Thus far, my articles have stemmed from events that quickly and clearly demonstrated something useful I felt I could provide, be it information or a certain viewpoint from an informed place. Every morning I read every ultimate-related article on every site I can – Skyd, Ultiworld, Reddit, even heading to RSD once a week or so just to check. I read every comment with keen interest, my patience for snark growing every day.
This way, I try to stay attuned to the pulse of ultimate, to know where viewpoints are coming from. I Gchat more than I should with lots and lots of people (most likely annoying them), getting opinions and viewpoints from all over. This includes friends and players across the country on various teams and at most every level of play.
And I say all of this because right now, I truly don’t have a good sense of what’s going to happen in the coming years.
USAU has made their position clear: they’re moving forward with their long-term strategy, and that does not include partnering with any current pro leagues. They’ve seen enough companies or pro leagues or what-have-you rise and fall in the past, and they will not be budging on their statement. It may be the most clear and direct communication I’ve ever read from them, and they are not ones for take-backsies.
That said, what’s fascinating right now is that individuals are slowly becoming more and more educated about USAU and the mission and vision of the organization because they are questioning it, seeking ways to poke holes in either which could contradict their refusal to partner with the pro leagues. These leagues have forced their way into the conversation through aggressive promotion of the sport (or, at least their version of it, according to USAU), and they have some strong support from players and fans alike.
The divisions between our community are many and confusing. USAU is an organization with clear and transparent mission and values – they make their priorities clear time and time again, even if those priorities frustrate some. Furthermore, and I can attest to this personally, they act on behalf of the best interest of their members according to the feedback they solicit, following the guidelines that they were based upon.
However, USAU cannot offer salaries. They can’t cover costs. They will not partner with any organization they deem to go against their core principles. They are the tortoise, taking the surest route towards their goals while moving slowly enough to be careful not to misstep.
The MLU and AUDL offer salaries. They pay for expenses. However, they also offer things beyond this – recognition. Fame. Notoriety. Self-respect. The respect of others, like parents, girlfriends, peers. This is not to be taken lightly — I could tell, myself, that my parents only really recognized ultimate as “legitimate” in my life when I got second in the world; until then, it was a distraction from my career development. Does USAU offer these things? Sure — just look at me — but it is different. Playing in a stadium in front of a crowd week after week with individuals paid to craft storylines to showcase you and your team — these are draws for many individuals who spend countless hours honing their skills only to have their parents wonder why they’re wasting their time with a non-sport.
Yet the MLU and AUDL are not player-run, nor are they transparent in their mission and values; they are companies. They will make money off of the sport, and they will act to that end. This, too, is not something to be taken lightly; the pro leagues, if successful, will make a lot of money, and it’s not guaranteed to trickle down to anyone but those in power. The monumental changes that could come from such a large change are best left to another post — conjecture is only worth so much.
Finally, there is a final factor that makes me question the future of the sport, and that is the individual economics of choice for any player considering the pro leagues. At present, in my anecdotal chats with numerous elite club players nationwide — all of whom can or could play for a pro team — their considerations for doing so are all on an individual basis; essentially, does this make sense for me, as an individual? Time, money, competition, friends — for these players who could do both, these are the main deciding factors in playing pro or not.
Yet these economics, when taken on an individual level, leave out certain hidden factors that would matter to some. These hidden factors include much of what the USAU core values include, which are essentially “built-in” to what we know as ultimate today. Gender equity, player representation and control (the extent of which USAU is really player-controlled some validly question, but it simply doesn’t exist in pro leagues), a focus on spirit of the game and the culture and community of the sport. These are factors which, in my conversations with players thus far, don’t enter into whether they will play pro or not.
And, that makes sense. Nobody believes that their individual participation in the pro leagues is hurting women, or dismissing spirit, or turning their back on the culture of the ultimate community — rather, they are simply taking advantage of an opportunity that if they didn’t someone else would, and, it looks fun! And their friends are playing, and their parents are proud of them, and you get to wear sweet new jerseys with your name and number on them and get flown places to play a single game as a professional athlete. This stuff is fun.
Now, I’ve been criticized by friends, teammates, and detractors for not putting my own opinions out front, for not taking a stand. Yet I don’t find that appropriate, as my goal is and will continue to be to provide the necessary information to make informed decisions that you believe yourself rather than make you think like me. Right now, it’s necessary to understand that the players determine the fate and direction of the leagues, and that when left to individual choice, it is the responsibility of each individual to truly understand how their actions will help to determine the short and long-term direction of this sport rather than just for themselves.