Colombian Frisbee team players say they were kicked off bus for speaking Spanish

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Steamboat Ultimate athletes explain the game of ultimate Frisbee and the concept of Spirit of the Game, which means that the game is self-refereed.
Madeline Mitchell

CINCINNATI — A handful of Ultimate Frisbee players from Colombia were tossed from their Greyhound bus on their way to a tournament in the Cincinnati area. 

They told an Australian Frisbee player staying with them at the Cincinnati Marriott in Mason, Ohio, that they were thrown off the bus for speaking Spanish. Greyhound officials said they were tossed for being unruly, though the company did not offer any specifics.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy against unruly or disruptive behavior onboard,” Greyhound spokeswoman Lanesha Gipson said in a statement. “If customers exhibit this type of behavior, even after being warned, the driver will pull the bus over in a safe location and remove the customers from the bus.”

Mish Phillips, the Australian athlete who met the players after the Wednesday night incident, said the players told her that they were left stranded on the side of the highway and police, who transported them to the hotel, had to rescue them.

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Phillips described the incident in a Facebook post Thursday afternoon. The link has been shared more than 500 times on Facebook in 16 hours.

In the post, Phillips, who also is coach of the Australian U24s Women’s Ultimate Frisbee Team, explains that the Comunidad el Oso Ultimate Club was en route from Columbus, Ohio, when the driver stopped the bus and forced team members off with their luggage.

Greyhound officials said that they are continuing to investigate the matter but insisted that the players’ speaking Spanish was not a contributing factor.

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“Upon our investigation, we determined that this was not an act of discrimination,” Gipson said. “In fact, English is not the driver’s first language, either.”

The Greyhound bus exited the freeway and dropped the players off at a Shell gas station, she said, saying the athletes spoke English and were communicating with the bus driver in English. 

“Upon our investigation, we determined that this was not an act of discrimination. In fact, English is not the driver’s first language either.”

Lanesha Gipson, Greyhound

The team was headed to the World Flying Disc Federation 2018 World Ultimate Club Championships being held Saturday through July 21 in Mason and Lebanon, north of Cincinnati. 

Ultimate involves teams of seven players throwing a Frisbee down the field and trying to score by catching it in the end zone. 

Robert Rauch, president of the World Flying Disc Federation, said he was disturbed by the account.

“While we are still trying to get the full facts, we are disappointed to hear that the team from Colombia may have been asked to leave the Greyhound bus merely because they were speaking to each other in their native language,” Rauch said. “Our world championship event will bring together athletes from 36 countries and it is sad to me as an American if our country, a country of immigrants, is not willing to welcome our visitors with open arms.”

The club itself put out its own message Friday morning in Spanish on its Facebook page. A translation:

Two members of the Comunidad el Oso team traveled by bus from Columbus to Cincinnati. At the start of the journey the driver went to passengers offering information for a safe trip. Language barriers prevented total comprehension of information, which subsequently generated the misunderstanding about the point where the bus would make the next stop.

Not to think about this as a conflict would be to nurture segregation, discrimination and racism.

People should put themselves in each other’s shoes, reads the English translation of the post for Comunidad el Oso. The professional team, called the Bears, has traveled from Bogotá, Colombia, for the tournament.

“The athletes involved have been contacted by Greyhound Bus and are satisfied that they are being listened to and that the problem will be resolved,” Phillips posted in an update.

This accusation of racial and ethic profiling has followed a string of high-profile instances: 

• In Chicago, a white man who harassed a woman wearing a Puerto Rican flag T-shirt is now facing hate crime charges after the June 14 incident. A police officer who stood by while the woman was being harassed resigned Wednesday.

• Near Hyrum, Utah, a Weber County employee insulted a Hispanic family and ordered them to move their trailer from a camping spot at Blacksmith Fork Canyon that he said he had reserved for himself. The man, who later was fired from his job as a mechanic, took $40 from the family when they were unable to move their truck because of mechanical problems. The case against him and four others was referred June 20 to the Cache County attorney for possible criminal charges, according to Gephardt Daily in South Jordan, Utah; on June 4, Dave “Heavy D” Sparks of Discovery Channel’s Diesel Brothers fixed the truck’s broken gear box for free and gave the family a loaner while he made some other modifications, the (Pocatello) Idaho State Journal reported.

• In Havre, Montana, near the Canadian border, a Border Patrol agent detained two women, both U.S. citizens, when he overheard them speaking Spanish on May 16 at a gas station. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said referred the case to the agency’s disciplinary arm for review.

• In New York City, a man later identified as a lawyer threatened to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents when he heard staff May 15 at a lunch spot speaking Spanish to each other as he waited in line to pay for his food. Aaron Schlossberg apologized a week later but not before at least two politicians filed a complaint letter with the state court disciplinary system; as of Friday, the case had not been resolved.

• In San Diego, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons because of the grocery chain’s policy in Southern California stores of forbidding workers from speaking Spanish around non-Spanish speakers, The San Diego Union Tribune reported.

Other cases have involved police being called on African Americans who were not breaking the law.

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Instead, they were waiting for friends in a coffee shop, swimming at neighborhood or apartment complex pools or campaigning door to door before primary elections.

The Comunidad el Oso Ultimate Club posted on Facebook Wednesday before getting on the bus with photos saying “Day 1 of #wucc2018 prep is complete!#RoadToCincinnati #EspírituDeOsO#UltimateFrisbee #Deporte”

Follow Randy Tucker on Twitter: @rstucker612

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