A Leading Question: Joey Gray and the Lessons of Sport

Jul 30, 2013

Editor's note: KPLU has asked all nine candidates in the Seattle mayoral race to tell us about a time when his or her leadership skills were put to the test. One candidate's answer follows.  

Joey Gray doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as the ultimate Frisbee candidate. But she honed a lot of her leadership skills throwing a disc, and later leading the sport nationally as executive director of USA Ultimate.

For example, right after 9/11, a lot of pro sports canceled games. Gray decided that yes, they were going to play. She even hopped in her car and drove from Colorado to New York to be there for their match.

"What’s a better expression of freedom than playing a game of Frisbee with friends?" she said. 

Putting Aside Self-Interest

Gray says she’s taken a principle from ultimate to heart. There aren’t any referees in the game – the two sides have to decide together how to resolve infractions. She says if she were elected, she’d apply that skill of putting aside her own self-interest.

"You have to put yourself behind the object of the game, which is to have a well-played game together with the other team, instead of trying to win at all costs," Gray said.

It’s one thing to sort things out on an ultimate field, and another to lead city hall. But Gray says she’s got the chops.

`Translate Issues'

She’s a database consultant used to organizing lots of information, and she says studying in Germany and Switzerland helped her learn how to get along with lots of different people.

"We need somebody in there who’s got great executive experience, someone who can go in and out of different communities and translate issues in a friendly and productive and effective way, and I can do that. I’ve done that my whole life," she said. 

More Women in Politics

But Gray says her main motivation for running is to get more women into politics.

"This has been a lifelong project for me to integrate equality institutionally, not just one-off commissions or one-off initiatives but to deeply embed equality into our institutions," Gray said. 

She says she knows it’s possible after working in a sport in which men and women play together even at the highest levels.