Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Men in Derby: The Elephant on the Track

Just posting this caveat as a reminder to everyone who gets easily butthurt, this is my blog and my opinion only.  Thank you for not getting your panties in a twist over an opinion.  Open a dialog about it!

A long time ago, on a Facebook page far far away, I asked a question about what derby folk thought we should call mens' derby: merby, broller derby, merby?  It opened a flood gate of people opining on everything from what to call it, to the role of men in derby.  At the time of my first posted question, I was still becoming aquainted with the whole concept of men's team, so I backed off of the topic and decided to do my own investigation.

The first time I saw men's derby in person, I was at the 2009 Eastern Regionals, and the men played a game in between bouts.  I was still fairly new to derby at the time, and men playing derby felt like an oddity to me; I'm not going to lie, but I approached the game like I was going to the circus, which was unfair of me, but it was how I felt.  When the guys got out on the track, my first thought was  "Dear lord, they take up the whole track just by skating!" As the game progressed, I thought "They hit a lot using their shoulders" and finally "They don't seem to have very good endurance."  I'm not saying any of these observations from a rookie skater were accurate, but that's just what I thought, and as soon as the bout was over, I promptly forgot about the guys and watched Philly beat Gotham.  Epic.

Fast forward to 2011 when a men's team started up in Raleigh, called Collision.  A few of our male volunteers, refs and various boyfriends became interested in skating in this fantastic game we all love.  During our league's break, I decided to see what the guys were doing and participate in their practices.  I mostly was curious, but I also wanted to keep my skills up while we were off for six weeks and I had a list of skills I needed to work on to get up to snuff on my skating.  At most of the practices, I saw men who wanted to learn to skate, suffer with newbie injuries, and have the need to build up muscles that they weren't used to using. In other words, they were skaters learning what derby is and what it can do to your body, just like every woman I've seen go through the basics of derby.

Shocking: they're just like women.  (They might smell a little worse though)
Don't they look excited?
As I've worked more with the guys, they have improved in their skills and dedication.  They talk derby, talk skate maintenance, and talk cross training.  Quite a few of our men skaters travel over an hour to make it to practice, and set up other skating opportunities when they can't get a rink to themselves. Many of these same skaters pull double duty with the women's leagues in their areas, by reffing, setting up the track for bouts and doing NSO duties.  They watch the women skate and try to learn as much as they can from their games; they're hungry to learn from us, just like our newbies are.

So why do some women feel threatened by men in derby?

Many women in our sport declare that "This is the one sport that is our own!  Let the men play the other sports!" This may be true, this was a female dominated sport, but guess what ladies, men have always been involved with derby.  Men are reffing us, coaching us and just helping out at practices and in games.  Men are NSOs, announcers and fans.  Without men in derby, we would have a lot of holes to fill, and I'm not sure every league could pull off putting on a bout without them.  They do a lot of work, ladies, and in my humble opinion should not be treated like second class citizens.  The very concept of derby is inclusive, so why are people making men an exception?

The other argument I've heard about men is that they tend to be able to jump more and excel at derby at a faster pace than the women who train to do it. Well, then I say we ban anyone who can skate well before they join derby!  That includes speed skaters, jam skaters, ice skaters and figure skaters, which is ridiculous.  If someone is progressing faster than I am because of natural talent or prior training, I say to myself "Dammmmmn..." and then I try harder.  We all need to be trying harder; competition is what makes this sport progress.

Finally, I think the real reason women are concerned about men's derby is the fact that they think more people might consider it the more legitimate form of our sport, merely because men are involved.  I don't have the answer for this concern because men's derby isn't as developed as women's derby, and let's face it, women's derby is still working on being accepted as a popular sport.  Women's derby has a cult following at this point, and it is slowly gaining a foothold in popular culture.  I can understand why some people might be worried that the men would overshadow the women; personally, I don't think this will happen since women have been dominating in the sport for so long,  but only time will tell.

My parents have seen a total of four derby games since I've been playing; they've watched a local team play, me play twice, and  Collision play the River City Rejects.  When I played, my dad was excited that I was "hitting the big girls and knocking them down."  My mom was disappointed that I didn't jam.  When they saw the local team play, they thought that it was funny that people fell down in general.  When they watched the Collision game, they also liked that people got knocked down and fell over each other.  Imagine that, there is a common theme here; my parents like to see people fall down and get knocked down, which is probably a pretty common thread in non-invested roller derby fans.  I'm guessing it doesn't matter if the people taking a spill or male or female to them, they just like mayhem.

So, is there room in derby for the dangles?  I believe there is.  I'm not saying you have to support the men by coaching or reffing or even watching them, but don't make this wonderful sport into an exclusive and bitchy sorority.  Have faith that you are an athlete and what other people are doing shouldn't impact you or your league.  At this point in time, there are leagues who follow the WFTDA, MRDA, and OSDA.  Some leagues are experimenting with the USARS rules, while others have gone to renegade derby. Don't forget about banked track!  Men's derby is just another facet of our growing sport, and facets are what make the gems sparkle.


  1. <3 <3 <3!!! my boys work super hard... and have nothing but the deepest respect for the women around them. The Wreckingballs just had their 1 year anniversary and I am SO proud and thankful they choose to include me. I learn from them every.damn.day.
    If you're unsure about men playing derby, find a men's league and give them half a chance! Go practice with them! You don't have to hit or scrimmage with them, just skate with them. (Although I LOVE hitting with my boys. I like to go after the biggest girl on the track like a rabid chihuahua when I play, hitting with the guys makes those mastiffs look and feel like labradors). Teach them something! They are really quite eager to learn. The men's attitude is contagious!
    Plus, this disdain and exclusion some women are throwing out? Not stopping the men. They are literally exploding all over the country. You can foster those supportive, reciprocal relationships and benefit from it, or you can watch.
    Skate don't hate! There's really no room for sexism in derby.

  2. Very well said!

    Desi (aka Freak Magnet)

  3. I definitely agree as well - at first I thought of all the same reasons against why men shouldn't be able to play derby. But how long have women gone (in sports and in life) being denied access to things because of their gender. We shouldn't do it to anyone else because we all know what it's like. Women should continue to be advocates for themselves and their own teams as always but we should never want to force men to stop playing a sport because we found it first.

  4. Excellent post! You brought up all the reasons I personally support men's derby.

  5. Great post! I love men's roller derby and always feel great that our local league (the Quadfathers) asked me to be their coach. They are fun to play with (except for the smelliness and sweatiness). And the 2011 MRDA Championships had some of the best derby I have ever seen - I didn't even watch the women's game at the tournament.

    Now the shameless plug: the next big men's derby event is the Mohawk Valley Cup hosting by the Quadfathers in Rome, NY, August 18-19! Hopefully it will be streamed online too.

  6. My league has greatly benefitted from mens' derby. I love watching the men play, and I know I can learn a great deal from them. Playing with them really encourages me to step up my performance level. Great post!

  7. I'm glad men are getting their own leagues together. My husband started coaching with us after I had already been doing derby for 2 years because he discovered that roller derby is the coolest sport EVER. I feel sorry for him, though, because he really wants to play more than coach. Someday we may get a merby team in our area. Poor, poor boys. They aren't used to not having first choice at the best sport in the world.