What. A. Week.
After feeling united in our support and condolences for the utterly devastating loss of three CUT players, the ultimate community was quickly divided by last week’s #CleatsandCufflinks episode from MLU leaders Jeff Snader and Nic Darling.
Covered extensively by Ultiworld here, here, here, and here, as well as discussed extensively all over the interwebs, I write this piece not as a means to sway opinion, but to provide some relevant background information. As GI Joe says, knowing is half the battle.
— Jeffrey Snader (@JeffSnader) March 6, 2014
This tweet is very, very important. Why? Because it highlights and underscores a few key aspects regarding the discussion surrounding 1) USA Ultimate’s performance, 2) Snader’s — and, really, most of the ultimate community’s — understanding of the effects of US Olympic recognition, 3) the reasoning behind Tom Crawford’s hiring, and even 4) the ref vs. observer and gender equity debates.
Let me explain.
First, Snader is absolutely correct in questioning the seeking of US Olympic recognition. Why spend resources now chasing something that we don’t even expect to pan out for 30-40 years?! What are we missing, USAU?
Well, this is a wonderful example of the ultimate community’s overall lack of understanding of USAU’s activites, and is actually the platform* upon which I ran for my current position as club council men’s rep. Is this USAU’s fault? I believe, in part, that it is. They would contend that this information is nothing new — that all of it has been readily available to the public — and they’d be correct. Yet it is in their best interest to make sure that information is not only available, but that it is actually received, listened to, and understood. They’re failing in this aspect of communication.
So, I will try to explain some the things I’ve come to understand. To paraphrase for brevity, the US Olympic Committee serves as the US Government’s sports department, essentially serving to oversee US sport in general. So the sports that are “recognized” by the USOC are then added to the menu of sports most likely to be added to the curriculums of public schools, YMCAs, and the like. Thus, USAU is trying to get ultimate added to that menu.
It is my understanding that if they succeed, their efforts will pay dividends far beyond the results that spending that same money or effort on individual schools or lessons or programs ever could — hence their strategy.
Taken a step further, they hired Tom Crawford. Tom has very substantial USOC connections because he spent a decade working there. He knows the right people, understands how the process works, and is married to someone directly in the fold. For those of us who don’t understand USAU’s long-term strategy, I can certainly understand questioning this hiring.
USAU has made it clear to me that the International Olympic Committee as well as the USOC are very interested in our sport in large part due to its self-officiation — they find great worth in this achieving what they see as the Olympic ideal of what sport should be, and they find it quite compelling, as well as marketable.
For this reason, the addition of refs goes directly against USAU’s growth strategy of Olympic recognition, and serves to provide at least some explanation for the whole MLU jersey sponsorship business.
The IOC and USOC have also found ultimate’s gender equity, which is written into the USAU bylaws, to be very attractive. This is a sticky issue when it comes to the current pro leagues’ men-only tendency. Sure, they are “open,” allowing women to try out or be sponsored, but the IOC and USOC see only men on the field. It is not the same, and goes against the USAU’s direction.
Finally, all of this serves simply to inform rather than push either agenda. My personal opinion is that Jeff Snader is doing his best to advance his vision of the sport, and it would do the sport a disservice to utterly write him off for what appears to me to be a PR blunder in the short-term. Jeff sees a different route to success, referencing lacrosse’s lack of Olympic recognition yet success in development as a different path to growth. Sadly, if ultimate follows this path, we have a long way to go as well — while US Lacrosse as an entity was born in 1998, it was in the Olympics in the early 1900’s, and it’s been an NCAA sport for over 40 years. Hopefully we aren’t on the same curve. and I know Jeff hopes for the same.
On the flip side, USAU is attempting to further its own vision of the sport, although this is disingenuous — “their” vision is one derived from representatives elected by its general membership, crafted through many many meetings and surveys that solicited input from thousands. It is better described as “our” vision, for those of us who are its members. What is striking is that USAU is a member organization, yet many consistently argue that it isn’t representing them well. That its members barely participate in its process is a whole ‘nother post, and one certainly worthy of discussion in the future.
We’re in the middle of a wild situation. The best course of action at this point is to be as informed as possible and to make further progress with a rich understanding of what is at stake, who is at the table, and how they hope to move our sport forward.
I hope I have helped in that regard.
* “As I see it, the fundamental problem right now is the antagonistic relationship between USAU and us, its elite players, the basis of which is poor communication. Although lacking good communication, I believe USAU acts with good intentions, and that the critical aspect to improving elite players’ satisfaction is improving the communication and relationship with key individuals in USAU. A good relationship, in which USAU demonstrates its willingness to not only listen to its elite players but to share information early and often, is possible, and it is something I’d be interested in helping to create.” – Tyler Kinley, on running for Club Council rep