Serious Roller Derby. SRSLY.

by jacquelynheat

The other day, one of my leaguemates shared this article on Facebook:

Rollin’ News: Whats all this Roller Derby business?

(If you’re too lazy to read that, you can probably still catch on from the context below.) el GALLO makes some thoughtful points, but after a bit of consideration I was ready to get on my soapbox with an impassioned, dissenting point of view. My response was only shared in the comments of my leaguemate’s Facebook post, so here it is for y’all to enjoy:

I don’t like arguments like this. 1) The inference that derby isn’t taking itself seriously because it doesn’t conform to the standards of other sports, and 2) The assumption that derby will not be taken seriously by society at large until it conforms to said standards.

I’ll concede that matching full uniforms, including helmets, give the impression of a team being more cohesive. And it gives a clearer visual to the audience and officials. That, I agree, is a good thing.

As for pseudonyms, city nicknames, warpaint, etc: These attributes of our sport in no way hinder the audience’s understanding of what’s going on. And these attributes are part of the unique personality of derby. It may take derby longer to be taken as seriously as other sports, but I don’t believe it precludes derby from ever being taken seriously. Derby’s personality grew out of the community that makes it up. And that personality, in turn, is part of what attracts more people like, well, us!

When I hear the argument that derby needs to conform to the standards of other sports in order to be taken seriously, I hear echos of this:

“No one will take you seriously if you transition.”
“No one will take you seriously if you get tattoos.”
“No one will take you seriously if you don’t start acting more feminine.”
“No one will take you seriously if you play roller derby.”

Guess what. I didn’t take any of that advice, and people take me seriously anyway. That advice might have made the road shorter and smoother, but at the cost of sacrificing what makes me who I am. And in that case, it wouldn’t even be ME people were taking seriously – just a facade I put forth.

It’s derby’s unique personality that brought a lot of us into this sport. Yeah, many of us get a bit excited at first and go a little overboard on the fishnets and theatrics, but that inevitably gets dialed back as we settle in. But creative expression is very close to the heart of this community.

Derby could take the advice put forth in this article, but to do so one of two things would need to happen:

1) We all agree to give up the creative expression which makes up the unique personality of our sport.
2) We all get replaced by people who don’t care about that aspect of derby.

Either way, we, the derby community, sacrifice what makes us who we are. Whether it be by putting forth a facade or literally being replaced by other people.

My feeling on the subject is basically “fuck that”. We are derby. We are quirky and different from other sports because we are quirky and different people. We’ll earn respect by continuing to be ourselves and continuing to thrive as such. The world will see that a sport can behave a little differently and still take itself seriously and be taken seriously.

We are REAL. We are ATHLETIC. And we are fucking REVOLUTIONARY.

*drops mic*

I realize I failed to address the topic of sexualization – sexualized pseudonyms and numbers, league logos that look like strippers, sexy pinup photoshoots of skaters in varying amounts of gear and clothing. Some examples of those things get under my skin, particularly when a sexualized concept (like a stripper-esque logo) is used to represent an entire league. That said, I’m not sure where to suggest drawing the line on individual expression, or even if I feel right making such a judgement. So I’ve left that topic as something to ponder.

On the other side of the coin, we have skaters who choose to express a more standard “professional sports” kind of image – those who use their real names, 1 or 2 digit numbers, and refrain from the wearing of purely cosmetic adornments like warpaint. Some of my heroes in the sport have chosen this path. I hope my soapbox rant didn’t make it sound as though I disapprove of putting forth such an image in derby. If that’s how an individual feels best represented, I say go for it. My beef is only with the idea that the whole of derby – the entire sport and community – needs to go this route in order to ever be taken seriously.