The central debate in the movie and in reality has been: the Spirit of the Game. This centers mostly but not entirely on the fact that ultimate was conceived and largely remains self-refereed. There are observers for some (most?) of the competitive tourneys, and referees in the professional league. This move towards having non-players make calls was controversial because the Spirit of the Game, the hippie concept at the start of the sport, remains key--that players should compete but value integrity more than self. The idea is that players call the fouls honestly, including on themselves, that one players honorably. Over time, competition has been intense enough that rules have changed so that people can't call fouls on themselves to slow the other team. One of the problems with the doc is that it seemed to buy, at least a bit, the New York, New York sense of the Spirit--compete as hard as you can no matter what. This is imply wrong. The Spirit is something more than that--it is about respecting the opponent, not deliberately violating the rules, and so forth.
I did experience New York, New York despite never playing at the highest levels. In the summer between college and grad school, I played in the NY summer league. I joined late, so I got placed with a team of 14-15 year olds from Bronx Science or whatever. So, we were a bad team--I had the most experience, which was not really that much. NY, NY split up and played on several teams, and I remember one game, where one NY, NY segment was so incredibly obnoxious. I have played heaps of ultimate over my lifetime, and that one game will always stand out as the most unpleasant. Because they really had no conception of the Spirit of the Game--they rubbed our inferiority in our faces in a summer league game. I kind of hated that they told the history of ultimate through the experiences of one of the least spirited, least typical ultimate players and teams, but I am sure it was partly guided by which footage they had. And it was a compelling story, even if it was the wrong story.
UPDATE: A friend informed me that the director of the doc was a NYNY player, so now it all makes sense.
Other than that, watching the doc was a thrill--to see the teams I had heard of--the legends--such as Windy City, the Condors, Flying Circus. To see that I was very much part of the boom. Ultimate started in 1968 in NJ and started becoming an inter-college club sport in the mid-70s. It started at Oberlin in 1976 (so I went back for the 30th anniversary of ultimate there in 2006---twas a great weekend). It was still a fairly marginal sport until the mid-80s. At that time, it did start appearing randomly on ESPN, in a Howard Cosell piece, in Sports Illustrated, and the first world tourneys.
It was great to see the evolution that continued throughout the 90s with teams around the world becoming more competitive with the US teams. I didn't know that Team Canada beat the US men's team a couple of years in a row around 2010-11. It was great to see some folks use ultimate to bring Israelis of all kinds together with Palestinians--that was very, very moving and very much in the Spirit of the Game.
My big quibbles:
- No mixed (co-ed) ultimate. Absolutely no discussion, footage or anything, and I think this is one thing that makes ultimate damn near unique. I would hazard a guess and suggest that most of the city leagues that exist have most of their ultimate in this form, which means much of the ultimate out there is mixed. There are competitive teams all the way up to world competitions. Are there any other sports where men and women play together? Seems like much ultimate coverage ignores this key form of it. Really a lost opportunity. Also minimal coverage of the women's game--first about 53 minutes into the doc, but nice coverage of the post 3/11 tsunami competition in Japan with Japan upsetting the American team.
- Also, didn't spend any time on the development of city leagues. Again, where is ultimate being played these days? Yes, there are world competitions, but just as soccer is now a thing in the US thanks to youth sports, ultimate is more of a thing thanks to big city leagues. Would have been nice to know how many schools in US, Canada and elsewhere have teams at the junior high and high school levels. It is now a component in many gym classes.
- Oh, Alec, I never stopped wearing bandanas. I just have many more of them than I used to, and now it is not just for the sweat but also for, alas, sunburn prevention.