Derby Things I Will Miss When They’re Gone: Part 4
Derby is changing every day, inching along a continuum that leads from burlesque to mainstream sporting endeavour. It’s where the sport seems to be pulling itself due to (and in spite of) a great deal of debate, so I’m fine with the march toward legitimacy. I will however, mourn the passing of some of the following reminders of the game’s past. They are things that still exist in roller derby, but are under fire, in flux or otherwise doomed to be ground under the wheels of history.
Chapter 4: No Boys Allowed
This post is a confession, and an apology. And possibly a challenge.
In my time, I’ve been a Men’s Roller Derby hater. I’m working to correct it.
I believe that the sport of women’s flat track roller derby provides a necessary corrective to male-dominated sports culture, and a unique opportunity for women to explore team sport, physical fitness and camaraderie outside the paradigms of conventional athletics. I also believe the necessity for that unique corrective measure is still very much with us. I know, Mr. Seltzer, old-school derby was always presented co-ed, but the revivalists dumped a lot of stuff, including fakeness, and they did so by design.
That being said, merby’s here and it isn’t going anywhere. More and more men are playing, usually with the support of their sister leagues. One day, assisted by genetics and centuries of warrior ethos, some dude will set a record on the flat track in scoring/jumping/protein shake drinking that some very competitive women will spend a long time trying to match. And that will bum me out. Is men’s derby an amazing sport played by passionate athletes? Hell yeah! Is its growth, right here and now, perhaps weighing heavily on the coat tails of a small but important aspect of the women’s movement?
My answer to that used to be yes, without question. Now I’m coming round to realize that it could be a problem, but it doesn’t have to be, so I can’t judge it until it happens.
I know a lot of male players. These are people who have shed blood, sweat and tears building the women’s game and have spent so much time with it they have come to love it, and want to experience it for themselves. They tell me that they can think of no higher compliment for the game they love than to put themselves to the test in its crucible. I have no counter-argument for this. I can’t tell them to get back in their Widow/Ref-kitchen and make us a rule-set sandwich (hold the Minors). They should play and they shall.
And yet I remember the first time I saw a group of parents, children and athletes gathering together for an autograph signing after a bout. Everyone within 20 feet was a female. I thought “You don’t see that every day.”
And then I thought “Well shit, you should!”
So, do I still hate the Bro-ller Derby? Can you love the player and not the game? All the songs suggest you can, but I know it’s not that simple.
My gravest concern remains, which is that the men’s game will draw the public’s eye and we’ll end up in a situation where the male game is the default and the female is the alt-version. You know, LIKE EVERY OTHER SPORT IN HISTORY. I’m going to sound like a pompous ass when I say this, but I can’t think of any other way: Men, you have been given partial custody of something women hold precious. Don’t screw it up.
That’s the main thing. There are other nitpicks too:
I’m still inclined to cringe when I’m at a tournament and I am told that Team X’s star player cannot participate because she was taken out in a co-ed scrimmage, likely by what Captain Lou El Bammo calls the “Dude Major Penalty”.*
At the moment, I still think the guys took a game that was just finding its feet in terms of complex strategy and put the hamfist right back into it.
I think I will always hate the uniforms.
But I love Roller Derby. I love the game, and I love the people. All the people: Refs and NSOs and announcers, volunteers and fans. I love roller girls and roller boys, who I guess I should just call “skaters” henceforth.
Mea Culpa. I’m working on it. Work with me.
*Simultaneous High/Back Block with Forearms. Guy Jammers new to the game do not check speed when approaching walls.
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Next time: Andrew WK Does Not Approve.