Sunday, April 12, 2015

Keyboard Reffing, and Why You Shouldn't.

Social media is a blessing and a curse. I've written quite a few blogs naming the pitfalls that many skaters trip into on Facebook and such.  Last year, I saw the drama of a coach commenting on photos from a bout, and basically telling the refs they were biased or plain incompetent. Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but it is only a single moment in time from a single perspective. Don't let those thousand words paint a picture of you as a jackass.

Keyboard Reffing, and Why You Shouldn't. 
By Amy Roundhouse

I very rarely say the words “I really dislike this thing about the roller derby community” because I generally love everything about it. However, there's one dislike that has been bugging me more lately as it keeps popping up: keyboard officiating.

We all love looking through post-game photos. Hilarious faces, epic moments, and of course, “Oh look she DID elbow her in the face! HIGH BLOCK! ELBOW!” We sometimes have this tendency to start calling penalties based on only the small, still point of view of a photo, and that is not cool.

Is that a forearm or am I being wingy?

I spoke to another skater about this who wished to remain anonymous, and she had a mouthful to share on the topic: “I'll never understand the need of others to start making officiating calls based on photos and/or sometimes video after a bout. We have officials that work our bouts...let them do their job. Use these as learning opportunities to share with your league, not to comment for the masses, which can be damaging to a skater, team, league, or the sport itself. Individuals are quick to give their 2 cents without a thought or care of the repercussions of their comments. After every bout I see someone that feels the need to do this and, to be honest, it doesn't make anyone look good. I am happy that it is something we talk about as proper derby etiquette (in our league).”

All of her points are great, and ones I agree with completely. First, we have our referees to consider. These volunteers spend their time, money, and energy learning the rules of the sport and applying them to their officiating. By calling penalties based on the very narrow point of view offered by bout photography, you are undermining your officials’ skills, publicly. Penalties are called based on a very particular moving spectrum involving action and impact. A photo can only tell one minor part of a larger situation. If you have an issue with calls, address them during the game with the officials, not on Facebook weeks later.

Secondly, certain comments can be hurtful to other skaters. As a whole, derby skaters want to play their game as cleanly and legally as they can. Most skaters do not want to intentionally shoulder you in the chin, but it happens sometimes. She or he will already eat a guilt sandwich over an illegal hit, they don't need a side of guilt beans piled on their plate by numerous comments on a photo calling them out or whining that it didn't get called. We play a hard hitting sport, and sometimes the hits may be illegal, and sometimes caught in stunningly edited photographic glory, much to the offender’s embarrassment. If you feel the need to vent about a frustrating moment frozen in time in a folder on Facebook, do it privately with  teammates and avoid the possibility of hurting anyone's feelings.

Third, you could hurt your leagues reputation with your comments. It's one thing to sit at a desk with teammates flipping through photos and discussing what you see. It's another thing entirely to leave accusatory comments all over bout photos. If your team plays four games, and after all four of those games a certain couple of skaters spend their time going through the photos trying to keyboard officiate everything they see, people may not see it as “Betty Rollergirl and Jessie Jukejumper always leave very hurtful and negative comments on bout photos,” they'll see it as “Northsouth Rollergirls have a tendency to leave hurtful comments on bout photos.” It reflects on the league as a whole. You may end up losing officials or opponents, and no one wants that. We want the derby community to grow, we want your league to thrive, and we want you to be a part of our sport. Rule number 1 in derby is supposed to be “Don't be a douchebag.” Let's get back to that.

Is there a high block happening?
Obviously I'm not saying don't ever discuss any bout photos online ever. There was a photo posted in the Facebook group iDerby that had over 500 comments discussing whether the action in the photo was legal. Some of it was arguing, but much of it was constructive talk about rules, and there's nothing wrong with that. Rules discussion is always a good thing. But be mindful of what you're posting. Ask yourself, is what I’m about to post helpful? Will it contribute to anything? Could it hurt someone's feelings? Will what I'm saying possibly make my league look bad?

As my anonymous friend said, “Do what is best for derby, then your league, then your team... that should be the order of priority.”

Photos used in this blog were provided with permission by Shon Higgs.


  1. Like it or not roller derby is becoming a "legitimate" sport. That said, skaters and refs should do there best and ignore public opinions about a refs call or a skaters performance. People are going to debate differeing perspectives based off photos and instant replay regardless of their standing as an actual official. If the public didn't care about the sport, they wouldn't argue about it and they wouldn't buy tickets.

    1. But it doesn't have to be done in a dickish way. Right now, the derby community is small and people know people. It's a lot different to complain about a ref in an NFL game.

  2. Great article!
    As a Ref/Coach/Announcer (Heavy focused on the Ref side) one thing I've always done is to be quick to caveat whenever we discuss possible penalties via video/picture is that the camera is quite possibly a different angle of view than the Officials who may or may not have made a call. Also, in cases of still photography you don't capture the full spectrum of the action from build up to completion to make the full determination.

    Case in point, the very first picture being an excellent example. Was the purple blocker the initiator? Did she tuck her forearm in at the very last moment before impact? Did the jammer fall down, go out of bounds, or otherwise lose relative position? All of those are required knowledge before issuing the Forearms Penalty.

    If the Jammer was the initiator, the forearm is a legal target zone. A counter block is defined as movement towards the oncoming initiator. So if the purple blocker merely 'braced' for impact, even if her forearm remained in the position it was and the jammer fell, it is the jammers initiation not the blockers.