Michael Kiyoi said he was watching an ESPN show the other day when the subject came up about a referee’s call in an NBA playoff game.
“It was about how if a ref called a foul, but it really wasn’t a foul, the player who benefited would never say anything – they actually take advantage of that situation,” Kiyoi explained. “Then someone said, ‘That’s just the way it is in every other sport,’ because players just accept it.
“But that made me think: That’s not true.”
A member of the Los Angeles Aviators of the American Ultimate Disc League, Kiyoi has some first-hand knowledge.
The AUDL has something called the “integrity rule” – if the referee makes a call during a game that a player knows is incorrect, and unjustly gives him an advantage, he can overrule it. No arguments. No instant replay.
“Of course, everyone still wants to win,” Kiyoi explained. “It doesn’t diminish anyone’s competitiveness.
“It’s a very tough thing to deal with, but it’s just something that’s unselfish, and it reinforces that the integrity of the game is more important than one single play or victory.”
The ground rules
Before we fling this any farther up the field, it’s also fair to ask: Is ultimate disc a real-deal sports thing? Save the snark.
Globally, there’s the World Flying Disc Federation, which has International Olympic Committee recognition, noting some 7 million who play it, mostly on college campuses where it tends to begin in earnest.
These nominally paid Aviators, with home games at Jack Kemp Stadium at Eagle Rock’s Occidental College, include Kiyoi as one of seven members with a connection to UCLA.
The 3-2 Aviators go into their 7 p.m. rivalry game Saturday night against the San Diego Growlers, and more than the usual 500-some paying spectators are expected. Afterward, the players and fans will reunite in a local pub – one of several team sponsors – and share a pint.
In this league of extraordinary gentleman, playing for teams nicknamed the Roughnecks, Radicals and Riptide, it might be dismissive in the mainstream money-driven sports world to file it with another minor-league lacrosse-type venture. Not ready for prime-time paid players, but passionate enough to do it essentially for free – on top of their weekday jobs in the real world.
But who you hang out with often reveals a lot of your own character, and reinforces qualities you’d like to stick with.
For newbies, a quick disc primer: The goal is to score goals. The flow moves consistent to a soccer or basketball game, a 7-on-7 matchup relying on flicking the disc downfield toward the expanded end zone of an otherwise regulation-sized football field.
Possession changes on the fly, when a disc goes out of bounds, is dropped, or is intercepted. No tackling. Too much physicality, in fact, results in penalties called by a referee.
Unless a player’s conscience comes into play.
The ethical dilemma
Interestingly, in John Wooden’s 15 blocks that make up his Pyramid of Success, not one includes integrity. In some versions, the word is sandwiched in along one of the triangular slopes with a parenthetical reference: “Speaks for itself.”
But does it?
Mark Elbogen, another Aviator from UCLA in his fourth pro season and coming off an all-league performance with 50 goals and 47 assists, majored in mechanical engineering and works as a senior engineer at Raytheon Vision Systems in Santa Barbara, specializing in infrared sensing technology used in military applications.
Like most who’ve played in college and club leagues where games went off without a referee, and calling fouls was always on the players, Elbogen said he was “somewhat concerned as how the ‘spirit of the game’ would remain” when he started playing AUDL pro league.
“It can be very easy to get caught in a game, and now with refs, it’s much easier actually to get away with something,” he said. “When I learned about the ‘integrity rule,’ I knew it was a great idea but I honestly wasn’t sure if it would ever be used. In my first season, I was very pleasantly surprised to see it invoked. Often.
“And now even if your team is up or down by 10 points. I’ve seen it used. I used it myself, even in close games. I think it sets a great example to kids that, even in the heat of competition, sportsmanship comes first.”
Added Kiyoi, 31, who used his UCLA music degree to land a job teaching instrumental music at his alma mater, Santa Barbara’s San Marcos High, as well as act as band director: “It’s an honor to play this way. Is it perfect? There’s some work to be done, but at least it teaches the right ideas and tells the youth watching there are some things more important than winning.”
Eric Boorstin, one of five co-owners of the team who take care of keeping things afloat, works at the law firm of Horvitz & Levy LLP in Burbank, specializing in civil appeals.
A Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton who got his doctorate at Harvard Law School cum laude, all while playing five seasons of ultimate disc, Boorstin looks at it this way: He works in a field where people spend their career building a reputation for integrity so a judge or opposing litigant can take them at their word.
“That said, if the judge makes an error in your favor, you don’t have a duty to correct it. So the ultimate integrity rule goes above and beyond the duties imposed by legal ethics — not only do you have to play the game the right way, but you also have the duty to correct an error that goes in your favor.
“It’s pretty special to be involved in a sport where the athletes can compete at a high level for the greatest stakes in the sport, yet still be expected to — and usually do — exhibit integrity that might conflict with their short-term goal of winning a match.”
Exhibit A: Boorstin cites a playoff game last year between Seattle and Madison, in which Seattle was trailing late in a close game but used the integrity rule to reverse a turnover they had been awarded, knowing they didn’t deserve it. Although Seattle went onto win the game, that call could have cost them their shot at a trip to the final.
“In the community, there was widespread agreement that what Seattle did was the right thing — integrity is the most important thing, even if it ends up costing a match,” Boorstin concluded. “We hold the players who invoke the integrity rule in higher esteem, and as a community, we strive to make sure that integrity remains central to our sport even as the stakes continue to grow. We enjoy playing a sport where integrity is central, and we think people will enjoy watching it as well.”
Ultimately, it circles back to the question: Where do you best find examples of integrity these days in a sports contest? Golf, sure. Tennis, sometimes. Discovering ultimate disc and its DNA of sportsmanship above all else might be a grass-roots starting point.
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About the Author
Reach the author at [email protected] or follow Tom on Twitter: @tomhoffarth.
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