Written by: Vinay Keefe, senior at Shorecrest High School
This article was written by a guest writer. The opinions expressed in the post belong to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Ultimate Project.
In 1971, Congress passed a law that changed the trajectory of equity in sports. Looking back from our comfortable (don’t make me laugh) seat in the 21st century, Title IX and the educational law’s effect on athletics seem like fairly obvious progress. Even though sports were not directly addressed in Title IX, the law marked a turning point for women's involvement in sports . Though the playing field is by no means completely level, the spirit of Title IX is alive and well. This is especially true in sports that were born after it was implemented, like Ultimate Frisbee. Yet at the same time, while the ideals and spirit of Title IX are highly prevalent in the minds of many Ultimate players, in practice American’s culture and view of women in athletics shapes all sports similarly. As ultimate grows in popularity and expands into the professional market, there has been an active effort by its players to maintain and increase the accessibility it aspires towards.
As Ultimate is a post Title IX sport, gender equity has a much larger presence in its core ideals than other mainstream sports. Ultimate players have historically put these ideals into practice in the ubiquitous coed leagues which go from elementary school teams to the highest levels of play. As recently as 2013, more women played on coed teams at the club level than single gender women's teams. Even in the male dominated professional leagues, Ultimate teams also seem to have a greater awareness of gender equality than many other sports. While in practice, all professional teams only employ male athletes, two teams explicitly mention gender equity as an ideal in their missions. These ideals stem partly from the fact that Ultimate came about in a post Title IX world where reaching for gender equality was not stigmatized.
The biggest and most inspirational example so far so far of Ultimate players’ commitment to equality and accessibility in Ultimate is in the All-Star Tour. The Tour is a group of the best female college Ultimate players who travel from Seattle to Boston and play elite women's teams in big stadium environments. In comparison to other sports, the All-Star Ultimate Tour can be seen as a cross between basketball’s professional women's league, the WNBA, and Soccer’s single high profile team, the US women's national team. But unlike Basketball and Soccer, in Ultimate there is a concerted effort, even in the male leagues, to work for gender equality. More than just providing incredibly high level and entertaining play to thousands in the US and Canada, the All-Star Tour fulfills their mission to “promote women in Ultimate.” By taking their message of gender equality across the country, the All Stars are actively working to keep the spirit of gender equity alive in Ultimate as the sport expands to the male dominated professional arena.
While Ultimate does emphasize gender equity more strongly in its ideals, and groups of people involved in Ultimate have made laudable efforts to promote gender equity and women in Ultimate, their work has not yet overcome our ingrained cultural biases. ESPN exemplifies these cultural biases when it dedicates about 96% of its airtime to male sports, allowing many people to quite literally see high level athletics as solely a male activity. This view of athletics has influenced Ultimate as well. Despite its progress towards gender equality, Ultimate is still similar to mainstream sports born before Title IX in terms of participation. At DiscNW, a Seattle based Ultimate organization, about 35% of youth players are female, and only 30% of the members of USA Ultimate are female.
While Ultimate may have some different ideals than the sports that came about before Title IX, in practice our culture's views of gender and athletics have a comparable effect on all sports. In order for the All Star Tour and other Ultimate organizations working towards gender equality to achieve their goals, they must overcome not only the new challenges created by unequal exposure in today’s Ultimate media, but also our culture's general views on women in sports.
Vinay Keefe, senior at Shorecrest High School
Vinay is a rising senior at Shorecrest High School. Convinced to play Ultimate in fifth grade after his team needed more players, he fell in love with incredibly high-level play that can occur in Ultimate alongside great spirit and sportsmanship. Since his first experience, he has played and coached with a number of schools and organizations in and around Seattle. Vinay spends what little time he has left outside Ultimate at school, reading, or getting out in nature.