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I’m a 12 Year Player Leaving for the Same Reasons Some Won’t Get in at All

What’s the difference between a political belief and a moral belief?

Earlier this month, I played in a local bag tag league. The kind that I’ve been playing in since around 2010, when I started playing both disc golf and ultimate in high school. I’m an above average player, though I often joke that I should be a lot better based on how much I play.

Through high school, college, and beyond, the disc golf community looked and sounded like me. I’m a straight white male that was born just outside of a major city. I like collecting discs I’ll throw once and then never again, I love watching sports on TV, and I have just enough disposable income to play disc golf but probably not ball golf.

So then why, after 12 years, am I now taking a step away not from disc golf but the disc golf community?

Every tournament or league round goes about the same. Introductions, first tee shots. “How long have you been playing?” Second tee shots. “Oh you’re from where? Do you know my buddy Steve?” Third tee shots. “What do you do for work?” Fourth tee shots.

My rounds usually start to fall apart after hole 4.

For the last several years, I have worked in politics. While I’ve worked with members of both parties, I mainly help Democratic candidates get elected at a local level. I’ve worked on everything from City Council to the U.S Congress. After I answer that last question, I’m usually met with a remark. Most recently was “I really think this whole COVID-19 thing is just a way for the Democrats to get us dependent on the government so they can control us.” I used to push back, but lately I’ve been resigned to an “Ok, sure.” This guy isn’t an undecided voter.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. I’ve played tournaments across the Southeast and, because of my work, these conversations are becoming a weekly occurrence. I had a man last month refer to me and my cardmate as a “bunch of faggots,” and I had another cardmate claim that a man I know well that recently died from COVID-19 “had underlying conditions that we probably didn’t know about.”

The line was pushed when a cardmate made this comment, referencing the shooting that occurred in Kenosha, Wisconsin:

“If you’re one of those dudes throwing bricks through a window, you’ve got to know that when you see a kid with an AR-15, and a 30 round clip, that he’s taking you and 30 of your homies with you.”

That line stunned me. I was approaching the tee pad on the 13th hole and froze in place. Do I push back on this? What is my responsibility here? I was raised on the idea that if we can’t disagree and continue to have honest and frank discussions about difficult things then there’s no hope for us as a species. But I didn’t just disagree with this guy, he was vindicating who I and everybody else with a pair of eyeballs saw as a murderer. Not a vigilante, not a patriot: a murderer.

I should briefly note that I usually lie about my work. I say I work for the “Department of Education” or something similar. It’s me utilizing my immense privilege by attempting to run away from the part of my identity I think this person will be uncomfortable with. I just came to have a good round and be outside.

Like everything in America right now, these issues have invaded every aspect of our lives. They’re on our phones 24 hours a day and for some of us, like me, they’re a part of our incomes and our livelihoods. These differences between us are becoming more stark and less understandable. We just can’t bring ourselves to imagine what would have led to another person feeling that way.

And to refer back to my original question on the difference between ideological and moral values, that line has been blurred for all of us. The topic of healthcare isn’t about policy; it’s about someone who is about to die because their prescriptions cost a month’s worth of rent. Tax policy isn’t about numbers in a spreadsheet; it’s about our collective response to income inequality that rivals the French Revolution. The stakes of the game have been raised: we don’t think our partisanship — we feel it. And those of us who work in the political field use these newfound developments to raise money, garner attention, and capture votes. The lack of trust in our news and our leaders will only get worse as we continue to demonize and divide amongst ourselves. Disc golf is not an exception to these new laws of nature; it is very much a part of the political landscape we all inhabit and contribute to.

The NBA, WNBA, MLB, NHL, and every other major sport has, in their own way, drawn a line in the sand. They have said these are no longer topics for debate. They are lives and values that reveal a fundamental difference between two Americas. What is disc golf’s version of this? What do we do with a community that is failing to broadly appeal to anyone besides white men?

What would you have me say to these guys? In my political work and my disc golf work, I feel like I’ve been naive. Naive to think that I can change a system from the inside. That if I continued to work and became a respected member of either community I could then, finally, shout back down to the people below me and say, no, this isn’t right. But in either case, a growing following means an acceptance of the systems that you’re just patiently waiting to criticize. In other words, “once I get all of these people to accept the fake version of myself, I can convince them that the real version should have been accepted all along.”

I knew as a young disc golfer that the community was toxic for basically anyone who isn’t a cisgendered straight white male. I was implicit in that community because that toxicity never reached me. But what does it say about the community we all love that someone neatly fitted into their target demographic with a disc collection of well over 150 discs is just not going to play with strangers anymore.

I’m hit with an immense sadness writing this. I have played disc golf for 12 years. It is as much a part of my identity as my work. I get the same family jokes every year at the holidays as they question whether it’s the one with or without the dogs. But in all of that time, I can’t think of a single relationship in my life that’s been grown because of disc golf. Every one of my go-to round buddies are former ultimate players. If not, they’re people I turned onto the sport through sheer force of will. But imagine spending 12 years doing anything and not having friends from the hobby. It boggles my mind.

There was a brief period earlier this year where I thought I may be on track for a local sponsorship in maybe a year or two. I shot my first 1000+ rated round and thought if I could just put a few more of them together I would be right there for some smaller manufacturers. I also thought I had been in these communities long enough where they knew me. I could have interactions with folks at local leagues and get a local following going.

But do I really want to ask for the support of this community? Do I really want to give my support to this community? The answer to both questions is no. So I’ll be out there on a Tuesday morning sometime when elections are over, just throwing by myself.

Ultiworld Disc Golf is committed to publishing a wide-range of opinion essays. You can submit an essay for consideration here.

  1. Preston Thompson
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    Preston Thompson has been a writer for Ultiworld Disc Golf since 2016. He is a graduate of the University of Alabama, and has been playing disc golf for seven years. You can reach him by e-mail (preston.james.thompson@gmail.com) or follow him on Twitter (@pston3).

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