April 19, 2022
Welcome to the Spring 2022 edition of the Aii Newsletter, a periodic review of Aii projects and diversity and inclusion updates from around the league.
This past quarter we celebrated two important months, Women’s History and Black History. Although the titles imply a look backwards, I think most people understand it’s an opportunity for the world to take stock of where we stand and how we envision a brighter future. Our world only gets stronger as we learn more about each other, appreciate perspectives, and embrace both our similarities and differences.
According to Statista, women comprise 51.1 percent of our population. Yet it’s clear they have been given a much lesser platform within the sports entertainment sector. I’m encouraged by the turn we seem to be making, as both the media and sponsors are giving greater attention to the roles of women in the sports entertainment business. Not just as players, but as owners, coaches, officials, and key staff. The AUDL and its teams continue to see how we can bring more women into our business mix. We can’t be satisfied by the progress we’ve made, and must continue to listen, act, and support.
Black history in sports could be argued as a tremendous success story, given the number of well-known, highly respected, and wealthy players that exist, but also as a failure, given the huge pockets where Blacks aren’t represented. We often hear stories about the struggles with the major sports in the management and ownership ranks. To me, this is the biggest missed opportunity and the key story for ultimate. We should all be horribly ashamed of the track record of homogeneity in our sport—at all levels. Ultimate is the cheapest team sport in the world, so there are no economic barriers. There are no height or weight restrictions. We have no one to blame but ourselves. There is not only an under-representation of Blacks but of all non-Caucasian cultures within ultimate.
If there is one legacy I can leave from my time at the helm of the AUDL, it will be a major change in the cultural representation in professional ultimate. Not only should we push in the short-term to build bridges into athletic populations that haven’t experienced ultimate, but we must also start now with an increased presence at the youth level. We have an incredible sport; let’s share it with everyone! This is a costly and long-term path, but we must start building it now. In my estimation, the AUDL cannot achieve its economic goals without a more diverse population of players, fans, owners, officials, and staff. We must lead by example through the owners we bring in, the officials we engage, the staff we hire, and the fans and players we encourage to believe in our vision.
CEO and Commissioner
PLAYER VOICES: BEING BLACK IN ULTIMATE
In the spirit of continuing to increase exposure and learning from many of our black players and alumni, the AUDL is building off the success of last year's “Player Voices: Being Black In Ultimate Panel”. The panel returned this year with some familiar faces in AJ Merriman (DC Breeze), James Pollard (Philadelphia Phoenix), Antoine Davis (New York Empire), and Ken Porter (previously of Detroit Mechanix and Charlotte Express), along with some new faces in Brandon Adibe (Ottawa Outlaws) and host Adekale Ande (Atlanta Hustle/broadcaster).
This year’s panel discussion covered a lot of ground and touched on personal experiences like family heritage and cultural background, while also talking about common experiences like what it's like playing in the AUDL. Even within these common experiences, Pollard noted, “We also learned from each other and how certain situations affected us differently.”
Davis added to this point, stating that one of the biggest things he learned from this year’s panel was how similar and different experiences are for black players in the AUDL and ultimate. “Even though there seems to be common themes amongst black players, it is also surprisingly different at the same time. It is always a learning experience to hear those stories and to dive deep with them. And really just a joy to be around that space and to find common ground with people,” he said.
The panelists shared their appreciation for discussions like these and the positive impact it can have for not only them but also for other POC members of the community. “The BHM panel is so impactful and it's awesome to have been on it. We got to share our experiences as black ultimate players with the community that's working to become more inclusive…Lastly, it gives me some more ultimate friends that look like me,” Pollard said.
Ande shared that it meant a lot to him that, “Having played ultimate and seeing that there has been improvement in diversity, that players of color at the highest level still feel the same way as someone who is picking up the sport for the same time does. It doesn’t matter what level, we all have experienced the same thoughts being black in ultimate.”
Having been on the past two panels, Porter reflected on why conversations like this are successful and of importance to the ultimate community, POC and not. “I think part of the beauty of what the panel has been both for those that are actively contributing and to those that are actively digesting the information, opinions, and stories that are shared is that everyone is absorbing with a different lens… I’ve seen other players in my local community be more willing to step out and step into spaces to talk about and stand up for what they believe in or injustices that they’ve seen or just simply create a space for dialogue. In my opinion, the more we do those things and are willing to listen and respect each other regardless of whether we agree or not, the more we’ll grow as people and a community—inside and out of sport and ultimate,” he said.
To close, Porter stated that there is still work to do. “There are so many players, groups of people, marginalized and not marginalized, celebrated and in the shadows, whose stories we have yet to hear. Everyone has a platform. Everyone has a voice. Everyone has the right to feel and be whatever they want to be. Everyone has the responsibility to listen and love (probably the most important one).”
AUDL VOICES: WOMEN IN SPORTS
“Just filling a quota isn’t going to cut it, you have to actually put females in leadership positions and have them be part of the conversation and allow them to have a voice [...] unless you are made part of the conversation and included, it’s not going to advance us any further.”
These were the words of New York Empire’s Head Team Physician, Meghan Bishop, during the March 30th installment of the AUDL Voices video series.The previous two iterations of the series highlighted the experience of black players; this latest episode focused on a panel of women working throughout the league in a variety of capacities.
The panel included Tampa Bay Cannons Owner and Mental Performance Coach Amanda Myhrberg, San Diego Growlers Head Coach Kaela Helton, New York Empire Head Team Physician Meghan Bishop, and Chicago Union Director of Operations and Marketing Alexis Abelove. The event was moderated by the AUDL’s Chief Medical Officer and Philadelphia Phoenix Owner, Christina Chung.
The women discussed a variety of topics, including their expertise and involvement with the AUDL and their hopes for the future, how they view themselves as a woman in professional sports, and their advice for women looking to work in sports. Each participant brought a different perspective to the discussion, from Helton’s playing and coaching background, to Abelove’s operations and marketing experience, and Bishop’s and Myhrberg’s medical knowledge.
When asked ahead of the panel what they were looking forward to seeing from the AUDL in the coming years, Bishop responded, “I am excited about developing our injury database and the positive influence collecting that data will have in the league. Continuing to have women in leadership roles on the medical team as well as in coaching and ownership positions would be great progress.”
In Myhrberg’s words, “Truthfully, I have no idea. I wish I had this grand 5-year plan but that would be a lie. For women though, I'd love to see more women taking leadership roles [...] For me personally, these conversations are a space for us all to learn and grow. To be asked to be on this panel specifically, I took it as an opportunity to learn from these fantastic women and I hope others feel the same way.”
COLORADO SUMMIT YOS CLINIC
Inspired by the Colorado Summit’s mission, “To invest in a lasting community of athletes and fans of all ages; defined by our competitive excellence and commitment to inclusion, diversity, and respect,” a group of Summit coaches, players, and staff packed up their gear and made the 2.5-hour road trip to host a clinic at the Youth Offender System (YOS) facility in Pueblo, CO. The goal was to share the sport of ultimate, Spirit of the Game, and conflict resolution skills.
Upon entering the facility, the group was required to surrender their phones and wallets before passing through barbed wire gates and metal detectors. “White men going into the facility—it's a scary thing. It’s a lot,” said Joe “Smash” Anderson, who is on the team’s diversity, equity, and inclusion committee and who helped lead the clinics. “It was humbling that these guys volunteered to enter the facility and take part.”
Over the course of the day, the Summit Outreach team led two groups of men and a group of women through clinics that consisted of throws, drills, and mini games. The activities were situated in front of the housing facility such that all of the students inside were also able to see the clinic happening.
“Some of these guys were bigger than me!” Anderson remarked, “They had a lot of fun and it was awesome to see some highlight plays.”
Sal Pace, co-owner of the Colorado Summit, was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the project, having spent his entire working life in politics. After reaching out to contacts within the Department of Corrections, the outreach concept was shared with the governor’s administration and was positively received. “They felt that this would be an excellent opportunity for the young men and women in the facility,” Pace said.
During a career which focused on criminal justice reform and social justice matters, Pace worked to address a broken system and end mass incarceration. About the clinic, Pace stated that it held particular significance, as, “This project brings together some of my greatest passions: trying to change our criminal justice system and the sport of ultimate.”
The Pueblo YOS facility is intended to help rehabilitate young people who are serving five to seven years for crimes committed before their 20th birthday. A rigorous curriculum comprises three phases, from education to job preparation to a supervised introduction back into the community, all during which progress and behavior is closely monitored. To that end, Anderson noted the value of participants engaging in a self-officiated sport.
“There was one particular play that was a little more physical than it could have been, but it was amazing to see instant conflict resolution. The supervising Correction Officers enjoyed watching and seeing these young people actively exercise the skills that they are trying to instill in the facility,” Anderson said. “It was important to me that I offered the idea that the ultimate community can be inclusive and is an opportunity that has benefited me in my personal life.”
Developing skills like conflict resolution through principles of Spirit of the Game are crucial for the youth offender system, which works to connect their young people with the community while they’re at the facility in hopes of success once they’re out. “Ultimate is a great tool for teaching,” Pace commented. “Plus, if these young people want to keep playing after they are released, they will find a support network within their local ultimate community. They will probably be welcomed and embraced.”
Summit Coach Ryan Segal took note of how excited the participants were to learn the sport and for the outlook ahead, stating, “Several said, ‘I’m going to be out in a few months and I’m going to be in Denver. Can you connect me with playing opportunities?’”
The value of clinics like this cannot be understated. The Summit and the AUDL connect with and make an impact in new communities, the YOS facility learns new strategies for teaching and instilling principles, and the community benefits from bringing back more well-rounded individuals.
This was not a one-off event for the Summit. They plan to return many times to the YOS facility, including once more before the 2022 season, and hope to affect greater change by building meaningful, lasting relationships.
Congratulations to everyone involved on the Summit Outreach team and best of luck in the year ahead.
The Aii has been hard at work planning upcoming 2022 initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion through the sport of ultimate and the AUDL. The Aii Newsletter will continue to highlight players and success stories throughout the year. Watch for the Spring 2022 edition coming soon!
To have any actions that you or your team are taking towards diversity and inclusion within your community featured in an upcoming newsletter, please send your information to Matt Smith: matt.smith at theaudl.com.
The Aii is a committee that strives to increase racial and cultural diversity and inclusion throughout the sport of ultimate by providing underserved communities access to an affordable sport whose culture emphasizes healthy living, integrity in athletics, and potential to compete at the junior, collegiate and professional levels.