Why #respectHERgame Matters to Kansas City Disc Golf

 

Guest Author: Crispian Paul

I have a story to tell about a group of men behaving badly on the course, but first a few disclaimers: The response we have seen around this incident from our local club, Kansas City Disc Golf (KCDG), has been overwhelmingly supportive and positive. Also, I love disc golf.  I love Kansas City disc golf. I previously served on the board of the Kansas City Flying Disc Club (now called KCDG), I volunteer at events as much as I can and I co-host the KC Disc Golf Divas women’s league in Kansas City. I want to make it clear that I do not speak for the entire KC community (of men or women) nor do I speak for the Kansas City Disc Golf Divas specifically. I know and believe that most of the men in the KC disc golf community are good men and am not going to say otherwise. I say all of this selfishly, hoping you understand who I am in my heart, and how proud I feel about our community in general.

The weekend of November 7-8, the Annual Kansas City Disc Golf Club Championship was held, which drew a relatively large number of women and girls this year. This “flighted” event is meant to bring our large club and its members together. While there is an overall trophy, a women’s trophy, and flight champions, it is still also meant to be fun and congenial. On that Saturday, at a hilly, wooded course, there was a backup. There was a card of five women, including two women brand new to the Club, playing in front of a card of two 12 year-old junior girls and their respective fathers. Behind them was a card of five adult male competitors. 

Early on, the men began to make “rude” comments within earshot of the juniors and their parents, making the girls feel unwelcome. The mother of one of the young ladies was also present but not playing. At one point, the mother was told by the male group that the junior card “had to” let their card play through. The mother rightfully pointed out that this was a competition and they were going to keep playing their round as in all other tournament-style events. The men stated, again within earshot of the two juniors, that it was the juniors’ fault, specifically, that there was a back up on the course. The men’s card then crossed the fairway of the junior/dad card as one of the fathers was readying to tee off, saying they were going to walk/play through. Then, they proceeded through onto the fairway of the five women, saying they were coming through there as well. According to at least one of the women, the men were saying “obscenities” to them and another reported hearing one of the men telling the female players that their rounds “didn’t even matter” because it was they (the men) that were “really playing” for the championship. 

If you have been paying any attention to disc golf media in the past two months or so, you have heard about “the movement” (as it has come to be called) in the sport called #respectHERgame, which came about after the culmination of several prominent instances of sexism within the community. If you haven’t yet checked out the website respectHERgame.org, it is worth a read–and then some–to both women and men. The website identifies the primary issues as such: to combat sexism, objectification, sexual harassment and bullying in the sport and it reflects these values in the #respctHERgame mission statement. The group responsible for the movement, all prominent women in the sport, even go on to define these topics (for those who are unfamiliar) and suggest actionable ways for those in the sport to improve gender relations (including asking and helping men to become allies, as many of our local male KCDG Club members have demonstrated).

Since #respectHERgame, droves of women, both professionals and amateurs alike, have come forward in media/social media and spotlighted their own experiences with in the sport. There has been some blowback, with people of both male and female genders expressing disbelief that sexist or harassing instances happen at all, making light of sexism and harassment in the sport, or even encouraging women to “deal with it” or “get over it” because it is “going to happen” and, in fact, is “normal” and has “always” happened. 

What occurred in Kansas City this past weekend illustrates exactly why #respectHERgame is necessary. It is spurring important conversations and questions from men who want to be allies asking, “How can I help?” A number of local men have publicly stood up on behalf of these women and girls. One of the women involved in the event said that she felt it has been partly because of the #respectHERgame conversations that so any Kansas City disc golfers took a stand over this incident. The bottom line? She is hopeful things will continue to get better (and so am I).  

That there is a gender component to this incident is undeniable and this was acknowledged by KCDG board member and the TD for the event, Brent Siemers, in an email he felt compelled to send to those affected. In part, after taking responsibility for the size of the cards and the configuration of the groups, he stated:

“Women are way under-represented in sports, disc golf and our club. We need to be proactive about inviting women into these spaces. Being rude is not welcoming. It signals that women’s participation is not valued. And, I’d add there is a very thin line between being rude vs. being intimidating or threatening…we can all do better.”

Holding a community that one loves to a high standard is not the same thing as not loving your community. It is not simply being negative or “choosing” to have one’s feelings hurt. It is because I live in one of the best disc golf communities in the country that I personally call attention to these things and I think the same can be said for the men (and women) who are publicly saying this is not OK in Kansas City anymore. I want our men and women to feel safe, and for our allies and friends to feel safe, especially when stepping up and saying something. Kansas City can continue to increase its status as a “disc golf city” and be an example of how to create a safe and supportive environment for women and girls to get involved in the community and sport we love. I just know it.

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