Trying to sell Ultimate as a mainstream sport through Spirit of the Game is like selling the WNBA by saying they have great fundamentals. Do you want to watch great fundamentals? No. You want to watch to watch explosive play-making with non core fundamental passing, alley-oop, and smothering, aggressive defense (shout-out to Candice Parker). I reassure you this is not a knock on women’s sports, instead its a look at what makes a sport marketable and, well, what does not.
I have been playing Ultimate for roughly 7 years. I have played against some of the best players in the country and have witnessed athletic displays that match any football or basketball play. Ultimate can be incredibly fast paced, with amazing plays happening left and right, most of which are eye candy in the making. What does Spirit of the Game have to do with that? Nothing. Every Ultimate player knows of the clip from Worlds where Andrew Fleming makes the ridiculous layout grab after showing closing speed reserved for elite sprinters. You know what he does after he gets up from the ground? Spikes the s#$@ out of the disc. The crowd, yes there was an actual crowd for that game, goes wild. Also, unlike this recent College Championships, he does not get a TMF for the spike either. I want to watch that over and over again, and lord knows I have. You know what is not mentioned by the ESPN reported during that clip? Spirit of the Game.
This is where I have to say that my thoughts in this article do not reflect those of the USAU, Skyd Magazine or the Observer Program. I think Spirit was a great idea. Emphasis on was. When a sport is created by hippies you get what you expect. I am not saying the skill level of the game, or talent of the players was any less because of their passion for Spirit, I am simply saying it is time to move on. Sportsmanship should be the new Spirit. Not cheating and respecting your opponents really should not warrant its own uniquely Ultimate catch phrase.
Spirit in Pro-Sports
Let’s take a look at the NBA. The Finals are taking place right now between Miami Heat, the most hated team in the sport (think CUT, Florida or Wisconsin) against the fan favorite Dallas Mavericks. I think it safe to say that Spirit of the Game was never really a factor for the NBA, at least not in the modern era. Could you imagine players calling travels? It is also relatively safe to say that the majority of what makes up sportsmanship has left that arena as well. The only recent display of true sportsmanship I can think of was Dwayne Wade giving Taj Gibson some high praise after Taj dunked over/through Wade. You have to respect an opponent that can make one of the best look like a high schooler. The sport seems to be doing just fine though. Why? Because it is fun to watch. As much as I hate LeBron James (I am a Bulls fan), I simply can not stop watching him throw down monstrous dunk after dunk and hitting 3pt shots that no mere mortal should be able to hit. In the closing minutes of game 5 against the Bulls, he hit two 3pt shots that should not have been possible. If he was playing with good fundamentals he would not even consider taking them. He did though, and put a dagger through the Bulls chances of winning. I have had to watch the replay of that more times than I would like. Athleticism and explosiveness make the NBA marketable.
Now let us take a look at the MLB. I hate baseball. It is boring. Honestly, I do not get how it still popular. It could be that I am a very jaded Cubs fan who has given up all hope of ever seeing a World Series come to Chicago for the non South-side team. It does provide an excellent excuse to skip work and day-drink though. It sure has that in its favor.
Oh NFL, will we even get to have you this year? Remember the days when players used to wrap up a receiver to tackle them? Those were some good fundamentals. How about when a player just ran into the end zone with the ball and didn’t hold it out to rub it in his opponents face? Those were the days, the boring old days. Now we have helmet to helmet, concussion causing, spine shattering, season ending, media hating, fan loving hits on defenseless receivers that, as horrific as they are, no one can seem to stop watching. Okay, maybe I am having a little too much fun here. Why is the NFL really marketable? It is fun to watch. People fly through the air and somehow still manage to toe the end zone line for the score (I can swear that happens in our sport) and their are 40-70 yard pin point accurate throws from talented QB’s (handlers?). How about those amazing defense stops from corner backs and safeties as they fling themselves through the air to stop their man from catching the disc, I mean ball. If only players went both ways…A sport like that would be fun to watch.
Back to Fundamentals
Sure, we all know that the Observing system is fundamentally changing the speed of which the game moves at the highest level and that is a huge step in the right direction. If Observers aren’t needed, even better. The Wisconsin vs. Colorado semifinal game at College Championships was one of the best games of Ultimate I have seen in a long time. I think there was only 1 TMF for an overly aggressive mark, 5 for spikes, and it was a clean game throughout. You know what I do not recall hearing our new favorite CBS announcer Brent talk about. Spirit of the Game. He was too busy being amazed by Colin Camp and Hylke Snyder for catching just about every goal either team scored in the game.
Enough touting of Spirit of the Game as the fundamental aspect of our sport. You can be the most spirited player, or just a normal player and odds are there will not be much of a difference in the style in which you play. When someone says Ultimate, I want them to think of Andrew Flemming flying through the air, making a play that is reserved only for the most athletic of people. I want the average non Ultimate player to think of the amazing lay out under D Ben Feldman had against Colorado. I want them to think about CUT being able to get the disc 40 yards upwind on a single throw against a 50mph wind. I do not want their first thought to be about Spirit of the Game.
Writer’s Note: Spirit of the Game and a fast paced marketable game are not mutually exclusive. This is simply an idea of how putting a different emphasis on the sport could alter the non playing public’s perception of it.