Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bad behavior and mean girls's derby's little secret.  No matter how much we tout sisterhood and strong women athletes, it's the horrible, nasty, embarrassing little character flaw in modern derby.  I'm not going to make a broad sweeping statement that every league out there has had issues with mean girls and crappy behavior, but if you're honest with yourself and your leaguemates, you know that you've faced this issue before.  Actually, depending who it was in your league, it's possible nobody FACED this problem, they just kind of hoped it would resolve itself because they didn't want to rock the boat. 

Personally, I think mean girls fester in derby leagues because people still treat derby like it's a family, as opposed to a sport and a business.  Everyone has a family member that is just barely tolerated; you might only see your creepy uncle Joey at Thanksgiving, so nobody wants to actually do something about his behavior, but a league is different.

The more roller derby is accepted in popular culture, the more people are watching.  The roller derby community is growing, but so many of us know each other, and we're sharing that knowledge more and more each day.  If you have someone representing your league who is a jerk, they've colored your entire league with that same brush.  People think you're a jerk by association!  You have a skater who is an ass every time she steps on the track, then you're all asses.  You have a skater who punches someone on the track? You've all committed that very offense.  It's really hard to undo the damage of one a-hole; your league could have Mother Theresa skating for you, but people will associate you with the most idiotic skater you have.

Bad behavior in public is one thing, but what if your league is harboring a "Mean Girl" who is making life miserable for several skaters?  Come on Q,  mean girls in adult life?  Are you serious?  After I posted about this topic on Facebook, I had over 30 private messages in the first two hours, talking about "This horrible skater in our league that just manipulates everyone and everything."  It made me sad to read the messages, but I was not shocked at all; it seems like derby is a perfect place for mean girls to hide.  Mean girls come in many flavors, but most of them share the same characteristics, which make them recognisable.  Read this list of defining traits and see if you might have a mean girl in your league.
Remember this movie?  Be a Veronica, not a Heather.  Original image found here.

1.  Mean girls make themselves irreplaceable to the league.  I like to think of a mean girl as an invading cancer, and she will fill all of the empty spaces in your league.  Is there a job or responsibility nobody wants?  She'll do it, especially is it's a behind the scenes kind of job.  Pretty soon your league won't be able to function without her.  Don't let that happen!  Make sure everyone in your league is doing a job; spread the responsibility and power.

2.  Mean girls bully, but indirectly.  Mean girls are good at manipulating people, and you can rarely pin down something definite that they've done.  Everything is done obliquely, and you can't define how she's bullying, but you know it's happening.  Snide comments, indirect insults, passive aggressive behaviors should not be tolerated by your league.  Leadership in your league should confront this behavior immediately; look the mean girl in the eye when you do.

3.  Mean girls are control freaks.  To be fair, a lot of skaters are control freaks; alpha personalities tend to seek out control, but a mean girl takes it farther than most.   Her control freak tendencies are focused on making her feel comfortable in her setting, and roller derby might be the only place where she can assert her control.  Daily life, her job, and her family might be beyond her ability to control, so she's trying as hard as she can in roller derby to feel comfortable.  This is why it's so important to spread that power and responsibility throughout the league.

4.  Mean girls make people feel important by being friendly to them.  Mean girls tend to "befriend" newer skaters immediately, or people who seem to be weaker than they are, either in personality or as a skater.  They build a network of subordinate personalities to help push their agendas.  Often these agendas are pushed outside of the league, such as in a social session.  Make sure league decisions and agendas are as transparent as possible; all policy decisions should be public and voted on by the entire league.

5.  Mean girls instinctively find weaknesses.  There are some people who can sum up your worst fear about yourself in one sentence.  That's the mean girl's super power.  Sometimes they can make the most casual insult cut you to the bone.  If you let this hurt you, then you're falling into her trap.

6.  Mean girls say "We" or "Us" when it's just her expressing her opinion.  This is a classic female bully tactic.  It makes the bully sound like she has several other people agreeing with her on her opinions or ideas, even when nobody else has weighed in on the topic.  The best thing you can do in this situation is question who the "we" is.  If she can't or won't tell you, then she's probably using that statement as a manipulation.

7.  Mean girls are charismatic.  There is nothing worse, than a mean girl that is likeable.  That's really the strength of her power. 

8.  Mean girls never think they're mean.  To be fair, mean girls are often insecure with many aspects of their lives, and are trying to exert control over one portion of it.  Unfortunately, they don't necessarily care about who they're hurting while they do this; when you deal with a mean girl, remember that she never sees herself as a villain, and is going to play the victim to others if you try to expose her as one.

Ah, but what if that skater is the best skater you have?  There's the rub.  People seem to put up with all kinds of crappy behavior from skaters with skills.  Isn't that the American way? Actually, most professional sports are cracking down on the outbursts of bad behavior, and I think it's time for roller derby to do the same.  If you have strong personalities in your league, and I know you do, you might have some issues that need to be addressed.  Ask yourself some of these questions about your league, and depending on the answers, you might have a serious issue that you need to discuss with your league.

1.  Is it ok for a talented skater to bully a lesser talented skater in your league? 

2.  Do you have a way of correcting a player's behavior, but it is never used?

3.  Is your board empowered to enforce the rules?

4.  Does your board enforce the rules for everyone?  Are there special cases in your league due to them being a great player or a scary mean girl?

5.  Do you let your vets haze your new skaters?

6.  Is there a pecking order in your league?  Are certain people allowed to act badly and not be corrected?

7.  Are some skaters more important than others?

8.  Are skaters afraid to express their opinions about bullying or favoritism in your league?

9.  Is there a perceived favoritism in your league?

10.  Does leadership make excuses for the behavior of certain skaters, such as "Oh, she's just having a bad day."?

My father said that it was important to guard your reputation, because it was so easy to tarnish it.  Of course, I'm pretty sure he wasn't talking about derby at the time, but I agree with his point.  It's everyone's job to protect the reputation of your league.

If you have a serious question about bullying or bad behavior, you can contact these friendly folks at Blockers Not Bullies.  They also have a Facebook page.


  1. Timely.
    I think the sphere is a little larger evern.

    Skaters who bully
    -other skaters

    Officials who bully
    -other officials

    Announcers who bully
    -primarily skaters

    We talk a lot about the skaters who bully category, especially if it's against an official. However, we say almost nothing about officials who bully skaters and other officials, and the announcer bullying hasn't really even been discussed. It's easier for us to analyze ourselves (skaters) since it is our selves, but also I would suspect since we are women. But it's a lot more intimidating to talk about being bullied by the men in derby.

  2. This is a fantastic article. Instead of complaining that there are bullies, you have provided specific ways to combat them. It's also timely in my area because for several years there have been two leagues that were the product of the split of one league. The group that broke off was headed up by a textbook mean girl who then ran that league into the ground and stirred a lot of shit with the original league in the process. Now that the second league has dissolved, she just doesn't understand why the original league won't allow her to come back and skate. Moral of the story is, mean girls will always get the appropriate vipaka for their bad karma. Eventually.

  3. I actually left my first team because all it consisted of was mean girls. The board, the skaters, even the coach (though not a girl) fit your description. When a nasty rumor about me made up by one of these mean girls got to where I wasn't allowed to participate in jello wrestling (which speaks for itself) without a doctors note (just me, no one else on the team,) I quit. And I moved onto a bigger, better, nicer league. My only regret is that I didn't leave sooner.

  4. This is a great article, but I also think bullying takes place from actual Board of Directors within leagues. It’s easy to point out the obvious bad behavior that a skater may exhibit, but what if an elected group of individuals in charge of your league are the ones bullying? It’s much more difficult to point out a mean girl like that when they claim they are doing things for the league, when in the end their own agendas were being pushed. My league has several members of our travel team on our board, the majority of these skaters are at the lower number of the roster or alternates, time and time again this season they used their mean girl tactics to push more talented skaters out of the skating roster for their own benefit. How does one solve this issue, when the people trusted to make the correct decision for a league are putting themselves first? You can’t. I left that league the second time I saw it happen, and never looked back.

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    2. It takes a village to break her. :(