Monday, May 13, 2013

There's Not Always Room for Jell-O Wrestling

I will admit that I joined roller derby in a golden year; it was 2009, and derby was already crawling out of its muck of its origins.  The wheel of punishments was long gone, fishnets were starting to be outnumbered by compression pants, and the game was starting to reward athletic skaters as opposed to barroom brawlers.  It was a great time to start derby. 

Unfortunately, I've been noticing a scary trend lately on Facebook posts from other leagues.  People are bringing back Jell-O wrestling or spaghetti wrestling or baby oil wrestling for league fund raisers.  I've been thinking about this trend for a while, and I absolutely hate it.  HATE IT!   So what, Q?  Who cares what other leagues do to raise money?  Well, I do, and here's why.
For eating, not wrestling.

First of all, I know that we are all hurting for money for our leagues.  With the WFTDA changing the the procedure for rankings, leagues are traveling further and further to play the games they need.  Sometimes this means that a team has to travel far away for up to two to three times a year just to get a sanctioned game that will count for rankings.  That also means that sometimes leagues are packing two or three games into a travel weekend, which means they might have to extend their stay in a city, which also costs megabucks.  Couple that with many leagues seeing a drop in attendance at games, and you have an overwhelming need for money that can drive even the most respectable league to consider selling their respect in order to earn money.

Yes, I said it.  When your league succumbs to doing something like Jell-O wrestling to earn cash, you are trading in on everything you're striving to accomplish in roller derby.  Why are you traveling that far to play those games in the first place?  Is it because you feel like you are an athlete and want to be respected as such?  How do you reconcile rolling around in Jell-O with another skater, usually scantily clad, with being a respected athlete?  If you belong to the WFTDA, you know their catch phrase is "Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary."  Do you think any of these words describe Jell-O wrestling?  Do you think the spectators who come to watch derby girls roll around in food products think "wow, that's a real athlete in there" or do you think they're there to hopefully see someone pop out of her top? Jell-O wrestling is spectacle, and it puts our sport right back to the level it was in 2004. 

Have you thought about what your sponsors think about Jell-O wrestling?  Leagues live and die by their sponsors, and if you have one that is very family oriented, then they may not want to reup their sponsorship next season.  You might be shooting yourself in the foot in the long run to rake in short term cash.  That's not necessarily a great financial plan.

But, Q, it's none of your business how other leagues make money!  Actually, it is.  Every time you join the words "roller derby" and something shady like Jell-O wrestling, you're impacting every roller derby league and derby player.  What you do as a derby league has ripples and consequences for all of us.  Derby is finally stepping away from its past as a "spectacle" and moving towards sport, and if your league decides that making money is way more important that dignity, then you are making it tougher for the rest of us to be respectable. Please don't bring the rest of us into the ring.  If you as an individual want to Jell-O wrestle, fine.  Go ahead and do it!  Just don't drag roller derby into it.

If you were offended by this post, please fill out this form or we can have an actual dialog about it.

29 comments:

  1. I hate fundraisers like that, and if my current league had them, I wouldn't participate. They offend my feminist sensibilities and they don't fit with our league at all. On the other hand, I also remember what it was like being in a real brand new league desperately scrambling for funding and recruitment, when sponsorship was some glorious pie in the sky that we could maybe manage in a year if we could keep enough people and raise enough money to actually play a bout. I first played derby in 2006. A lot of our girls could barely afford skates, and Carolina Rollergirls (the nearest league to us and the best model we had to follow for our fundraising) was still hosting a Spanking Booth at bar events to raise money. So I guess what I'm saying is that I understand where you're coming from and I mostly agree, but coming from small town, fairly-early-days derby, I have a hard time passing judgment on what new leagues do to get a foothold established. I don't have any patience for it from established leagues, but from new ones? I understand what it's like to do just about whatever you can think of to get your league going.

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    1. True. People Did Stupid Things Back In The Beginning Of Derby, But Haven't We Evolved Since Then? I Know Many Leagues That Have Switched To Chili Cook Offs And Other Family Friendly Mean Of Raising Money...And They Are More Successful Because It Doesn't Take Place In A Bar. Let's Move Forward...Not Backwards.

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  2. Completely agree with this whole post. It breaks my heart to see leagues I respect do jell-o wrestling, especially when they otherwise try to be family friendly. It hurts the sport as a whole and it makes me take any league still doing stuff like that less seriously. Especially as junior derby grows, it's not just families in general but parents of young athletes that we need to get on board, and if they get it in their head that what their daughter is striving to do involves things like jell-o wrestling, how likely are they to allow her to play junior derby?

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  3. I think our image as a sport is evolving. I joined derby in 2010 after "Whip It" and for Fresh Meat, I bought short shorts, tights, striped socks, etc....what I thought embodied Roller Derby. I tried out to get in touch with my inner bad ass--I wanted to be fierce, assertive, and rock and roll!

    I don't know exactly what the future of derby will hold. On the one hand, it would be great to be professional athletes, getting paid to do what we love on the level of women's professional soccer or the WNBA. On the other hand, would it becomes all about corporate sponsorship and endorsements?

    There has to be something between crazy tights, tu tus, mohawk helmets and completely locked down, conformity.

    There are leagues I know of now that all use their real names, they skate in the least colorful uniforms imaginable, and they're doing everything they can to establish an image that is as far away as possible from the old ways.

    Is it necessary to go to extremes? Does it have to be all one way or the other?

    What do fans want? I sure hope it's not jello wrestling....but maybe it's not the other extreme either.

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    1. I don't know what the future is either, but I see the mistakes we've made in the past, and I don't want to repeat them.

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  4. Throwing "ripple" into a blog about scantily-clad jello-wrestlers.....hahahah! That almost made me snort. But, seriously - I agree 1000%. I think it's degrading to the individual and the sport (just my opinion), but if that's not a popular view, leagues should definitely think about their pocketbooks. Offending or alienating the family crowd will hurt us all - they're a large section of potential fans & sponsors, and mom & dad are bringing along the likely future of the sport.

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  5. I really agree. My league is still pretty new - only in our first full bouting season - and last year we did jello wrestling as a fundraiser before we'd even held an actual bout. I begrudgingly got talked into participating, and I HATED it. I ended up feeling humiliated and embarrassed. I remember saying to one of my teammates that the people who came to watch have never seen us play, but they now know that we'll roll around in jello with the highest bidder. Luckily, it hasn't been approached for this season, but if it does, I will be fighting tooth and nail that we don't do it again.

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    1. I think this might be the thing I hate most about some derby leagues. It's all about being who you want to be and acceptance, but skaters get pushed into doing things they aren't comfortable with all the time. The first league I skated with I had that problem and it was incredibly awkward and offputting.

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    2. If people are being pushed into things they aren't comfortable with, that league is not all about being who you want to be or being accepted - not matter what they claim.

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  6. This may cause some angry reactions but IMO 'Jello Wrestling'fund raisers are just a cute way of saying "I'll show you my tits if you give me $"

    Our league brought it up for discussion about 4 years ago, and thankfully shot it down.

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  7. I disagree with this, for a number of reason. First I'd like to say, my league will not be using jell-o wrestling as a fundraiser or anything...but I don't think it's fair to judge other teams for what they are doing. Perhaps WFTDA sanctioned teams influence the vision of derby so greatly that their fundraising tactics hurt or help the sport as a whole, but to say that all teams using it are affecting the whole is an obtuse stance - it's as if to say that a baseball CLUB team's decisions will affect major league, when they won't. We're not all WFTDA sanctioned.

    Besides this, who is to say this is what roller derby was meant to be because a few big teams have declared it so? Who's to say it wasn't meant to be more like it once was? WHO'S TO SAY THERE'S NO MIDDLE GROUND? The farther we get from "old school derby", the fewer asses are in the seats, that's for true. People enjoy excitement, the spectacle, AND the athleticism.

    I've been a part of a fundraiser that included jell-o wrestling in the past. WE WERE NOT DRESSED LIKE SLUTS, I take umbrage with that, we were dressed as we would be at a game. We wore team shirts and booty shorts.

    Lastly, a huge percentage of people who come out to their first game are coming to see the fishnets, the girls, and in hopes that something might pop out (LOL), I've heard this time and time again. They come for the sex appeal, they stay for the sport in a lot of instances, and that was always the point as far as I understand it: to prove that we are women, we are HOT, but we aren't objects, HEAR US ROAR.

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    1. But can't you do that without rolling around in jello?

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    2. Sure you can -but you can also do it WHILE rolling around in jello. I'm not saying it's the only thing, I'm saying it's one thing that some teams might find successful while trying to secure a fan base. I will say that the event I was a part of was a really great time, and took place at a sponsoring skate park. There were bands, a demo, and then some brave skaters offered to wrestle - fully clothed, and not with the intent of sexualizing ourselves. We had a great commentator, we were silly, and a good time was had by all...not to mention we had a HUGE pull, and not people who were looking for someone to fall out of their top: quality fans.

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  8. Do things like concession stands for other sporting events, wear your team shirts and let the public know who you are. If you want to be sexy, do a car wash. I say be good advocates for the sport at these fundraisers so more will become interested.

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  9. I think there is a middle ground. We are athletes, but we are also women. Being a woman, for many of us, includes enjoying feeling sexy. We did a fundraiser for St. Patrick's day. We IMMEDIATELY shot down a kissing booth or paying for dances. We did have an arm wrestling table and a photo booth. Most of the photos were of us being silly with each other, but there was definitely an element of people wanting to be around and be excited by what we are. We are sexy, because we're powerful. I think cashing in on that is ok and it's dishonest to say that that isn't a big part of the appeal for some people. I think selling sex is a terrible idea as a fundraiser, but a little sexy fun never hurt anyone.

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    1. Agreed! There is a way to be a little sexy without being slutty or otherwise going overboard with it. "We are sexy, because we're powerful" - I love that.

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  10. I was on a league that did spaghetti wrestling. Nothing sexy about it. Pure silliness. I did it in a giant crocodile costume. Against the crocodile hunter. There was Mario and Luigi versus King Koopa. Robots versus dinosaurs. I wouldn't have done it if it was sexy.

    HOWEVER...

    The thing that irritates me about it all is:

    SHOULDN'T WE BE DEFINING OUR SPORT IN AN ORIGINAL WAY?

    we don't have to be women's basketball.

    We should be able to be sexy if we want to because we just like a woman walking down the street shouldn't have to wear a certain thing in order to be taken seriously.

    By following a path of traditional sports, we are taking away our own agency to define ourselves on our own terms.

    It's part of why I wear lipstick when I play.( I don't wear lipstick at all outside of derby.) I want the world to see you can kick ass and be girly at the same time. You can CHOOSE to wear it, not wear it, whatever. WE SHOULDN'T LET OTHER PEOPLE TELL US WHETHER OR NOT WE ARE SERIOUS BASED ON OUR APPEARANCE.

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    1. I know guys who wear lipstick when they play. Nothing necessarily sexist about makeup. I'm just proposing that we think about what kind of impact we're having on our sport with the side silliness. Yes, it is side silliness.

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    2. This made me laugh, because I thought that very same thing in the shower after I read this - I don't want to be the WNBA, ain't nobody got time for that. Your event sounds like it was a total blast, very original.

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  11. I'm just gonna say I don't want sugar gelatin preserves in my cleavage, @$$ crack, or + w@+.

    On a more serious note I see nothing wrong with this article. I'm from a small town of derby leagues and as far as I know we have never had nor ever will hold jello wrestling. The most risqué thing was the polar bear plunge.

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    1. You're braver than I am...polar bear plunge....brrr!

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  12. Quality sponsors who will stick with and support your league is what's most important. Truth is, you get laughed out of the office at places who have big money if you're league looks like a joke. Having spanking booths and jello wrestling fits that category. Be someone a good solid business wants to support and would want to invite to events hosting people with bigger money. From experience, you won't have to work as hard at fundraising if you look legit. So, no excuses about HAVING to do risque things just to keep your league's head above water.

    One more thing...people forget that being a female athlete IS PRETTY DAMN SEXY in itself. I wear makeup and the occasional booty short, but mainly people think I'm sexy because I KNOW THIS SPORT and I put everything I have into being an amazing player...without my boobies hanging out.

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  13. Sorry, explain to me again why 'being sexy' comes into consideration at all? I couldn't care less if I'm being sexy while playing derby. I'm not there to look pretty, I'm there to skate. The whole "we can be sexy and feminine and tough" thing really bothers me. Some of us are sexy. Some aren't. The point is that our appearance is totally irrelevant. I love this post so hard. Big ups, Q.

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  14. It was close to 5 years ago that I joined up with my league and at that time, it was struggling pretty hard with identity, forming a solid foundation, promoting and hell, just playing derby. At that time there was another local league that had done straight up bikini mud wrestling in some bar. Wasn’t something I initially felt I should judge them on or anything. To each their own right? Well…wrong!!! We were attempting to put together a substantial fundraiser for our league and in the process of soliciting for donations, sponsors, etc. we did experience people who had only heard of the other league and their exploits and turned us away as a result. It has been a long hard road to getting the respect we wanted from our community and frankly it still requires us to put forth the effort to be the family friendly fun for everyone thing that we want it to be.

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