“You’re Just A Guy Who Plays Ultimate”

Eli Neugeboren, a Brooklyn-based professor and illustrator, has an excellent long-read in the Classical about the changing landscape of Ultimate.

Here’s an excerpt:

[quote]With the American Ultimate Disc League and Major League Ultimate entering their second year, and the USAU Triple Crown Championship series becoming a more solid reality with each passing year, there is a critical mass of enthusiasm and professionalism around the sport at the moment. Highlights from ultimate games have cracked the SportsCenter Top 10 multiple times; Good Morning America host Josh Elliott, an alumnus of UC-Santa Barbara — home to the 12-time champ Black Tide — has made references to Ultimate throughout his tenure. The game is no secret; the question is what the game will be, as more people come to know it.

The problem of scaling up, of marketing, and of making something “professional” is a difficult process. It’s also one that will anger the diehards who believe any change is bad, and proffer an excuse to every veteran prone to talking about how much better things were “in my day,” when “we played ultimate drunk and high and we wore skirts and we didn’t keep score and everyone had a big orgy afterwards and it was the most amazing display of sportsmanship and human kindness you ever did see.” I’m not exactly quoting myself, there, but I’m not exactly not quoting myself.

Anyway, these complaints all end the same way: “Now it’s just a bunch of jocks playing grab-ass and hazing and bullying their opponents like every other sport.”

But is it, really? People in my MFA program said the same things about the business of art, but the pursuit of remuneration doesn’t negate or minimize work that doesn’t minimize itself in that pursuit, here and there and everywhere. Do ’real’ surfers look down on Kelly Slater because he makes money from their passion? And how does this relate to 26-year-olds traveling to tournaments and working real jobs? The word amateur’s Latin root, “amo,” means love. That seems worth mentioning.

But it seems most mentioning because of ultimate’s slow but unmistakable transition into something governed by a force other than love. USAUltimate, the sport’s governing body in the United States, just inked a long term deal with ESPN to air college games — at least 23 games from the championship series will run this spring, with undisclosed terms for the future. Viewers drive ad dollars, and ad dollars will drive sponsorships. The same could be true with the Triple Crown series for club level teams in the fall.

The good thing about all of this is that it means there are varied lines of interest, and this will drive competition. Dr. J played in the ABA, Herschel Walker played in the USFL, and right now there are elite level ultimate players deciding whether to stay with their club team, go pro in one direction or another, or simply go ahead and become a dentist because there’s more money in it.[/quote]

Go read the whole thing.

  1. Charlie Eisenhood
    Charlie Eisenhood

    Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email (charlie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

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