Who among us has been to a WFTDA or OSDA bout and didn’t love absolutely every moment of it? And for those who raised their hands, how many of you also delight in the deaths of puppies and baby woodland animals?
Roller derby is one of the few sports that just about anyone can enjoy. It’s fast-paced, exciting, easy to follow once you’ve learned a few basics (just like any other sport), and it is, in my opinion, one of the most affordable sporting experiences available today, dollar-for-dollar. That’s referring to tickets, mind you; by the time the bouts are over, you’ll want so many t-shirts, stickers, patches, hoodies, caps, and key chains that you’ll probably wonder where the “affordable” part went.
But it’s also one of the least-understood sports in the country, and given the flamboyant history of roller derby dating back to the wild and crazy 70s, it’s no wonder. Those who were around then can remember the spectacle, and even those who weren’t have probably seen the footage. Here, then, are four of the silliest misconceptions making the rounds today about women’s flat track roller derby.
Myth #1: The games are staged, and the outcomes are pre-determined.
The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association is nothing like the roller derby of the 70s, when Raquel Welch dazzled us in Kansas City Bomber. Obvious differences aside — like the presence of a flat track instead of the banked track Welch skated on — the games (and fights) actually were staged back then and the outcomes decided in advance, much like present-day professional wrestling. But those days are long gone.
Likewise, the Old School Derby Association (OSDA) skates under a slightly different set of rules, but the parallels remain: even though there is an element of spectacle and the skaters adopt tough, almost cartoonish monikers under which they compete, the fact remains that the roller derby of today is a real sport.
The official WFTDA rule book is a quarter-inch thick (and costs eight dollars to buy), complete with penalties, parameters for ejection, and “zones of engagement,” which I still haven’t figured out. It can take years of experience to really grasp the minutiae of the game, and by then, the rules have been revised slightly and there’s more to learn. But the point is, anyone who’s afraid they’re in for a WWE-style fake-fest is in for a shock, because there are games to be won — and believe me, these girls are in it to win it. Best get out the way.
Myth #2: The players make good money doing this.
Actually, it’s quite the opposite.
The WFTDA is a not-for-profit international governing body of women’s flat track roller derby; none of the skaters get paid for their participation. Players must pay for their own equipment, medical treatment (when necessary), travel expenses, and all incidentals related thereto including meals, hotels, and so forth. They pay monthly dues to the league and are required to participate in committees that organize fundraisers, event planning, rulebook changes, marketing, and merchandising — all without a paycheck. It can (and often does) amount to an enormous time commitment, but there’s hardly a one in the bunch who would say it isn’t worth it.
The women who participate have full-time jobs, families, spouses/partners, children, and bills to pay just like all of us. The fact that they’re infinitely more bad ass than we are doesn’t mean the electric company just looks the other way. Although I would, if I worked there. Who wants to incur the wrath of a derby girl?
Go ahead and count me out.
Myth #3: It’s basically a fight on wheels.
Did I mention there’s an actual game being played? As rough as the game of roller derby can be, some of you would be positively shocked by the kinds of physical contact they can’t make: elbows, punching, tripping, kicking, even shoving. All of the above would likely result in an ejection from the game on the basis of gross misconduct. The rulebook is very specific on the kinds of blocking allowed, the body parts players can block with, and the legal target zones, i.e. the parts of opposing players’ bodies you can hit. If you’re still stuck on the similarities between roller derby and pro wrestling, you may just want to get it out of your system now:
Now that you’ve seen that (fun) mess, go to our YouTube page at www.youtube.com/kcderbydigest and compare it to any one of our game videos. Except that you can’t, because there is no comparison.
The level of sportsmanship displayed by players in the WFTDA is unparalleled. I’ve seen fights in baseball, basketball, football, hockey, soccer, and even tennis, but I have never, ever seen a fight at a WFTDA bout — and I’ve seen bouts in Kansas City, Los Angeles, Omaha, Des Moines, and Houston. That kind of sportsmanship is pretty extraordinary when you consider the level of physical contact and competition these ladies experience on the track. Unsportsmanlike conduct that leads to violence is so rare in this particular league that when it does happen, fans give it a name like “The Punch Heard ‘Round the Derby World,” or something equally cheesy. Because it just doesn’t happen.
Myth #4: It’s a low-class, lowbrow game for tattooed bikers and bull dykes.
First of all, I’d mind my pints and quarts, if I were you, about assuming all tattooed bikers and bull dykes are low-class. Even if you believe it, seems like saying so could be hazardous to your health.
But social stereotypes aside, if you go to a game sometime, what you’ll quickly realize is that you meet all kinds. Roller derby appeals to people across the social spectrum, and that’s really the beauty of the sport. Football is marketed toward the blue-collar good ol’ boys cookin’ up barbecue, tailgatin’ in the parking lot with coolers fulla Schlitz, and baseball is typically the sport of choice when your Chairman/CEO drops by and mentions he’s not using the company box seats that weekend, so who’d like to see the Yanks take on the Red Sox? Roller derby, in actuality, defies all barriers. You will see plenty of tattoos at the games (and maybe a mohawk or two, if you’re lucky), and you’ll also see lots of button-down shirts and even a pocket protector here and there.
Just browsin’ for a new tattoo.
If you’re still not convinced, look at some of the companies that sponsor your local league. Here in Kansas City, the businesses that sponsor KCRW and Dead Girl Derby run the gamut. They include roofing contractors, sign/print companies, restaurants, apartment and housing complexes, attorneys at law, professional photographers, and yes, tattoo shops. Likewise, the jobs and careers the skaters hold down when they’re not on the track would surprise you, if you’re still in the “derby is low-class” camp.
Take your pick:
And so on. And so on. On top of everything else, every event is billed “family-friendly,” and I regularly see kids of every age at the games. If that doesn’t change your mind, we probably can’t help you anyway.