By Josh Woods, PhD ~
Twitter feuds are the roadside car wrecks of the internet. We all hate to see them, yet can’t look away. Most dust ups quickly deteriorate into blame games where the odds of learning something worthwhile are as likely as throwing an ace on a windy day.
But a recent confrontation on Twitter between Sascha Vogel and Brodie Smith offered a few educational takeaways.
It began December 3, on an otherwise sleepy afternoon in the Twittersphere. Smith, the ultimate player turned disc golfer and co-owner of Foundation Disc Golf, posted a disc giveaway to entice his Twitter followers to join his Foundation Discord, which currently has 10,000 members. For the uninitiated, a Discord server is an online community, similar to a Facebook group.
The mood quickly changed when Vogel reacted to Smith’s Tweet. Like Smith, Vogel cut his Frisbee teeth in ultimate before getting hooked on disc golf. As shown in the screenshot below, Vogel responded to Smith’s invitation by sharing his experience of being banned from the Foundation Discord for saying “Black Lives Matter.”
Most Twitter feuds can be ended with two words: I’m sorry. Had Smith or someone from Foundation simply apologized, I would not be writing this story. “Sorry Mr. Vogel. We would like to reinstate you in the group as we review our policies on this issue.”
Instead of issuing a mea culpa, @RebWillieD, the same administrator who had banned Vogel from the Foundation Discord, refuted his tweet.
Reprisals from Vogel’s followers funneled in and the intensity of the discussion escalated.
Although Smith pivoted from @RebWillieD’s position, he still discounted Vogel’s complaint, suggesting that he had been dismissed not for affirming the value of Black lives but for trolling and for supporting a Black Lives Matter political organization.
Without clear evidence, it’s difficult to parse these accusations. To me, it seems plausible that Vogel had hoped to ruffle some feathers on the Foundation Discord, but the claim that he broke a Foundation rule by pushing politics rather than affirming Black lives seems less credible.
There is an important, real and legal distinction between saying “Black Lives Matter” and advocating for a partisan organization. For instance, per the New York Times, “The Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency headed by a Trump appointee, said that federal employees can use the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ without violating the Hatch Act, which restricts political activity by government employees.”
But then, none of this really matters.
As it turns out, any reference to Black Lives Matter was grounds for being warned and then banned from the Foundation Discord. Both @RebWillieD and a second administrator Yeetimus Maximus clarified this issue when I asked about it on the Foundation Discord back in September as well as during the Twitter discussion on December 3 (see screenshots below).
Members could be banned for making statements that were perceived by administrators as having the potential to cause political debate. The conceptual distinction between affirming Black lives and supporting a Black Lives Matter organization was, in this case, moot.
It should be noted that the decision to block people from the server was not taken lightly, per the admins. Via Twitter messaging, @RebWillieD said, “Banning of members is taken as a last resort after repeated violations of rules or blatant disregard of moderators.”
Silence is Political
Once the conflicting reports were somewhat settled, people started talking about what it means when any disc golf group prohibits the discussion of controversial topics such as racism and sexism. The Foundation Discord is not the only group that censors speech deemed political or incendiary, and Vogel is not the first disc golfer to be silenced for breaking this rule.
After the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis during an arrest last May, the topic of racial injustice increasingly surfaced in disc golf social media. For many disc golfers, these new conversations were not welcome.
For instance, as covered by Parked, on September 14, 2020, Jeremy Koling, pro disc golfer and beloved tournament announcer, appeared on the Jomez YouTube channel wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt while commentating an event. The shirt was only visible for three seconds, but an image of it found its way onto social media. In the next two weeks, thousands of disc golfers commented on multiple related posts.
Among those who condemned Koling’s nod to racial justice, the most common argument was that racial issues are political and should therefore be excluded from mediated spaces where disc golf is the main theme. On the emotional end of the spectrum, one person wrote, “FUCK DISC GOLF FOR GETTING POLITICAL!!!! GET THAT STUPID SHIT OFF THE COURSE!!!!”
Since his interview with Parked, Koling has not made further gestures or statements about racial inequality.
Politics is about power and the various methods people use to control individuals, groups, organizations and governments. By almost any reputable definition, the negative reactions to Koling’s t-shirt were political. Likewise, the act of banning someone from a large, public social media group for saying Black Lives Matter is political.
The silencing of antiracist voices is an all-too common political behavior in American society.
It happened to Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee. It happened to all National Football League players in 2018, when the league announced that everyone on the field must stand when the national anthem is heard. It happened to ESPN host Jemele Hill who was publicly reprimanded and suspended for speaking truth to power. It happened to Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris more than once. It happened to Koling for wearing a BLM t-shirt. It happened to me three times in the course of my sociological research on disc golf. And it happened to Sascha Vogel when he insisted that Black Lives Matter on the Foundation Discord.
As follows, @henhousesinger offered a thoughtful take on the politics of “No politics” and the consequences of silencing people on disc golf social media.
Growing the Sport Should Be Uncomfortable
I sympathize with those who seek low-stress social interactions in their disc golf lives. As someone who studies disturbing topics for a living, I often find sanctuary and relief on the disc golf course.
But, if disc golfers continue seeking comfort and retreatism rather than equity in the sport, the community will not change. Ten more years will pass and we will still be wondering why 93 percent of disc golfers are white and 85 percent are men.
Progress is impossible without change, and change is uncomfortable. Although Twitter feuds are infamous for producing discomfort of little redeeming value, the Vogel/Smith bout did create some progress.
By the end of the discussion, Smith shifted his tone and appeared willing to reinstate Vogel in the Foundation Discord. He also alluded to forthcoming policy changes.
Four days later, the Foundation Discord added a #current-events channel where “talk of politics is allowed as long as discussion remains civil and non-derogatory.” Only time will tell, but it appears that disc golfers can now affirm that Black Lives Matter and advocate for a related organization on the Foundation Discord.
If the disc golf community wants more diversity in its population, we’ll need to consider how diverse groups experience our predominantly white sport, accept discomfort as an inevitable consequence of progress and make changes. Change can be made today by all those moderators and admins on disc golf social media who prohibit discussions of racism, sexism and other difficult topics related to inclusion and diversity.
Creating an inclusive disc golf community won’t be easy. But allowing and listening to voices like Vogel’s is a good place to start. I reached out to Vogel for this story and asked him what it felt like to be banned by the Foundation Discord. I’ll leave you with his thoughts:
“I felt disrespected. Everyone claims that the disc golf community is so inclusive and welcoming to everyone, but that really only applies if you’re a cisgender heterosexual white male. As a Black man, I want to be able to go to the course and feel like I belong and feel like me and my life are respected. So when I get excluded by a community with 10k+ members in it for voicing my opinion, that tells me that mine and the lives of my Black brothers and sisters are not respected and that’s not a community I want to be a part of.” – Sascha Vogel
Please consider following and contributing to the ongoing discussion of racial issues in disc golf by following Parked on Twitter (@ADiscGolfBlog). You can also subscribe to our newsletter by entering your email address below.
Parked is made possible in part by a grant from the Professional Disc Golf Association.
Josh Woods, editor at Parked, is a professor of sociology at West Virginia University. He is working on a book, Emerging Sports as Social Movements: Disc Golf and the Rise of an Unknown Sport, to be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2021.