July 14, 2016 by Charlie Eisenhood in Livewire with 18 comments
Ben Van Heuvelen, a long-time player and the assistant coach for the USA Men’s National Team at Worlds this year, went on a Tweetstorm yesterday about the Jacksonville Cannons ejection and response from the team. He shares some thoughts on the bigger picture that the incident suggests. We have copied the tweets into text for ease of reading.
Van Heuvelen wrote a very influential article about similar issues three years ago.
Some thoughts on self-officiating and ultimate that are too large for 140 characters…
At its heart, SOTG is an ultimatum: “play fair or the game falls apart.”
A daunting proposition: with self-officiation, every player has the power to ruin a game.
The flip side is: any functioning game is the product of everyone making a good faith effort to play fair.
With self-officiating, sportsmanship isn’t just “encouraged”; it’s a precondition. Without it, competition isn’t possible.
To teach the game – to hold a rudimentary scrimmage in practice – I need to coach sportsmanship.
To coach mental toughness – so my team doesn’t fall apart when we disagree on a call – I need to teach fair-mindedness.
This is a fundamental difference from a refereed sport. With SOTG, sportsmanship is foundational, not a bonus feature.
The ethos of ultimate is a product of the values we’ve put at the center of our sport, baked into the rules.
You cannot displace sportsmanship from its foundational position in the rules without also altering the ethos.
So, referees alter the psychology of competition directly, and they also symbolize a shift in priorities and values.
In AUDL/MLU, “integrity” is no longer a cornerstone present in every successful game; it’s a clause that can be invoked (or ignored).
The ripple effects aren’t visible overnight. AUDL/MLU players still exist in a broader community built on SOTG.
Most pro players don’t cheat, even though inexperienced refs probably wouldn’t catch it; they’re still used to the ethos of club.
This ethos is at the heart of collective outrage now voiced over dangerous plays + “win at all costs” mentality.
So no, the AUDL obviously hasn’t killed sportsmanship. But that’s not the question.
The question is: where are the pro leagues pushing the ethos of the sport?
What happens 5-10 years from now if AUDL franchises are the highest-profile embodiment of high-level play?
One indicator: an AUDL franchise now officially defends a dangerous play, and ignores a pattern of misbehavior.
(This stands in sharp contrast to the self-critique Furious/Canada undertook after the previous Worlds, for example.)
Worth emphasizing: Cannons aren’t a rogue actor in the heat of the moment. They’re an arm of the league making a policy decision.
And their disappointing statements should not come as a surprise.
The same ethos that relegates “integrity” to the fine print of the rules makes space for “win at all costs” apologists.
Pro leagues didn’t create dangerous plays or cheaters, but their ecosystem is evidently making new space for them.
Some argue that better refs + tougher punishments can solve the problem. But that’s wishful thinking based on a misdiagnosis.
Their implicit message is: “This problem was the result of poor policing.”
And by extension: “Players cannot – and should not – be entrusted with trying to uphold the rules.”
In contrast, with self-officiating, you gain a powerful tool for incentivizing fair play.
Namely, SOTG articulates an ideal of competition that gives players positive inspiration. (While referees only wield negative incentives.)
SOTG also establishes core values for a community, which in turn helps provide accountability.
Cheating still exists; but it exists mainly at the margins. Cheaters are outliers, pariahs.
In conclusion, glib as my initial tweet on this subject was, I’m not saying Cannons made a dangerous play because refs.
I’m saying this whole incident – the dangerous plays, the franchise defending it – is an alarm bell.
Or, it’s a glacier crashing into the ocean: shows us climate change is real, even if your city isn’t underwater today.