Equal Pay for Equal Play! BJJ Edition

I say to all tournament organizers with cash prizes, put your money where your mouth is. If you respect us, women, as competitors then prove it and provide cash prizes for both the male and female divisions. Please and thank you.

I’m not one of those people who just searches for things to rant online about HOWEVER I’ve been sitting on this for about a month now and I think it’s about time it was addressed.

On June 15, 2013 I competed at the Bluegrass Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Open (BBJJO) in Louisville, KY. It was a round robin style tourney so all weight classes were made the morning of and comprised of the bottom 5 people, then so on and so forth. The blue belt men’s division for example had dozens of competitors show up.  From those divisions the winner would then be entered into a winners absolute and win 100, 200, 300, 400, or 500$ varying by belt rank. You faced each person in your division and then you received points based off a win by submission or points .  After the weight category finished the table workers tallied the points and determined the 1st,2nd, and 3rd place finishers.  From that pool of winners they could then enter in the absolute and be eligible for a cash prize.

I’ve been aroused by cash prizes before only to find out that they were only limited to male counterparts.  Before I got in the car for the 2hr drive I wanted to be sure so I sent a message to BBJJO organizers and this was their response:

bbjjo absolute

I saw the facebook message and I thought cool they respect us, finally, cash prizes for female absolutes.   I even sent out messages to other women to promote the event because I just couldn’t believe it.  Boy oh boy was I in for a surprise when I got there. In retrospect I’m not sure how I interpreted the message the way I did.  After a lengthy discussion with the organizer I understand fully that they were saying we don’t have 2 absolutes but either haste or excitement led me to first interpret it as saying that regardless of rank, gender, age, or weight, they respect all competitors.  So I went anyways and was personally delivered the news after I received my medal and stepped off the podium.

Technically, and this is a BIG technically, they did not say that females were ineligible for a cash prize.  We just weren’t privy to our own absolute and to earn any monetary winning would require we enter into the men’s or I’m sorry, the GENERAL absolute.

It was explained to me that in order to get the prize I would have to wait for the remaining men’s blue belt brackets to end and then be entered against their prospective weight class winners and there were some big fellas. Now I’m not here to poop on their tournament.  It was very organized and I enjoyed the formatting of their brackets. But I do not support them not having two absolutes.

At first I thought there was a mistake, then I thought they were just cheap, now I’m not really sure what to think.  I tried to  respectfully explain my point to the organizer, but I’m sure at the time I came off a bit brash despite my constant apologies.  Before and after our discussion I made an attempt to entertain the idea that maybe I was wrong and being irrational. I consulted my coaches, teammates, and finally the other women in my division. When I asked the other women in my division if they would enter the absolute div. if they could  they all answered a resounding “No.”  They too were surprised that there weren’t two absolutes.

I understand that by advocating for cash prizes for female competitors I am in turn inviting accusations that I think women are inferior or that the only fair way is to combine both genders.  I know that getting hurt at the BBJJO and being out for X-amount of months was not worth it.  Obviously I don’t train at a female only gym.  There are exceptional advantages to TRAINING with people of various weights, ages, heights, strengths, and genders.  I always enter the female absolutes at local, regional, and international tournaments.  I’ve competed against women that weighed 30-40+lbs heavier than I.  I also understand that I can get “hurt” at any level tournament against both men and women. But entering into a male absolute is playing with some major fire, lets not act coy.  The only time that I will entertain the idea of entering in the male divisions is when there are no other female competitors, I’ve travelled a considerable distance to compete, and it’s my only option.

I’m not saying that competing against men is a death trap.  It’s just really risky in cases like this where I could be facing a man of enormous size and strength.  Entering into the men’s division within my own weight class would be a rough ride but  me vs. 200lb+ guy, Pssh- I’m not going to even get into that car.  There are several examples where technique has prevailed and the victor in a male/female match was a woman.  The Hilary Williams pic and the popular combatives/no gi/ douche bag slam is also a popular video.

There are several male competitors that I have better technique than and in turn there are also several competitors that have better technique than I.  If I were attacked on the street I have no doubt that I could defend myself and get away from the situation. Would I choose a random man on the street and engage him to prove a point? Hell no.

I did my part, I trained hard, and won all of my matches.  I just don’t think it’s fair that I have to then enter in the men’s absolute just to be eligible for a cash prize. I think it’s awesome when any tournaments offer cash prizes but I feel that if you’re going to offer a prize for the men’s divisions then it’s only fair to offer the same to the women.

I detest all arguments that cite men’s matches are harder than women.  I’m not even going to entertain that one with a response.  I also don’t believe that using the # of female blue belts in attendance to justify the validity of the setup either. For example if there are 4 female blue belts then there’s a problem but if there are only 4 black belts no one says anything.  After they’re done do you tell them that they only get a percentage of cash prize because more people didn’t show up? I don’t believe it would go down that way. If organizers did insist only on offering prizes to larger division then they should mimic UAEJJ’s move and announce it in advance alongside registration info.

The UAEJJ  only awards cash prizes to divisions with at least 4 competitors.  ALSO their prizes for female and male competitors and the upcoming New York & Cali trials are *drumroll* separate but equal.  Thank you UAEJJ.   I’m hoping this means that their main events will be equal as well because the previous main event did not have equal cash prizes.  I guess we soon shall see.



Sports Thoughts (Not BJJ) on Men & Women Competing in same division:

  • In response to entering the men’s division former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic (TENNIS) laughed and said, “No — I never thought about that because I have a coach who was No. 13 in the world, Andrei Pavel, and I play some points against him sometimes and he always beats me,” Jankovic said. “I’ve even lost to some young juniors, 17-, 18-year-olds, in practice matches. We have our own tournaments and I’m not good enough to be on the men’s tour. I don’t even know why I’m talking about it.”
  • Their skill is amazing, they’re just as skilled mentally out there, but it’s just a different game.” -James Blake (TENNIS)
  • “Personally I find the idea that keeping us separate is denying those women who are capable of competing against men with the same rules and the same distances.  For me it’s patronizing that women are treated differently as if the only way a man can be competed against is by making things easier for women.” – Vicky Chatwin.  She went on to say that men did have an advantage in instances where brute strength were involved.
  • “We have argued that it (gender categories in sport) should be abolished.  Women and men should compete against one another on equal terms on sports arenas.  The reasons for giving up sexual discrimination within sports, and for allowing individuals of both sexes to compete with each other is simple.  In sports it is crucial that the best person wins.  The sexual differences are simply irrelevant.  If a female athlete can perform better than a male athlete, this female athlete should be allowed to compete with, and beat, the male athlete.  If she cannot beat a certain male athlete, so be it.  If the competition was fair, she should be able to face the fact that he was more talented.  It is really as simple as that.  Sexual discrimination within sports does not have any better rationale than sexual discrimination in any other fields of our lives”. – Tamburrin and Tannsjo, Genetic technology and sport
  • “It’s not a question of “average”, but rather that the best female is more than 10% behind the best male – 12 minutes in a marathon (and 20 for most of the top women at the moment), more than 1 second in a 100m race, more than 1 meter in the long jump.  These are massive differences…The reality is that separation of male and female categories, while termed “sexual discrimination” by these ethicists, is actually fundamental to equality of sport.  To apply this to the case of Caster Semenya, what it means is that our categorization of males and females, as flawed and suspect as it may be, demands that the line be defended.  Or removed altogether, and then above is the situation.  But to commit only halfway and permit participation when the gender line is blurred (and seriously, how often does this happen?) is neither here nor there, and damaging for the sport, and the other female athletes in the event. Physiologically, there is simply too much to overcome.  And I don’t believe that’s a bad thing.”- Ross Tucker

Sports Thoughts on Equal Pay/Prize money for female competitors:

  • “I think when you’ve got men and women playing at the same tournament, it is ludicrous to have a difference in pay,” said John McEnroe interview with the Daily Telegraph.  He went on to say, “It would be setting an example to the rest of society in general to have equal prize money.” McEnroe also said, “He said, “There’s probably no other sport, and very few professions in this world, where a woman can earn as much as a man.”
  • “We believe our decision to offer equal prize money provides a boost for the game as a whole and recognizes the enormous contribution that women players make to the game,” said Tim Phillips, chairman of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. (TENNIS)
  • When the Cycling Worlds decided to have equal prizes for men and female competitors effective January 2013 the International Cycling Union stated, “No distinction should be made between the achievements of men and women.”

Your (BJJ) Thoughts:

note: I sent a questionnaire to several people male and female and I wish I had more male responses please feel free to comment whatever your position.

  • Georgette Oden-  “I think cash prizes for both male and female is logical. Combining genders in absolute? NO WAY IN HELL. As a smaller female, you couldn’t pay me enough money to fight a guy of unlimited size who is motivated by money. I think that’s effing retarded, personally.”
  • Nicholle Stoller– “My coach would never let me compete with blue belt guys of any size… I competed with white belt guys once at a tournament – and although I was with the smallest weight class they had, I ended up with a badly sprained neck that put me out of the next three competitions I had planned.” She went on to say, “
  • Keith Steinacher- “If the tournament is so small they only have 2 people in every division, they need to widen the divisions in order to have folks do several matches. With absolute, if you have a small tourney, perhaps an absolute division isn’t the best way to go. However, tourneys that are large enough to support cash prizes for divisions should give cash prizes to each separate absolute division. Equal money isn’t really fair, however if the divisions aren’t the same size. If one division has a 5 round bracket and the other only has 3, the longer bracket should have a larger purse. That said, both divisions should have a purse.”
  • Dagney- “Yes they should have prizes for both men and women.  As for combining men and women in an absolute fight?  Tough call.  Part of me says, “No way!”  The other part of me says, “Yeah, I’ll fight man.”  I have seen many enough tall/larger/wider men and women beaten by smaller opponents, so it’s a gray area for me.  I would not necessarily jump at the chance to fight a man in competition, but I would not say a hard “no,” either.  I mean, I can see myself doing it.   There is a “meme” that floats around of Hillary Williams having her hand raised by a ref, because she had just beaten a man.  The caption reads something like, “Yeah, you are not getting promoted…” or some such nonsense.  It pains me to see this because it’s soooo insulting to Hillary.  She is a world champion.  She has put in as much work as any man on the mat, and yet, this picture shames the man for being beaten by better skill.  I would love to see the day that everyone is confused by that asinine caption.  So, my fears say no I don’t want to fight a man, but my soul says, hell yeah I could fight a man.”
  • Beth T.– “Jiu Jitsu is a wonderful, beautiful, amazing art to co-ed train but if you put the male ego on the line in front of friends, family, and a crowd, against a woman someone will get hurt.  I’ve been sensing recently a little too much hypersensitivity among female BJJ practitioners, genders are different.  It’s not an insult or demeaning description, just fact.  Mixing physical combat competition between male and females seems dangerous and unnecessary.”

**Here’s a great article with some science and stats for you

***and here’s another one

Oh and here’s some of the tourney vids lol I won all 3 matches and didn’t have any points scored against me.  I won 2 matches by points and 1 match by Americana.

4 Responses to “Equal Pay for Equal Play! BJJ Edition”
  1. motherhood says:

    Very Interesting! It isn’t easy to find quality stuff.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Harris had an interesting (aka frustrating) experience she wrote about concerning competing at a  tournament. Apparently the tournament organizers offered cash prizes for the winners of absolute divisions, […]

  2. […] Equal Pay for Equal Play! BJJ Edition | I Wonder As I Wander – Jul 26, 2013 · I say to all tournament organizers with cash prizes, put your money where your mouth is. If you respect us, women, as competitors then prove it and provide …… […]

  3. […] Equal Pay for Equal Play! BJJ Edition | I Wonder As I Wander – Jul 26, 2013 · I say to all tournament organizers with cash prizes, put your money where your mouth is. If you respect us, women, as competitors then prove it and provide …… […]

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