Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What Derby Means to Me

While I completely understand that writing this entry means I’m running the risk of sounding like a sixth grader who is reporting on her summer vacation in the first week back at school, I’m going to do it anyhow. I want to share what derby means to me, because there seem to be a lot of venues out there that are putting words in derby’s mouth, all of our mouths, and they’re not necessarily my words.

Granted, this entry should come with a warning. I’m sure to offend at least someone if I mention something you or your league has done for fundraising (applesauce wrestling), and for that I’m sorry.

I guess I’ll start there. I respect the things you do for money – the things you do to skate, but I’m also way into taking the high road and as a member of WFTDA trying to purport roller derby as a legitimate sport, because I believe roller derby IS a legitimate sport. Where we draw the line is fuzzy and often when we draw it we’re wearing beer goggles. So, call me a hypocrite for having mentioned the applesauce wrestling that was in the USA Today article, while my league has done car washes in bathing suits in the back parking lot of a bar. What professional athletes do you know that would wrestle in applesauce? Aside from Dennis Rodman, who’s always been more about the spectacle anyhow, not many. Alas, the same can be said for back-alley car washes. I guess how I draw the line comes down to me asking myself: “Would I be okay if this was printed in the newspaper?” I suppose there is something to be said for PR…

I opened up my e-mail this morning not only to see the USA Today article, but also to see a link to the Anti-Flag “The Bright Lights of America” video on You Tube, which features “Team USA” rollergirls breaking every rule in the book as they skate around a roller rink beating the hell out of each other. To be fair, however, there are certainly more than 10 women on the hard wood at once, so I can’t tell if this is even suppose to be a bout (although I think it is). On a personal note, I did get a kick out of Coach Tom’s mustache, as it looks strangely familiar and very similar to one particular real-life east-coast bench coach

I guess I’m just as conflicted as everyone else. I got excited when I saw the video, but then my derby conscience cringed deep down inside of me when I saw all the stereotypes of rollergirls played out on the small screen. It’s hard.

So, back to my sixth-grade essay—what does roller derby mean to me? First and foremost, it’s a sport – a legitimate sport with amazing athletes who take the sport seriously (and who honestly probably get in more endurance practice than many of the other professional sports out there).

From a business perspective, roller derby is an amazing force to recon with. It’s the fastest growing sport in the nation, and the people running it are some of the absolute brightest people I know. Sometimes wearing a sleeve a tattoos instead of long-sleeves and ties or business suits, it makes me happy to know there is a place for smart, business savvy people outside of the traditional business world. Now, by saying this I am in no way belittling derby or saying it’s not a legitimate business, because it is indeed. In fact, the business of derby, perhaps because of its prior struggles in the 70s and 80s, is an honest business that isn’t riddled with personal agendas, inequality, or smoke and mirrors. Everyone who does it does it because they love the sport (and they do it in their SPARE time). I love that.

From a personal perspective, I love most of all that every single person who becomes involved with derby grows and comes out of it a better person. Its participants learn teamwork, self-confidence, how to overcome barriers and struggles, and how to help others learn all these things too.

Roller derby is the most powerful positive exchange of knowledge and skills that I’ve ever seen, from the athleticism to the business to the personal growth. Roller derby is a catalyst to personal and communal growth, and I’d like to think that in the past decade it has, and still is, changing the world for the better.

I’m still not in a bikini covered in applesauce (shutter to think), and you’re still reading this, so figure it out. Let’s rise to the occasion and come up with better ways to draw attention to ourselves. Any fool can splosh in public, and any rollergirl can learn the finer points of PR, which I guarantee you will leave a more lasting impression than a fruit-soaked bathing suit.

1 comment:

Tara Armov said...

The USA Today article is so...typical.

"OOoh, look! A new 'sport!' In the olden days, it was different, but they put a twist on it now! By day, these women do ________, by night they're mean rollergirls!"

Blah, blah, blah.

After skating for over four years and reading blogs such as this one, I've been trying to put a finer point on why DIY derby is so popular with the wimmins, and I haven't put it into words succinctly yet.

It's not the surface stuff such as our outfits, our names, or the potential for injury...those are just window dressing.

There's something else that we've been missing in our everyday lives that derby fulfills...maybe it's the total challenge of building your body up to even participate in the sport, while at the same time you're building up your mind to do the business-end of the venture. There's no instructions for either of these, so there's a sense of adventure that we rarely get otherwise.

I dunno.

Tara Armov
LA Derby Dolls