It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s not about the players.
It’s about the game.
The game is neither the players nor the disc, even as it fails to exist without them. The game is an invention of a mind or a group of minds. (Who can sufficiently disentangle intelligence to tell the difference?)
The game has rules that are reasonably clear (although anyone who has played any game at all knows that there are no ironclad rule sets).
The game is relatively fair, despite advantages to things like “speed,” “height,” and “time spent learning to throw” – no different from the benefit Scrabble players receive from “vocabulary,” “intelligence,” and “time spent learning two-letter words.”
What else is there to the game? How a team moves from one end of the field to the other. How an opponent tries to stop or slow or contain it. How individual players attack and defend in different fashions after their own strengths and weaknesses. How teams protect and cover for each team member, or don’t. How teams construct or constrict space for one another. How style and substance are articulated on the field of play.
Teams of individuals working together to achieve a goal in the face of fierce opposition, in real, live time: That’s sports. That we all agree to use a disc, put seven players on the field at a time, and everything else are just ways to set the terms of engagement. That there exists a culture around the game mirrors how other communities behave. The game itself – how teams vie for control of a disc and attempt to move it from one end of the field to another – is what keeps me coming back.
When I write that it isn’t about me: I’m not writing to prove anything about myself.
When I write that it isn’t about you: I’m not writing to prove anything to you or about you.
And when I write that it isn’t about the players: I’m writing about them in order to write about the game.
The game is at the heart of everything there is to talk about. I’m here to think on what this sport is, how it’s played, and where it fits in “life, the universe, and everything.”
I lied: The next few paragraphs are about me. But fret not– this will not be a regular feature.
I’m Dusty Rhodes, aka “dusty.rhodes”, aka that “music on tap” guy. I played college ultimate at NYU (1998-2002), coed club for Hitch (2002), and open club for Pike (2003-2009) and PoNY (2010). I’ve played in WUDi, PADA, MCUDL, and WAFC; from Kaimana to Clambake and Emerald City to Sarasota; and at UPA and USAU Club Championships. Over that time, I played every position yet named and some which are in dire need of snappy signifiers. I’ve captained for college and club, and was fortunate to coach the college men’s team at Drew University (2005). I’ve written at length about ultimate on RSD and in my ultimatejournal. I was the general manager for MLU’s DC Current in their inaugural season and remain a columnist covering MLU. I’ve played to win and played to lose. I’ve helped get two tournaments banned from their sites and have been awarded multiple spirit awards. I’m frequently among the first to arrive and the last to leave, but I’ve also been “unavoidably detained” and “at the wrong fields” and “busy watching the World Cup.” I’ve played injured, hurt, under the influence, and on asphalt. I’ve even done throwing workouts in The Parking Lot That Started It All.
All that said, ultimate is not my first loved sport – basketball, baseball, soccer, and volleyball all came first. Ultimate is, however, the only sport in which I have competed and communicated at the highest levels and it’ is the sport in whose community I’m most entangled.
I’m no longer who I was when I regularly maintained my old ultimatejournal. While yes, writing those words immediately made me a different person, there is a deeper difference now in my relationship with ultimate: I’m no longer a player. While I still step on the field casually, my play is far removed from my own apex, let alone the highest level being played. And yet I still enjoy seeing the best teams compete. By this measure alone, ultimate is at least as fun as my other spectating interests.
There is thinking and writing to be done about ultimate from this perspective. A growing sector of the people with whom the AUDL, MLU, and USAU interact are fans and spectators. College, club, and pro circuits are gaining media exposure through non-ultimate channels via highlights, tape-delay, and live broadcast. All while the ultimate community swells with more and more retired and/or casual players who, like millions of adults playing in countless leagues around the world, know they cannot compete with the best. And yet they enjoy watching the best play as much or more than they themselves enjoy playing.
To be clear: I do not and will never advocate that any of us stop playing ultimate or any other sport. (In fact, I’d argue that we should all play more sports and games… but that’s another ham for another oven.) Instead I say that passion for and enjoyment of sport comes in many forms. The form of “spectator” is new for me: I was previously a player and, when younger, a fan. These days I am most certainly, on balance, a spectator: Watching because I enjoy the game rather than because I have a rooting interest. I compare players to what I think they could do at their best instead of weighing what I think they could do against me or my team. I enjoy the process more than the outcome, and yet without outcome there would be no process.
In other words: This column is not about me, you, or the players; and yet without me, you, and the players there would be no column.
It’s a peculiar place, but I’m a peculiar sort.
Thus begins “The Spectator.”