Women in sports experience plenty of objectification and sexism, and disc golf is no exception. Just as Basketball Queensland has their #WomenWillWin campaign and the Time’s Up movement teamed up with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team, the #respectHERgame movement sprouted from unequal treatment of women in the sport.
Personally, I’ve never felt intimidated or harassed by any men on the course–in fact, they’ve all been very encouraging and helpful–but I know it happens.
2015 PDGA Rookie of the Year Sara Sinclair, one of the founding members of the #respectHERgame movement, shared the need for this development.
“Since the advent of disc golf media, mostly videos, women have been harassed, bullied, objectified and sexualized online,” Sinclair said. “I know from experience and from hearing countless stories from other women that this is also an issue at disc golf courses, during tournaments, at leagues, etc.”
Following a dispute between amateur disc golfer Sara Krieg and a prominent disc golf media company regarding its inaction against sexist comments on one of its videos, 2014 World Champion Catrina Allen approached Sinclair and 2018 Pro Tour Champion Sara Hokom to start this movement. Team MVP member Jessica Okleskie and 2011 FPO Oregon Disc Golf Champion Emma Rose Hanley also joined the cause.
“As touring professionals and world champions, Catrina and Sarah bring name recognition and validation to this movement,” Sinclair said. “Emma and Jessica are professional players as well but do not tour full time. Emma has a special talent for creative writing and . . . [Jessica] brings a very caring and empathic perspective to the table as well. Each member of this group brings something unique to the table, and without them, this movement wouldn’t have come to fruition. “
On October 6, 2020 the movement launched on Instagram and Facebook with an outpouring of photos and videos with #respectHERgame.
Since then, its website, respecthergame.org, has been published, stating the issues it wishes to combat, its mission, and its vision.
Sexism: prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.
Objectification: The action of degrading someone to the status of a mere object.
Sexual harassment: Behavior characterized by the making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace or other professional or social situation.
Bullying: The use of force, coercion, or threat, to abuse, aggressively dominate or intimidate.
PDGA 2019 Amateur Disc Golf World Champion Laura Nagtegaal is no stranger to these issues. Nagtegaal came out as transgender to the disc golf community in May 2017, but her greatest struggles came after winning her title in 2019. She has experienced tranny chasing, cyberbullying, and harassment.
“I expected some trolls and keyboard warriors to show up,” Nagtegaal shared on her blog. “Some. Maybe even a few more. And, oh, was I wrong. So wrong. I did not expect . . . relentless bullying, online abuse and harassment, thousands of intentionally hurtful and hateful comments and reactions aimed at me, and all the other transgender people by association.”
Although she thought she could rise above the hate, Nagtegaal’s confidence took a hit as the comments just kept pouring in.
“I had started sliding down, and my game confidence and self image along with it,” Nagtegaal said. “Or actually, I should say nosedive from a plane without a parachute straight towards the deepest of lows. Not because I had lost my skills. No. I had been broken, my spirit had been broken. . . . my soul was being crushed by the weight of this.”
It got so bad that Nagtegaal had suicidal thoughts.
“The darkest of dark thoughts ‘maybe it would be better if I simply stopped existing,’ had started dancing around and inside of me like an evil spirit doing a ritual dance,” Nagtegaal shared. “That scared me. A lot.”
These are the exact feelings that the movement wants to eliminate. Through its mission to bring awareness, educate, empower, and advocate, #respectHERgame hopes to create a more welcoming environment.
As a player, whether you are male or female, you can help foster this environment in your everyday actions online and on the course. You can welcome women to the course with open arms, stand up to those that have sexist comments, and avoid ending compliments with the disclaimer, for a girl.
“On a personal level, I hope #respectHERgame can help bring more women into the sport,” Sinclair said. “I believe it not only takes grassroots efforts but also ensuring that the community is safe, warm and welcoming. Spreading awareness of the issues we are combating with the #respectHERgame movement will hopefully create a community more women are eager to enter into. “