Saturday, December 03, 2016

An Increasing Distance

The online tempest over the Packers halftime exhibition between Radicals and a ragtag group of college guys (comprised of Hodags plus a few other ballers we're friends with) was surprising and it caught me off guard, but that's really on me. When Avery first told me that the Packers had contacted him and we were thinking of which Hodags we should send to the game, I got caught up in the moment of it, as I would have done during my days in cleats and baby blue. Were I to be one of the players going to throw breaks and score goals on Lambeau's pitch, I would have been ecstatic. Had I read on RSD (or Idris' blog roundup, to date myself) about another team going to play, my excitement wouldn't have been much less diminished.

So when Avery told me, I was fired up. What a sweet experience! For those within, at least - those without saw not what was offered but what wasn't, and the discourse (to use the term extremely loosely) since then has been a battleground centered around who got invited, who didn't, and why.

The commentary in these kinds of conversations about equity will often revolve around systemic racism, systemic sexism, systemic what-have-you. The use of systemic here isn't an indictment (although those that disagree it's a factor personally take it as one), it's a descriptor, and of course gender inequity and current cultural norms are a factor. What systemic here represents is a sum, the addition of myriad tiny decisions that lead to very real outcomes, whether intended or not.

The systemic outcome here is that ten dudes, five of which I coach, will play ten other dudes for ten minutes in front of a crowd of 80,000, and that during the planning stages of this event we did not think to invite Bella or Heist or any other women's team to be a part of those twenty people.

What often gets lost in the online discourse are the little moments and decision that led us to the sum total, and result in all these commentators taking Avery to task and/or assuring us that, in his shoes, they totally would have played it differently.

So how did it happen? Why didn't we think to invite Bella to a fantastic event with massive exposure? I alluded to the answer in my initial tweet about this whole thing as the furor started: it happened little by little, as the distance between the Hodags and Bella grew. We used to have practice side-by-side year round, indoor and out; now we have separate indoor nights and practice on opposite days in the spring. We used to travel to every tournament together; today the existing elite tournament structure has us rarely attending tourneys together during the season. The halcyon days of inter-team romance and hook-ups ensured that the teams were quite literally joined at the hips; there are no Hodag-Bella couples right now. The distance between the two team has never been greater, and we don't talk or think about how the other is doing very regularly. I'm not forging new ground here in typing that, when presented with an opportunity to invite someone, you think first of those you spend time with, and not those you don't. Of course. When you don't interact with people you begin to think of them less and less.

And I should have expected the online reaction, just as most everyone should have expected the invites to fall where they did. The distance between the two furthest Ultimate players is increasing, and the dialogue between those of us who disagree with each other is thinning. That Opi, one of the luminaries of our game right now and someone I admire greatly, would disavow her laudable work with E.R.I.C. on the basis of a five-word FB post from the non-profit's founder, shows me that not even the best among us is immune. It's far easier for us to not interact with "them". Disgust is effortless then.

I'm not here to tell anyone with whom they're allowed to be angry - it's your right, and the online world has gifted us with an unending supply of ways to tell people we disagree with to fuck off. But Big Picture consequences come from the sum of Little Picture decisions, and everyone collectively deciding that those we disagree with aren't worth our time, or are racists, or misogynists, or deplorable, or not as woke as we are - well, that tends to undermine the pride we feel in our Spirit of the Game, in self-officiation, in the notion that we are as open and inclusive as we all agree we are. How can we claim to be a sport that purports to teach how to resolve disputes through civility and conversation when we don't reflect that in our personal lives?

Tomorrow some dudes are going to play Ultimate in front of a large crowd at the halftime of an NFL game, and for those participating, I couldn't be happier or more excited. And because it's such a wonderful opportunity I understand how disappointed Bella feels in not being taken into account. Moving forward, one path might lead back online, where we'll be free to talk past each other and misconstrue arguments to our advantage and villainize each other while doing some feel-good virtue signaling. There is perhaps another path, in remembering that the personal is political. We can reach out to Bella and spend time together. We can organize and volunteer at community service events, together. We can exist in the intimacy of each other's social lives so that we're always reminded of the interconnection of our fates. We can be political by being personal with each other.

I have a little Hispanic daughter, so the issues of racism, sexism and discrimination are very near and personal to me. The demands on my time with her mean that I won't be able to directly take part in whatever Bella and the Hodags do going forward from here, but I know my players, and trust them fully as great, decent and thoughtful people, and can extrapolate that out to our female counterparts, so I have faith that they'll work it out. And as concerned as I am about the aforementioned issues, I am concerned more about our desire to push others away, to live in smaller and smaller bubbles of thought, to dismiss and belittle those we disagree with. We cannot cure any of our social ills if we continue our retreat to the comfort of the familiar.

I'm immensely proud of Avery and love him like a brother and like a son, and see no fault in how he handled all of this as it was placed on his lap. I'm excited to watch the Periscoped halftime show tomorrow and watch my friends play on a field they've seen on TV their whole lives, and to listen to their stories when they return. And I'm looking forward to what the two teams do going forward, and trust they'll build deeper connections between themselves.

I am excited for the future.



Kyle Weisbrod said...

I haven't followed this whole thing closely, but I don't see the "pushing away" that you allude to. Hasn't most of the criticism been pretty respectful? Or has it not come off that way to the Hodag players involved in this?

If the Hodag players have felt hurt or unfairly accused by the criticism, is it that the criticism was public? Or that it felt like bandwagoning on the criticism? (Maybe a tweet is okay but then having that tweet liked and retweeted made the players that made the decision feel like pariahs)?

I get why the players involved made the decision. I'm not even sure that being closer to BD would have changed how we view these things. And I agree it's the sum of little things (although I would argue those little things have a lot more to do with the fact that there are more men doing gameday operations for the Packers and they are more likely to both think of and know male ultimate players and most of us are more likely to default to male ultimate as the standard through years of seeing male sports as the standard for sports).

But I digress. I think the the benefit of public criticism is that it raises all of our awareness of institutional sexism/racism/oppression. Part of the definition of institutional discrimination is that it's reinforced by behavioral norms. So, while we may not be directly sexist (or think of ourselves that way) we still participate in those structures of oppression. It's why a black police officer can shoot an unarmed black man and still have it be a symptom of racism.

If BD approached the Hodags privately, it might have been a better learning experience for those players and they would have felt less pushed away, but I'm guessing (hoping)that at least some people in the community saw the discussion and thought, "huh, that's a perspective I wasn't aware of and next time I'm in a position to make that type of decision I'll adjust my frame to make sure I make one that's more inclusive."

And, back to your point, maybe just the day-to-day relationships across BD and the Hodags will help improve that type of decision making as well.

Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts on this. I do think we need to think hard about how to have these discussions. I'm particularly interested in what made the Hodag players feel pushed away and what they think a better way to address it to promote discussion. I can fully believe that the players involved in this decision had the best of intentions and maybe even consider themselves feminists and so feel disconcerted by being "accused" of sexism. This same type of thing came up following the decision last year to make the women's division smaller at the Stanford Invite.

Hh said...

I can't and won't speak to individual Hodags' feelings on this - online, several have already spoken for themselves in support of Bella, and there isn't much disagreement or hurt feelings among the team that have been shared with me. In the main it's been surprise that the balance of commentary on this has been negative rather than positive.

My feeling is that we that live in the online sphere as much as we do hyper-inflate the awareness online public discourse is bringing. It happens largely in an echo chamber, and those that disagree with one another don't seem to really be coming on board and being enlightened by some tweet. Those you're alluding to that said to themselves, "huh, that's a perspective I wasn't aware of and next time I'm in a position to make that type of decision I'll adjust my frame to make sure I make one that's more inclusive." weren't really adversarial to begin with, but perhaps now they have new vocabulary or examples to inform their thoughts. I don't discount that as progress, but it's too narrow in scope - you're not reaching the people you actually disagree with to change their minds, and those nodding their heads in agreement were already there. I mean - who are our online friends and followers? It's been crazy to me that, in this last month since the election, anyone still thinks the online sphere is where progress are being made and these battles are being won.

My writing here is almost tangential to the whole Packers thing, and to even write about these loaded topics is to invite people from either side who are all too ready to play gotcha to find something to pick your words about and flame you with. My main hope, not for this event alone but for us as people in general, is that we do the interacting and listening in the place where it's likely to affect change in the minds of those that really need convincing - the real world.

Would this have played out differently with a different inter-team dynamic? Perhaps - probably, I'd say - but it's mere speculation. (Btw, The little things you talk about are why the Packers intern thought to contact Avery in the first place, whereas I was speaking directly to the actions we took once the situation presented itself.)

I don't fault Bella in the slightest for sharing their thoughts online, and I know no Hodag who felt pushed away by them doing it. But again, online we're talking to and with the same group of people all the time. If the goal was to, should another sports franchise offer the same opportunity to another men's team, ensure that they at least think about inviting women in sharing that exposure, I think it's accomplished. It's a worthy goal. If the goals here are not about our sport but about our lives, then I think we're spending a lot of time on a screen talking to the wrong people, and actively muting those with whom we need to interact.

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