Rumor had it that the members of Sub Zero would play in tights during 2014 Nationals.
For some, the gossip stunk of bad intel. After all, tights have a bit of a double standard.
On women, tights are a second skin that appealingly encapsulates curves and elongates lines, a wearable airbrushing tool that smoothes away bulges, cellulite, and scars. On men, while similarly molding to legs, it also firmly cups the bollocks and the phallus in a socially unconventional manner; the flesh is encased in a glossy, occasionally dangerously transparent sheen and it is imperative that gazes avert, yet despite every attempt, the eyes draw transfixedly back to the lumpy sack.
Better to don looser materials to avoid exposing the outline of body parts we all know are there.
But social norms have never been for the innovative. Sub Zero strutted onto the Nationals playing field, sporting their usual, thickly grown mustaches. To complete their look, they were clothed in a prison-esque top of thinly striped teal and black, and black tights.
And they looked… not bad. When doing commentary for NexGen Network, Kyle Weisbrod cleverly noted that Sub Zero looked like a band of pirates. The tights appeared to be strikingly similar to the football tights used in the NFL.
The story of how Sub Zero’s Nationals’ jersey featured tights, especially considering the team had conventional shorts earlier in the season, is terrifically amusing. But perhaps there is more to the garb than a funny story – some truly believe that Sub Zero may have paved the way for tights as the future of ultimate.
How the tights came to be
Unbeknownst to all involved at the time, the catalyst for the decision would begin during day three of Hawaii’s Kaimana Klassik in February 2014.
Before the final, there was a brief squabble between the two competing men’s teams. KUT, a team comprised of Carleton graduates, was determined to play the round as quickly as possible so they could fully enjoy the sun, sand, and drinks of Hawaii. Colony, a fun-crushing team from Australia, halted their merrymaking right in its tracks, demanding KUT conform to the tournament schedule.
KUT members unwillingly returned to the final hours later, where Colony was warming up in their matching uniforms, serious as ever. This sight convinced KUT this tournament was Colony’s practice for the World Championships in August. KUT was not as determined to take home the gold as Colony; what they were determined to do was make sure that they enjoyed themselves for the full duration of the game.
And so, as an ultimate antithesis, KUT striped off their mud-laden bottoms to dart around the field in their spandex.
For most, the no-pants pact would halt here. This was not the case for Sub Zero captain Grant Lindsley.
The tights were new, but their spirit was not
It is important to note that Sub Zero has a rich history of being punked by their jersey designers.
The negative dash before each player number? According to Charlie Reznikoff, the self-proclaimed Team Mom and D-line coach, that originated as a prank, courtesy of Josh “Kaiser” Wilhelm in 2004. “There was a very mixed reaction on the team because…we were sort of uncertain at first?” Reznikoff remembered. Furthermore, UPA rules explicitly stated that all jersey numbers must be natural numbers, forcing their captain to call the national club director and explain that their jerseys were not negative.
“[He said] these [dashes] were a design element of the jersey,” Reznikoff said. “So technically speaking, we don’t wear negative numbers. We wear positive numbers with a horizontal line as a design element in the jersey.”
In following years, Jeremey Allred would change the number font to the atrociously unreadable “Frosty Font,” Andrew Brown would place a ugly-orange (that’s not the official color name, but it should be) nose on the Frosty Snowman, and in 2013, their white jerseys featured a snowman…with a mustache.
“Pretty much every year for Sub Zero, something – something is going to happen with the jerseys,” said Reznikoff.
Continuing Sub Zero’s tradition
Sub-Zero co-captain Tom Murray explained that playing games in tights was not an entirely foreign idea to the team. There were a few members on the squad who would start stripping during huddles. Afterwards, these players would forgo their shorts and play in their minimalist attire.
But no one had ever seriously considered playing a real tournament in only spandex.
It is not entirely clear when Lindsley casually asked others what they thought about purchasing tights as part of their official uniform. Currently, Lindsley is out of the country and will be unreachable until May.
His co-captains date conversations about ditching their shorts to early May – before tryouts had occurred. Perhaps Lindsley would have tossed his idea had he been met with complete indifference, but he found amused support.
“I sent Grant a picture of [some tights] jokingly saying ‘How about these for our tights this year,’” said Lindsley’s other co-captain, Jon Gaynor.
And for Lindsley, that acknowledgement was enough of a green light to pursue the idea. He responded to Gaynor letting him know he had contacted a manufacturer.
The company, Cisco Athletic, specializes in making athletic uniforms for a variety of sports. While the company had never before been approached by an ultimate team at any level, they were accustomed to making tights – or Lyrca pants – for football. They customized the features of the football pants so it was more appropriate for ultimate, then shipped out a sample pair to Lindsley.
“Once we saw those, we [thought] this might actually be possible without USAU saying no,” Murray said.
To avoid being strongarmed by a adamant “No” from USAU after the tights had been ordered for the entire team, Lindsley had the fantastic idea of asking USAU for permission before he put in a team order. Lindsley had good reason to be hopeful; for Club Championships, USAU requires teams to place numbers on their shorts. Cisco Athletic fully sublimates their football pants, so on paper, the tights met USAU requirements.
He verbally wrangled with USAU in a series of professionally tongue-in-cheek emails. The emails were thorough and well-written, and even included some self-modeled photos (see below) to ensure the tights were family friendly.
USAU signed off, leaving Lindsley with the delicate process of sweet-talking his teammates into complying with his vision.
More dilemmas abounded. He only had a few weeks to create a compelling argument for the tights; in the six weeks prior to the tournament, Lindsley had been traveling for work-related purposes, and though Gaynor was leading the persuasion efforts, without Lindsley to sustain the momentum, the idea withered away.
“I couldn’t do that as well as Grant could…” Gaynor said. “Early in the season, we had a jersey meeting and I brought up the idea of tights and the work that Grant had put into it. I was talking to people about it and [they said] no, that’s stupid. I was trying, but I couldn’t persuade people as well as Grant.”
Fingers-crossed, Lindsley brought the mockup of the tights to the US Open, where he introduced them as possibility.
At this time, Sub Zero had already ordered shorts as the official bottoms for their jersey. Lindsley cleverly cajoled his teammates into sampling the comfortability of the tights by making them a coveted prize. Much like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Lindsley bestowed the tights upon a player that achieved greatness during a game. While apprehensive at first, the tights soon swayed the mind of whoever had them on. “I was very surprised at how comfortable and breathable they were,” Murray admitted.
Some say that Lindsley received full cooperation from the team before placing the order. Others vehemently insist that Lindsley placed the order and then thrust the tights upon his unsuspecting teammates.
Either way, Gaynor confirmed that the general feedback of the sample pair of tights was positive enough for Lindsley to make an executive decision to order.
Some co-plotting (and financing) by Surly, the mater’s team in Minneapolis, funneled Lindsley along. On Friday, September fifth, Murray, Gaynor, and the rest of Sub Zero would open their email and receive an entirely unexpected surprise:
|———- Forwarded message ———-From: Grant LindseyDate: Fri, Sep 5, 2014 at 12:14 PM
Subject: [zero-current] PayPal Grant $25 now
To: Zero 2013PayPal to [Grant Lindsley]. Or bring cash/check to practice this weekend.
History is being made. A revolution in apparel performance and aesthetics is broiling. And we are at the tip of the spear. Custom made sublimated numbered high performance Lycra tights are complete. Gaynor has them.
How are these only $25 you ask? Because of the generosity of a number of inspired donors who collectively raised a total of nearly $500 to help defray the cost of this momentous occasion.
Thanks to them, and thanks for paying right …now!
To the joy, dismay, and indifference of the various Sub Zero players, Lindsley had wrangled his way into getting custom made, USAU approved tights delivered to his doorstep. All that was left was for everyone to agree to wear them – and everyone did.
Sub Zero would go on to finish last. In a tribute to their performance and jersey decision, @SubZeroUltimate tweeted:
Tights are only cool when you win.
— ⛄Sub Zero⛄ (@SubZeroUltimate) October 17, 2014
Humorous as the tweet is, Reznikoff estimated that the tights did not in any way negatively affect field play – in fact, the tights probably helped out. Upon reflection, though atypical, the clothing item was not as unusual as some perceived it to be. After all, several athletic activities, such as football, wrestling, crew, and gymnastics, feature men in tights.
Will Sub Zero repeat their decision in the following years? Not certainly, but some members on the team believe that Lindsley was visionary and that other teams will follow.
Gaynor genuinely believes that tights are the future for ultimate. He argues:
“I think that if you were to ask people five years ago, they would [not] say that gloves are the future of ultimate, but it makes sense. And tights make sense. People are always looking for that next edge. The other thing is– I’m guessing the game is going to be moving more and more towards being played at stadiums, which probably means being played on Astroturf more. Tights make sense for that.”
In contrast, Murray believes the tights were simply a gag joke – other Men’s teams would not be able to convert to just tights.
“We’ve taken on a bit of a goofball persona the past couple years, and have had a lot of fun with it,” Murray said. These tights are the pinnacle of that mentality. Most Nationals caliber Men’s teams don’t really have that same perspective, and I suspect would feel quite ridiculous and uncomfortable (in a mental, not physical sense) wearing these things. Plenty of guys on our team were mildly uncomfortable with the idea. We succeeded because our team didn’t have any stubborn nay-sayers, and Grant is just tough to say no to.”
Whether you do or don’t think that tights are the future of ultimate, the general consensus for Sub Zero is that tights are comfortable, and certainly sexy.
And, as one player wisely notes in an anonymous survey, “The worst thing I can be is the same as everyone else.”