryouts were announced for the 2017 season. "Self-officiation and equal opportunity for men and women have been bleakly represented in the AUDL's current product," he writes. Rather succinctly, Dillon makes an extremely strong case as to why he has and will continue to sit out tryouts. His reasons revolve around both the league's officiation and lack of gender equity, and his words hit strongly. Trent is no stranger to tweeting out his support for gender equity.
By writing How Male Allies can Support Women in Ultimate: 6 tips, Jeff Babbitt concisely lays out extremely easy and actionable steps for men in ultimate. In the piece, he asks male college ultimate players to make sure they're actively supporting women's teams, and for all male players to rethink their word choices. Part of what makes this so great though, is that it doesn't start and end with ultimate - if you play or are involved in other sports, other activities, all 6 of his action items apply.
Khalif El-Salaam has been making a name for himself by sitting on shoulders in the mixed game for what feels like forever. He and his Seattle Mixtape teammates have long been outspoken in their support and love of the mixed game. So when USAU announced who had made the tryouts for the next USA U-24 squads across M/W/X, and Khalif starts tweeting, you listen. Across four tweets ( Tweet 1, Tweet 2, Tweet 3, Tweet 4 ) he expresses frustration regarding mixed being seen as a consolation prize for players that were invited who typically don't play mixed. For him and his teammates, both with Seattle Mixtape and the USA-X teams, playing mixed hasn't been a consolation prize or a back-up plan; it's been a challenge every step of the way. He tweets a lot about the mixed-division bias, that many who don't play elite-level mixed wouldn't understand the division.
These individuals' moves are very different from the passive support that a men’s team retweet of the All-Star Tour’s Kickstarter page shows, for example. These three men specifically - one the 2016 Callahan Award winner, the other probably one of the top-3 most mentioned players on Ultiworld in the past year, and lastly a prolific scorer and highlight-maker across all levels of play - speaking out for gender equity helps highlight how much this movement has grown in recent years. Not that past Callahan winners or buzz-worthy players weren’t speaking out in favor of this movement in the past, but now it feels like less of a push towards equity and more like a shove. That this is happening regardless of what r/ultimate user xXscooberlv3rXx thinks about women’s ultimate or mixed ultimate.
Top Men’s club teams now are appointing gender-equity captains during their captain’s meetings. These are players on their roster whose position with the team during the off-season, through tryouts, and into the summer and fall, will be to specifically create a dialogue within their team about why this is important, and why this needs to happen. Babbitt and Dillon openly publishing their thoughts on this topic are by-products of that kind of team environment.
These men joining the conversation with such a force has them joining mixed and women’s players that have been leading the charge for change for seasons. And their words don’t drown out those players, they help build on the foundation that’s already been laid and make it stronger. That’s another important aspect here to consider. Following hockey closely, the league and it’s teams often try to come out in support of LGBTQ causes (specifically the charity You Can Play) - but their statements sometimes have to be thought of in terms of “Oh this isn’t perfect because it excludes XYZ but it’s still such a positive step for hockey to take!” This doesn’t feel like that. These statements by ultimate players don’t come with the two steps forward one step back caveat that hockey’s moves of change often have.
There will undoubtably still be guys who think it’s funny to “joke” about how women play ultimate in three feet of water. Or guys commentating on the Ultiworld live streams about how they’d rather watch a consolation game between a B-team and a high school team because at least it’s not mixed or women’s! Just as there are fans of football and hockey who think that the equipment and rules around player safety take away from the game, and makes players now lesser.
But they’re going to find less and less space to talk like this about ultimate, and be less accepted by teams and teammates - in part thanks to players at the highest level of the game speaking out.