Statement from the CEO on the AUDL Boycott

Today, a boycott of the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) was released, led by Markham Shofner, Claire Chastain, Mario O’Brien, Hannah Leathers, Nicky Spiva, Jesse Shofner, Elliott Erickson and Trent Dillon. The statement reads:

"I believe that women and men should have equal representation at the highest, most visible levels of our sport - including professional play. If the AUDL does not ensure that women and men have equal representation in 2018, I will not support it. This means I will not be playing in or attending games, and will avoid consuming related media and content."

The initial list has 151 signatures already, primarily featuring men who have played in the AUDL previously, and a couple women who have also been involved with the AUDL, including Bert Abbott and Jesse Shofner. A couple of the big names missing include Beau Kittredge and Jimmy Mickle. Mickle’s lack of involvement is most notable as he has been a part of the Gender Equity Action Group and the #StepUpStepOut movement in the past, as well as has an interview in the All Star Tour Documentary discussing how he wants to do more to support his twin sister, Christina Mickle of Denver Molly Brown.

This past Monday, the AUDL released a statement detailing their planned efforts through 2019 to increase gender equity. Some highlights include increasing their online presence for women’s teams, producing 7-9 women’s games, increasing the number of clinics they offer, and a potential national spotlight women's game from a larger network than USA Ultimate's Facebook Live events and Ultiworld's online content. From the recent clips they’ve been showing, it seems like the AUDL purchased the content from the EuroStars Tour and intend to produce that or something similar next year.

A lot of people consider this to be movement in the right direction. However, it also replicates past professional sports, which invest heavily in a men’s league first, wait many years, and then encourage a heavily underfunded women’s counterpart to enter the market. Philadelphia AMP star, Carolyn Normile, called out this development plan this past week on Twitter, exclaiming,

“I don’t want to wait X amount of years for some form of equity to happen in ultimate. (And none of these leagues are equitable btw). Don’t let ultimate follow down the same path as every other sport. The AUDL isn’t going to change on its own. Put the pressure on and boycott the AUDL to demand change now. Sports aren’t just sports. They have bigger impacts on society and leadership positions and government and every nuance of our lives as humans. We have an opportunity here to start something impactful the right way.”

Before we dive in further, let’s define gender equity and gender equality. This FAQ Resource Sheet, released at the Gender Equity Forum at the 2016 USA Ultimate (USAU) Nationals, explains,

“Gender equity acknowledges the historic and current conditions that have marginalized women, and attempts to amend these past and current injustices and biases. Equality, however, assumes that everyone comes from the same playing field and deserves equal treatment. Equality fails to acknowledge that others come from disadvantaged and marginalized positions.”

Gender equity in the ultimate world acknowledges that women, Trans* and gender nonbinary players, have received less money, playing opportunities, and media attention in ultimate than men have. Therefore, gender equity would, by definition, mean investing more in said groups than in men’s.

The AUDL plan has little to no impact in reducing the inequity they have created, and instead presents a safety net marketing plan that bolsters their public image to viewers outside of ultimate, who are their current target market. The AUDL has committed to pay women to run their clinics, but have not guaranteed payment for playing the games, nor does the AUDL address where the profits will go from those games, making the assumption they will likely go back into the AUDL. Their proposal demonstrates that they have no real intention of investing in gender equity in ultimate, and would rather somebody else create a professional women’s or mixed league than them doing any of the work.

The definition of insane is “to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.” It is insane to try to replicate current sports models and expect gender equity to suddenly happen. One of the reasons the boycott could work as compared to boycotts in other sports is because ultimate players have a fallback and preferred option to compete in USAU Nationals. The players are the AUDL’s product. This movement will require the top 151 players who have signed on, as well as the second and third tier players who could take over the role as the AUDL’s primary product.

Upwind Ultimate supports the boycott. The AUDL’s current proposal to address these issues does not support the gender equity movement. My personal stance is that the most equitable option would be having one single league that ONLY highlights women, Trans*, and gender nonbinary players. Especially because the AUDL currently promotes ultimate better than USAU, if they as a professional league don’t empower women, Trans*, and gender nonbinary folks emotionally, physically, and financially, they do more harm than good for gender equity in ultimate.

The business community loves innovation, and so taking a “How can it be done?” perspective, here’s a couple suggestions on how to improve the AUDL product:

  1. Partner with local women’s and/or mixed teams and give them a significant percentage of the profits.

    1. Counterarguments: People spend their own money on AUDL teams so they should determine where the funds go. AUDL teams are not making a profit already so this would simply incur more costs.

    2. Potential Solutions: The San Francisco Flamethrowers have 3.5k likes on Facebook, San Francisco Fury has 5.6k. By creating positively reinforcing relationships, the Flamethrowers can increase their market size and capitalize on Fury’s online presence. If Fury feels valued by the partnership, they will be more likely to do their own marketing, which will increase sales, profits, and community engagement.

    3. Most Equitable Option: Give at least 51% of profits to the women’s and/or mixed partner team.

  2. Require every team and administrator in the AUDL to go through equity trainings.

    1. Counterarguments: It costs money. It’s a waste of time because we know all this stuff already.

    2. Solutions: Creating gender equity is a long and arduous road that will require a continuous process of reflection to undo the existing toxic sports culture. The AUDL has already committed to work in “urban areas that will allow [them] to meet [their] mandate of purposely reaching traditionally neglected cultures and underserved kids, but also focus on the opportunity to reach girls specifically.” To maximize this effort and do it well, everyone who participates in the AUDL should go through gender equity training, with a lens of intersectional feminism.

    3. Most Equitable Option: Create a committee to make decisions on youth development with the majority of the people in this committee being women, Trans*, and gender nonbinary folk, and pay them for their time.  

  3. Release more women’s and mixed content than men’s content from the upcoming season.

    1. Counterarguments: “Men are more exciting to watch in sports.” The AUDL is already increasing more clips, so isn’t that enough?

    2. Solutions: If you stick with that focus, then you’re misunderstanding gender equity and you’re not acknowledging the history of sports and how its culture has marginalized people who aren’t men. Remember, the whole point of equity is to help those who need extra support. Further, women in business have become more successful in the past 20 years. This is a highly untapped market in the sports industry. An equitable league that prioritizes safety of all community members would bring in new markets who have the money interest to support women in sports.  

    3. Most Equitable Option: Have the women’s and/or mixed teams play the AUDL season, and put on men’s games as one-offs like the EuroStars Tour. Only produce media content of women’s and mixed games until we have reached equal representation (proxies can include number of games, highlight clips, online content produced, etc.)

So what can you do right now? What’s awesome is that all the people who have signed onto the boycott and any fan who follows them will now have extra time and money to invest in something else. So here are a few different ideas:

  1. Sign on to the boycott. Add your name, your voice, and commit to this if you truly believe gender equity is important for the future of our sport.

  2. Help redistribute the wealth to the organizations supporting these issues most. Donate to AGE UP and Ultimate Peace.

  3. Join Upwind on The Crosswind Tour at one of our events. Buy a ticket using our sliding scale model and/or sponsor a ticket for someone else.

  4. Keep learning. Check out some of the resources on our website, and continue to listen, hear, and amplify the voices of the women, Trans* and gender nonbinary players in our community.

Laurel Oldershaw (she/her/hers pronouns) is the CEO of Upwind Ultimate. 
Released December 13, 2017

Note: This article was updated from its original use of the word "personcott" to honor the history behind the term "boycott". Interesting though that we use a term named after a white man rather than a woman of color? 

12/18/17 update: We have removed the section about Fulcrum Media due to a misunderstanding in the role of Fulcrum in the AUDL. Although Fulcrum produces the content, the AUDL then decides what networks they display and share the content separate from Fulcrum's platforms.