All the way back in September of last year, Wes Cronk wrote an article lamenting the state of mainstream sports media coverage of ultimate. His piece came in the wake of Dylan Freechild’s unbelievable layout block that made it to number 6 on ESPN SportsCenter. While that should have been cause for celebration, it all felt a bit underwhelming.
Van Pelt and his co-host Ryan Russillo open with seemingly sincere praise — “this is as unbelievable of a play as you’ll ever see a guy make” — and a surprisingly aware reference to the teams’ USA Ultimate rankings. They then turn the commentary to a more typical route, when Russillo comes out of nowhere and asks, “How much do these guys love the String Cheese Incident?” This is the dual-narrative — ultimate is a legit sport + derogatory random stereotype — that’s seem to become the norm for non-ultimate specific media outlets that run coverage of the sport. Eventually, for ultimate to continue growing, this will have to change.
I think that out of all the things that make the USA Ultimate/ESPN deal an exciting move for the sport, this is why it’s the biggest: the derogatory stereotypes will come to a halt.
Not only are all the top people at ESPN getting a basic lesson about Ultimate and its rules, but the network now has an incentive to treat the sport like it matters.
ESPN would definitively not be taking a chance on ultimate unless they saw its potential as a valuable commodity in their programming lineup in the future. That means no more stoner jokes and no more subtle slights.
Ultimate is going to get the respect it has long deserved. That alone could have a profound impact on the growth of the sport in the next decade.