October 21, 2020
What is the Aii?
The Aii is a committee which 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.
I’m incredibly honored and excited to be part of the inaugural newsletter of the AUDL’s Inclusion Initiative. This is just one of the concrete action steps we’re taking to bring the topics of inclusion and diversity to the forefront of our conversations and community. For the first newsletter, we thought it might be helpful to give a little background on how this initiative was started.
There were two moments that happened about the same time in July 2019 that motivated me to bring the concept of the Aii to our community. The first was catching up with Jakeem Polk who was looking to move to another team after the 2019 season. I reminisced about his background as a D-II football athlete who luckily had a friend teach him a little about ultimate. We were fortunate that he took the initiative to try out for the Charlotte team in 2015. We were excited to showcase his talents and were thankful he spurned opportunities to try out for the Arena Football League and stay with the AUDL. The second was a social media post that showed two pictures of puzzle pieces. The first was entitled “Diversity” and showed multi-colored puzzle pieces scattered about in a box. The second was entitled “Inclusion” and showed these same puzzle pieces connected together. The second moment hit home that we must be active in connecting our community and if we don’t take that action, it will only be luck that brings more players like Jakeem Polk into this puzzle we call the AUDL.
It was great to see our owners get behind the Aii but it quickly became obvious that we needed to include more people if we wanted to have a lasting impact. Players and eventually coaches became part of our group in 2020. We began to plan our action steps, but when the horrifying racial events earlier this year accelerated our plans, Gabe Hernandez jumped into action and we got increasingly focused. As we reflected on our original plans, it was clear that some external counsel and guidance would help. We decided to partner with the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) to guide us along the path. We agreed it would be smart to measure a baseline of perceptions within the league before we started our journey. They’re now taking the survey results and discussing these perceptions through workshops and webinars. We believe this introspection is just the first step. The long term goal is to engage our broader, external community and to become more inclusive at every level.
As the saying goes, “talk is cheap.” The burden is on everyone in the league to become active and stay active. All diverse communities will have different points of view. However, we must be tolerant of those views and make the extra effort to ensure we have a diverse and inclusive business and culture. We will only be stronger in the long run if we can connect the puzzle pieces.
The Aii is composed of AUDL players, coaches, and management who have an interest in increasing the racial diversity of the national ultimate community. These members each contribute to various subcommittees within the Aii, including Non-Profit Foundation, Live Event Programming, Youth Engagement, and Marketing.
The Aii subcommittees have been actively working on various projects since January 2020. While 2020 presented some unique challenges, the Aii has continued to make positive strides.
IG Live/Anti-Racism Discussion
On June 1, 2020, Gabe Hernandez of the Dallas Roughnecks hosted an IG Live Q&A on the AUDL account. During the nearly two-hour broadcast, Gabe discussed several topics, including: actions that white players can take to better understand systemic racism and engage other white players, systemic issues inherent within our sport, and ways that players can be agents for change.
This set the stage for a larger event that was held just three days later on June 4, 2020. Gabe worked with several other leaders from the ultimate community to form a discussion panel focusing on racism in the ultimate community, as well as the entire country. The panel featured players from the AUDL, PUL, and the Color of Ultimate. With the panel in place, they approached the league about using the AUDL Facebook and YouTube platforms to host the event.
“Gabe approached Rob Lloyd and myself with the idea and without hesitation we said ‘absolutely,’" AUDL Commissioner Steve Hall commented. "It was nerve wracking to give up control, but it was something we recognized needed to happen and we were ready to accept any reaction.”
The broadcast was well-received among AUDL players, as well as the ultimate community around the world. The YouTube broadcast garnered over 1,900 unique viewers and an additional 800+ viewers joined through Facebook.
The panel also included a fundraising component which was very successful. Before the event, the panel had secured $12,000 in matching funds from the AUDL as well as an additional $6,000 from anonymous donors. After the discussion panel ended, the GoFundMe was opened and people were able to begin public donations. At the end of the week-long campaign, the panel was able to raise a total of $67,000 for the non-profit Know Your Rights organization!
In addition to starting a discussion via our Anti-Racism Panel, our Aii members have been looking at ways to engage members of their local community with emphasis on people outside of ultimate. Here, we are looking to use ultimate as a way to connect with our communities, and by building these connections help us to have deeper conversations about diversity, in addition to increasing the diversity within our community.
An ongoing initiative is a disc drive currently being facilitated by the Philadelphia Phoenix family. Disc donations can be made either by providing gently used discs or by purchasing new Phoenix discs for donation. The goal of the drive is to collect 150 discs from donors throughout the community, which will then be distributed at recreation centers throughout Philadelphia and at free programs and clinics (to take place when safety guidelines allow). Even with COVID restrictions, the disc drive has made great progress, and is already halfway to their goal—enough to fund several 8-week programs.
One of the first donations went to a partnering rec center down the street from Aii member Mike Arcata, who delivered discs to a summer camp. Due to COVID guidelines, a full clinic was not possible, but the kids’ excitement for the sport was clear after only a brief throwing demonstration. This illustrates the potential impact we can have with the youth in our communities, as well as with people as close as our neighbors. Keep up the great work, Phoenix!
This disc drive is part of a larger initiative, Pass the Disc, with the mission of improving underprivileged communities' access to ultimate through free instructional programs and materials. The initiative also accepts direct financial support and, through the generosity of the public, has raised $4K to hit the ground running once Philly gives the green light. So continue to look for more great work coming from Pass the Disc in the future.
Another similar Disc Drive program got off the ground this summer in Atlanta. The Atlanta Hustle matched 50 new discs with those donated by the local community and were able to give over 100 discs to local Boys & Girls Clubs. The Hustle are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to begin a six-week pilot program teaching ultimate at a couple local clubs once the B&GC returns to in-person programming. The Austin Sol also have a similar disc drive initiative in the works in Austin, Texas.
In order to keep AUDL players and stakeholders up to date on the league’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, it was recognized that outward communication was needed. The Aii newsletter will provide summaries of ongoing projects and previews of upcoming initiatives. Dave Woods of the Chicago Union and Kamron Daftari of the Raleigh Flyers head the initiative of disseminating Aii news through this quarterly newsletter.
Upcoming Workshops/RISE training
In a continued effort to improve the league’s responsibility to address social justice and enact change beyond the field of play, the AUDL is partnering with RISE to provide workshops and active outreach structured around racial justice, diversity, and inclusion.
RISE is a national nonprofit that educates and empowers the sports community to eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations. Through partnerships and programs, RISE inspires leaders in sports to create positive change on matters of race and equality.
“The work RISE does is important, and the AUDL’s commitment to return to the field with a plan to address issues of race, diversity and inclusion sends a powerful message and has the power to make our country better,” said Diahann Billings-Burford, RISE CEO.
RISE has developed a specific 12-month programming curriculum for the AUDL, which includes a series of workshops to establish actionable goals and objectives for teams and the league as a whole. Additionally, educational webinars—made available to all league personnel—will be facilitated by RISE to establish progress checkpoints, and allow for feedback. RISE is expected to culminate the AUDL’s 2021 season with a Town Hall-style event during Championship Weekend which will engage both the local community and AUDL personnel.
A survey was recently sent out to AUDL players and personnel to gather perceptions around race and diversity. A total of 246 participated in the survey across all levels of the AUDL, from players to management, coaches, officials, and administration. The information will allow RISE to evaluate the league’s perception of racism and will help their staff accurately address areas where they can drive change. The following key findings from the survey are what will be used to make recommendations for their wok:
Most participants perceive racism to be a concern in the United States and believe their organization has an obligation to address issues of racism nationally.
Few participants are aware of incidents of racism within their organization. However, most believe their organization could do more around issues of race, diversity, and inclusion. This could speak to the difference between systemic vs. interpersonal racism.
Most participants would consider participating in social justice actions and believe they could do more to support race, diversity and inclusion causes in the future.
An overwhelming majority of participants stated that they would be willing to attend more programming focused on issues of race, diversity, and inclusion and want to learn more about these topics.
Participants want their organization to strive toward inclusivity and take a stand against racism and provided several suggestions as to how the AUDL can be more inclusive.
Teams and players will soon receive information for upcoming RISE workshops and initiatives.
The Aii will continue their efforts towards increasing racial and cultural diversity and inclusion across the AUDL and throughout the sport of ultimate.
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 at: firstname.lastname@example.org.