For the Fans, By the Fans

A few days ago, I received an email. It was from a young woman who, like many playing the game, became enthralled with roller derby after attending her first bout. She immediately decided to play it, and committed herself to training to be a good skater.

However…

“One thing I’ve since learned is the standard of athleticism is low, and occasionally non-existent, in the derby world. While this was enticing to me (and I assume many other skaters) initially, I’ve learned that it’s also created two schools of roller derby: The athletic school and the social school. The latter are the ones who worry the most about nicknames, boutfits, derby drama, and never move beyond the grassroots bush leagues.”

And very quickly, she has discovered the problem that exists with a sport that is meant to be “for the skaters, by the skaters.”

We all know what the spirit of this phrase is all about. But the WFTDA actually takes it a step further and has made it its governing philosophy. Says so right there on its website. “By the skaters” is not just an ethos; it’s their constitution. Everything that has to do with WFTDA roller derby is controlled solely by the skaters who play the game, for the benefit of the skaters who play the game.

This ideal has served the game well over the previous decade, as the explosive growth of derby across the United States and throughout the world has readily demonstrated. There are more than 200 leagues under the wings of the WFTDA (including apprentices) and of the almost thousand or so more unaffiliated leagues around the world, many more mirror WFTDA rules and policies.

The proliferation of WFTDA-style flat track derby puts the Association and its members at one of the top positions in the race to grow and expand the sport to new skaters and new fans. Since the WFTDA acts at the direction of the players who play the game, this currently gives the skaters a big chunk of control over what direction the future of the sport will head in.

Frankly, that’s a big responsibility. Are the skaters up for it?

That’s a tricky question to answer. As our young, aspiring athlete has figured out, the open-arms policy that allows anyone to play roller derby is a double edged sword: Anyone can play roller derby…including maybe the ones that shouldn’t.

If “the skaters” are the ones in charge, maybe it would be a good idea to find out who this group consists of. Because if the skaters are leading the charge to help foster and grow this game for the future, we should be sure the right people are doing it for the right reasons: For the good of those involved with the sport, and of the sport itself.

So just who are the skaters who play roller derby?

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The Skaters

Through observation and personal experience, I have found there are three types of skaters playing in female roller derby leagues, including those affiliated with the WFTDA. Your mileage may vary, but I think this general grouping is mostly accurate.

First, we have the true athletes in the sport. These women go above and beyond the call of duty to improve their skate skills and their derby knowledge, putting in far more than the minimum practice time required of them by their leagues. This group of women work the hardest and the longest, striving to be the best they can be for their team, their league–or their entire country, in the case of the roller derby world cup.

These skaters are all business when it comes to playing roller derby as a sport. I would have no reservations in calling them the true first generation of modern roller derby skaters, wanting to show the world just how freakin’ awesome this sport can be by their actions on and off the track, showing appreciation to those who have allowed them this opportunity.

The skaters who represented Team USA at the Blood & Thunder Roller Derby World Cup are doing more than the average skater. They're setting athletic standards for future players. (Photo credit: D.E.sign via Tumblr)

Second, there is also what must be the core of women playing the game. They’re not all-stars, but they put in their fair share of effort, loving the game and wanting nothing more than the camaraderie and the self-esteem building activities they can’t get anywhere else. They can’t commit endless hours to practice, but the time they do put to good use because they know that the hard work and self-sacrifices they make will pay off in the long run.

Now, if you were to paint an ideal picture of the modern “rollergirl,” you’re going to get a composite of these two groups. It’s the kind of character story that the WFTDA likes to hang its hat on when promoting its players, and the ones the newspapers eat up: “By day, she’s a hard-working professional. By night, she’s a hard-working skater,” yadda yadda yadda.

We’re told never to judge a book by its cover. That’s something that applies here, too. Even though what’s on the outside looks great, there’s something not-so-great lurking inside it.

There’s a third group of skaters that believe that “empowerment” means “entitlement,” under the auspice that “for the skaters” means “we can do anything we want because this game belongs to us and no one else.”

It’s this group of skaters who put their own selfish interests ahead of the interests of the sport. They’re the ones that don’t want to work as hard as some of their teammates, but are happy to take in the same praise and admiration as them—and all the attention at the afterparties.

This group of skaters, whether they’re doing it obliviously or maliciously, look down on those who don’t play the game—be they coaches, volunteers, or even fans—because hey man, you don’t skate.

I believe this group of skaters are doing nothing to help the game grow, and in fact may be holding it back from its true potential.

Every league has gone through some form of “derby drama,” including my own, and more often than not it’s skaters from this third group who are involved with it in one form or another.

Thing is, I’ve assumed that this sort of stuff was isolated to newer leagues going through growing pains, or just a with a few people in larger leagues, only to be dealt with swiftly in either case to ensure the health and well-being of the affected league.

But then I read the story of Angus Con, former all-star team head coach at Denver.

This past September, he wrote a ten-part exposè on his blog (which you should probably read) on his alleged maltreatment as coach by some of Denver’s skaters. He talks of secret meetings, backstabbing, nastiness, jealousy, scapegoating, being deliberately held out of the loop, and an alleged rigged vote which ultimately saw him outed as coach without so much as a thanks from the bulk of the skaters who he helped bring team success.

The picture he paints is a pretty discouraging one, especially considering that these kinds of alleged actions happened at a large, established, and successful derby league, allegedly orchestrated by the team captains (at the time) who should be the most above such petty selfishness. Even if it were a big misunderstanding, why weren’t things ironed out in a cordial manner?

The Denver Roller Dolls, pictured here after winning third place at west regionals in 2009. Are the allegations true? If they are, what does that say about roller derby?

Despite that alleged incident, a one-sided account of circumstances at one league doesn’t automatically mean it’s happening everywhere. I still wanted to believe it was just one of a small number of isolated incidents. Surely, there can’t be THAT many people within the WFTDA membership who act in such selfish ways…right?

…Right??

But the circumstantial evidence was starting to paint a more dire picture that this is a bigger problem than I dare imagine.

Take the Oly Rollers. They’ve had to deal with loud whispers of disrespect since joining the WFTDA, being hated by some skaters on for reasons that I can only assume are spitefulness their (hard-earned) skating talent, talent they used to dominate the 2009 season and capture the WFTDA Championship in their first full year of membership.

Too, many skaters who don’t like something or take personal offense at someone, will use any reason—or rumor—they can find and use it as justification to dish out genuinely hurtful comments behind their backs, or even publicly, without trying to settle the manner like responsible adults.

They know full-well why they’re doing it, with no consideration for how it may effect the victim. It can be borderline verbal abuse; if you saw this “anonymous” comment directed at Oly before it was deleted, you’d have a hard time arguing otherwise.

There’s a lot more than that. Many wished actual physical harm (“kill them!” “break their ribs!”) to Dutchland after their playoff forfeit, rushing to conclusions or turning speculation into facts to persecute them without taking their situation or their feelings into consideration. It’s okay to disagree with what they did, but to do it with such immaturity and hatred is not cool.

There are female derby skaters that still see men’s derby as inferior, as if having a penis makes somehow makes a person ineligible to participate in a sport that has considered men and women as equals from its inception. (And here I thought derby culture was all for gender equality.)

Many derby skaters take outside constructive criticism as a personal insult and react accordingly, as if outsiders aren’t allowed to point out anything negative about their game—even if what was said was honest and truthful.

These incidents of negativity have been getting prevalent enough one of the most positive people you’ll ever meet in roller derby, San Diego Derby Dolls founder and totally awesome derby coach Bonnie D.Stroir, felt it necessary to post on her blog with the observation that derby is starting to be “by the skaters, just for them.”

It’s starting to feel like the original spirit behind “by the skaters, for the skaters” is getting lost against the backdrop of many people’s own personal ideal for what the game is “supposed” to be like, an ideal that may be negatively skewed by the people and culture they choose to surround themselves with.

But in doing this, they don’t realize (or maybe they do) that the way they come off is rude, arrogant, selfish, and condescending towards others who want to bring to help bring the game to everyone, people who have no other agenda than to do their very best to improve this game so the right people can play it, for the right reasons.

Because when someone like Dumptruck thinks he’s being treated like “a second class citizen” by some of those that play the game, we have a problem. If left unchecked, it could undermine the very foundation of modern roller derby.

To think, some of "the skaters" who play roller derby look down on this great man. Does roller derby deserve to grow if there are people involved with the sport who act that way?

Dumptruck is pretty goddamn high up on the respect ladder in the derby community. He is beloved by many for what he’s done for the game, he has given his life to the sport, and is appreciative and grateful for what derby has done for him. He knows many players and teams and has been involved with many events across the country (the world, even) so I trust him to be a reliable barometer on the affairs of the skating community at large.

So that even he could feel looked down on by some of those who play the game just because he doesn’t skate is damning to the current state of modern roller derby. For him to admit that he’s not always treated with respect by some of “the skaters” is the last straw as far as I’m concerned.

No, seriously. This pisses me the fuck off.

If the mission of the WFTDA is to promote and foster the sport of women’s flat track roller derby by facilitating the development of athletic ability, sportswomanship, and goodwill among member leagues—that’s what it says on its website—it will not succeed with that mission in the long term if it allows its member leagues to harbor those who do not want to develop athletic ability or show goodwill to everyone who is involved with the sport, not just those that are a part of their clique.

If the whole idea behind behind “by the skaters, for the skaters,” is that the people who play the game call all the shots, then that means some of the very people who are have a voice in guiding the WFTDA are not doing it in the best interests of the sport, and are all not always showing goodwill to those that are.

The selfish skaters who don’t want to “move beyond the grassroots bush leagues” have the same voice and vote in the WFTDA as the true athletes that want to push the sport forward. I worry that the former may be starting to outnumber the latter, and these two groups may be canceling each other out, leaving the status quo unchanged.

There’s also the fact that the selfish skaters have a more direct voice in WFTDA that do the non-skating fans that have put in their fair share time, money, and hard work into making the sport of roller derby better.

Is that fair? Is that right?

An inconsistent foundation is not the best thing to build a new sport upon. But that’s exactly what the WFTDA is ready to do if it and its member leagues do not take action to get the drama out of roller derby and put the sport and those that truly make it what it is ahead of all else.

Although, that leads to another question. If we want to keep the original DIY spirit behind “for the skaters, by the skaters,” but not all “the skaters” seem to hold true to that spirit, derby is going to need a new catchphrase to make sure the group of people are making this sport for themselves have the same interests and the same positive attitude that got this ship off the ground in the first place.

So who are those that truly make what roller derby is today?

I’ve got an idea about that. But first, I have an axe to grind.

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The Fans

After the debacle that was the Rat City/Rocky Mountain game at the WFTDA west region playoffs, Derby Deeds interviewed WFTDA President Grace Killy to help the derby community get a better understanding of the organization, its goals, and what it intended to do address the negative fan reaction to all the non-derby that reached its zenith that weekend.

As as fan, I appreciated this interview. It gave some much-needed transparency to the processes of the WFTDA, something the organization really needs to do more often.

Inevitably, the conversation touched base on “by the skater, for the skater:”

Derby Deeds: “A popular phrase in roller derby right now is ‘by the skater, for the skater.’ The fans are kind of curious when it’s going to be ‘for the fans.’ What’s the direction the WFTDA plans to take roller derby? Is it ever going to be for the fans?”

Grace Killy, WFTDA President: “I think when you’re talking about ‘for the fans,’ you’re talking about professional sports. You’re talking about things like NASCAR, or the NFL, or the NHL where somebody owns it, someone is making a profit on it, and someone is paying professionals to do what they tell them to do.

The UFC is a perfect example of that style of new kind of up-and-coming, sort-of grassroots-start sport that has somebody at the top making those kind of business decisions. The mission of the WFTDA isn’t business. It’s to provide the sport for the membership that we have as an organization.

As a fan, I did not appreciate this answer.

It would have been very democratic of Grace Killy to immediately answer this question with something like, “we appreciate our fans and all that they’ve done to help support our member leagues,” or a response along those lines to thank all of those that buy tickets, concessions, merchandise, raffle tickets, parking passes, or go to fundraisers.

But no, the moment “for the fans” is mentioned, that MUST mean it’s no longer “for the skaters,” which therefore MUST automatically mean someone is doing it “for the money.”

This response further solidifies the notion that “the skaters” do not want to cede control to, or be told what do by outsiders for fear of losing control over or credit for all that they had built up over the last ten years.

This takes many forms. I’ve heard people voice their concerns that trying to make the game more “entertaining” for fans means that derby needs to fully revert back to the scripted, sports-entertainment era of the past.

Some also believe that USARS is trying to take over roller derby from the coattails of the WFTDA, with one well-known player going as far as labeling it as “weird power grab.” (Never mind the fact that any legitimate bid for derby’s Olympic chances must go through USARS and FIRS before it gets to the International Olympic Committee. Guess they forgot about that.)

Even the commissioner himself, Jerry Seltzer (or as I personally like to call him, the Roller Derby Jesus—he is the Son of the Father of game, after all), seems to get an awful lot of flak from some for speaking openly and honestly, as if what he’s saying can’t be taken at face value due to some maniacal master plan to take back His (er, his) sport and do what he wants with it at the expense of those playing it.

This is something that has baffled me since the beginning. Aren’t we all fans of roller derby? So why does the derbyverse find a need to belittle or undermine other fans of roller derby just because they may have ideas or opinions on how to improve upon the status quo that no one seems to want to change?

To be fair to Grace Killy, she did acknowledge the importance of fans to individual WFTDA leagues as she continued her to response to Derby Deeds, specifically answering the question about the relationship between the WFTDA as an organization and derby fans in general. Here was the rest of her response:

When you talk about the fan experience and the fan interaction, the leagues at their home level are extremely concerned about what the fans are seeing. I know that as a skater for Brewcity we are always trying to make sure that what we’re putting out as a product to the audience and the people that pay and buy tickets to come see us skate is something that they want to come back and see.

It’s a trickier conversation when you talk about it at the WFTDA organizational level. How does the WFTDA consider the fan voice? I think it gets considered through each league who has a very personal relationship with the fans in their area and eventually that fan voice does come in, but it comes in because each of those leagues is advocating to have the best thing that they can put out for their fan base and their area as well. Then it becomes that democratic balancing process of making sure we get the best possible solution for the most people.”

“The most people,” eh?

Count the number of skaters in these photos. Then count the number of fans. Isn't a democracy supposed to be "the majority rules?" (Photo credits: Jules Doyle/Various)

The number of fans watching roller derby dwarfs the number of skaters playing the game, and that discrepancy will only grow larger as the game grows larger. Yet, the skaters currently have a disproportional amount of control in this so-called “democratic balancing process.”

If it were truly democratic, the balance would be between what the fans want to see and what the skaters want to play. Instead, it’s a balance between what some of the skaters want, and what some other skaters want…with the fan voice “eventually” coming in.

That’s not really fair to us fans, is it? Because the last time I checked, playing in a venue that seats hundreds or even thousands of people is not necessary to play roller derby for fun.

Come to think of it, teams don’t really need to pay for a dedicated practice space, either. Because if all they wanted to do is play roller derby, they would just need to find an empty parking lot, chalk down a track, and play amongst themselves. and don’t charge admission if you want people to watch. It’s easier, cheaper, and lets you play the game without fear of being told what to do by all those people that would have shown up if you played in a venue with all that room for spectators.

I think this is something that some derby folk are failing to appreciate.

On an individual level, a skater paying skater dues, going to practice two or three times a week, doing mandatory volunteer work, and juggling all of that with their real-life responsibilities commands a lot of respect, certainly a lot more respect than what any one single fan or volunteer may have contributed to a league. As a fan (and skater, let’s not forget), I recognize that.

Collectively, however, the time and effort put in by derby volunteers and the money and exposure given to leagues by the tens of thousands, and maybe even hundreds of thousands of average fans who attend games should command at least an equal amount of respect from the thousands skaters who play the game in their audience.

The issue here isn’t whether individual derby leagues have the right to control their activities. It’s that second you choose to play in front of big crowds, bigger venues, and receive all the spoils that come with that, you have an obligation to give those fans a bit of control over things in return. Otherwise, you’re being incredibly selfish.

To put it another way: No taxation without representation.

Organizationally, the WFTDA is doing a better job of it. I’m sure the fan input the group gets through its annual surveys is being put to use. (They actually have two running this year, which are open through February 15; please do them both if you haven’t already.) However, more transparency in how our input directly translates to action would do wonders for derby from a PR perspective.

So would a little more fan appreciation directly from the skaters on the whole. Of course, many skaters say they love their fans and truly mean it from the bottom of their heart. I don’t need to tell you if you’re one of them, because you’d know it if you were.

But collectively, “the skaters” sometimes come off as rude or disrespectful to fans through their words or actions. What Rat City’s Carmen Getsome said in response to getting booed by fans for their no-derby tactics in that game doesn’t help derby’s public image:

“We practiced being booed. We know what it feels like, and we’re okay with it.”

Really? How the fuck do you think we fans felt? Not that you care, since a response like that is basically saying, “fuck the fans, we’ll do what we want.”

Just saying you appreciate the fans isn’t going to be good enough after something that. The fans and volunteers put their money where their mouth in by supporting derby. We show our appreciation with dollars for your league, dollars for your sponsors, and word-of-mouth for your communities.

Actions speak louder than words. If the WFTDA and its member leagues want to show honest and genuine appreciation for the collective efforts of its volunteers and the fan base at large, there’s an action they can undertake that’s a win-win for the skaters who work the hardest and the fans that support them the most. It’s probably too late to do it this year, but there’s plenty of time to get it done for the 2013 season:

An officially-sanctioned WFTDA all-star game.

The wild success that was the Team USA Stars vs. Stripes scrimmage at the roller derby world cup left the fans wanting more. We shouldn’t have to wait multiple years to see the best skaters in the country play against each other in one special event. Why not do it every year and make it the WFTDA’s official thank-you gift to its fans?

Professional athletes don't always do it for the money, as a lot of derby folk like to think. Sports leagues and the players that play in them know fan appreciation is critical to their success.

Hold it during Rollercon in Vegas, where all the skaters are going to be anyway. Let each the members in each WFTDA league nominate at least one of their own players to attend “all-star weekend,” so local fans for every team can be sure one of their favorite skaters is represented. Have a regional or national fan vote determine the players they want to see play in the main event.

You could hold a mini-tournament with the best of each of the four regions playing each other, or go for the whole ball o’ wax and have one game made up of the 28 very best WFTDA skaters from all over the world, as determined by a fan vote. It would be something the skaters would have to cede some control over, letting the fans tell them what to do for one measly game.

Oh, the horror.

Fans would go mad for it. I would personally shit my pants seeing the best WFTDA skaters playing in one game, just for fun (provided the rules they play by—ahem—don’t suck).

But wouldn’t the skaters would benefit from something like this, too? Striving to be an all-star might be a “carrot on a stick” to help them improve their skills and be individually recognized by fans on the national stage, even if their team isn’t quite ready to compete for a national title. Hell, if all of the WFTDA got to see an entire game of pure skating awesomeness, wouldn’t they be super-motivated to work just as hard and play just as well as the all-stars?

I can’t imagine anyone—skater, volunteer, or average fan—who wouldn’t be all for it.

And that right there is what “for the skaters, by the skaters” is missing. It worked great when the skaters were the majority group involved with the sport. But now, as the skaters become a minority group compared to the collective might of the non-skating fan base, it will do no good for the sport for them to selfishly hold all the cards.

Pretty soon, the WFTDA isn’t going to be the only game in town. If another type of roller derby (USARS, MRDA, banked track, professional derby) starts gaining steam and overtakes the WFTDA in fan popularity, “for the skaters, by the skaters” will come full circle; the skaters will be all who remains. If there are things the fans would like to see (chief among them: skating) but the skater hivemind doesn’t want it for themselves, nothing will improve and everyone will lose.

Don’t think it’s impossible. We’re seeing how quickly derby has evolved. If I were the WFTDA, I wouldn’t want to take my chances. If the current generation of skaters don’t start taking meaningful actions to respect the best interests of the fans, someone else will—and there’s no guarantee they’ll do it for the right reasons.

When Grace Killy was asked when roller derby was going to be “for the fans,” I think she, and many within the derby community, seem to be misunderstanding something important. Here’s her response again:

I think when you’re talking about ‘for the fans,’ you’re talking about professional sports. You’re talking about things like NASCAR, or the NFL, or the NHL where somebody owns it, someone is making a profit on it, and someone is paying professionals to do what they tell them to do.

And here’s my response to her:

Who are the biggest fans of roller derby, but not the skaters who want nothing more than to play this great game to the best of their abilities?

These fans aren’t professionals. No one owns these fans. No one is making a profit on these fans. These fans aren’t getting paid.

They’re fans of roller derby that just want to skate, and who appreciate the fans that help them do it.

Skating fans of roller derby don’t look down on a volunteering fan just because they don’t skate; they appreciate them for their contribution for the sport, however small that might be.

The fans that skate don’t start damaging rumors or try to discredit their teammates (or coaches) because they don’t like something they did; they act like adults, try to work it out face-to-face for the good of their league and the sport.

Fans of roller derby don’t fear other derby organizations or rule sets just because they’re not doing it “their way;” they welcome them with open arms, because it’s another way to watch and play the game they love, and to help improve the game on the whole using a different perspective to do it.

It’s the fans who should be leading the charge headlong into the next decade of roller derby, and no one else. The fans that pay to watch, the fans the volunteer, and the fans that skate should all have a voice on how roller derby moves forward for the future, in a way that is proportionally fair and just for all parties involved.

It’s roller derby, “for the fans, by the fans.”

This should be modern roller derby’s new constitution. Under it, the skaters get a game that they want to play and the fans get a game they want to support. No one is shut out of the process for what they aren’t; they are included in the process for what they have to contribute to the game. Disagreements are settled based on what’s good for the sport and its fans, not the individuals who want what’s good for themselves.

The skaters who don’t want to buy into this process can leave. There’s nothing stopping them from playing roller derby all by themselves, without those bothersome fans. Maybe it’s best for the sport that they get left behind.

The way I see it, if a derby “fan” looks down upon or otherwise disrespects another derby fan in the community, no matter what role that fan takes on—be it customer, volunteer, or skater—they’re really not a true fan of roller derby after all.

So why should we allow them to stay a part of our great community?

“For the fans, by the fans” may be a pipe dream, the impossible perfect derby utopia. When you get thousands of different people wanting a thousand different things for roller derby, one single consensus may be impossible.

But roller derby has already proven the impossible is possible. Ten years ago, small group of women in Texas shared a common interest and trusted each other to do the right thing. Many said it would never amount to anything.

Look where we are now.

We need to return to the true and original spirit of roller derby. As we speak, a large group of fans share a common interest, and we need to trust each other to do the right thing for the skaters, for the fans, and for the future of this great sport.

If everyone can hold true to that, there will be no stopping roller derby’s growth. Whatever form the game ultimately takes at the recreational, amateur, and soon professional levels, as long as everyone involved is a real fan of the game, doing it for the real fans of the game, everything is going to be alright.

Trust me on that. I’m a fan of roller derby.

Are you?

46 responses to this post.

  1. This was a good and insightful read – thanks. A couple of things:

    1. “Hold [an all-star game] during Rollercon in Vegas, where all the skaters are going to be anyway.”

    This is a fantastic idea in theory, but given Rollercon’s timing right in the middle of the WFTDA season, it’d be unlikely you’d be able to convince a genuine top 28 to go; at best, you’d have glaring no-shows that would sort of undermine the appeal. Also, Rollercon has a (not entirely undeserved) reputation as being a primarily social / party event; your “first type” of super-athletic skaters who are 100 percent business are exactly the ones least likely to be interested in Rollercon. (Which isn’t to say that there are no “first type” skaters who can also rage out like nobody’s business. I’m tempted to drop names here but I’ll leave it there.)

    I think December is a much better time for this sort of thing — the World Cup organizers, I’m sure, made the same calculus).

    2. “Come to think of it, teams don’t really need to pay for a dedicated practice space, either. Because if all they wanted to do is play roller derby, they would just need to find an empty parking lot, chalk down a track, and play amongst themselves. and don’t charge admission if you want people to watch.”

    FWIW, many of my best experiences with roller derby have been exactly this.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Daelstrom on 6 February 2012 at 3:56 am

    This is an overseas opinion, but the above the sentiments above seem strangely accurate for our scene

    I have skated, a long time ago, but after 2 motorbike accidents, it would be a bit shaky at best! So already I am irrelevant to this discussion

    However, my hobby is making community TV (almost 300 episodes of various genres), and I was looking at Derby as my 14th area of the community to make a show about. Looking at this growing sport, both as a spectacle and a source of fresh community stories, I was excited about what I could bring to it with my experience, and an opportunity to make the TV that represents the subject, not for the sponsors.

    my experience with derby?
    Admission to games are paid, volunteers are employed to get things done, and ‘sponsors’ provide free services in the hope it means something. But the Fan experience? You wait, you watch with little knowledge of what is going on, you can’t hear much, and you wait some more between bouts without much effort to be entertained. Where does the money go? Referees aren’t paid, facilities are primitive, and generally the fans seem to get no benefit from handing over admission

    As a professional working in the events industry, I understand the difficulty for organising events, but also understand the importance of growing them to cater for all participants (Skaters, volunteers & fans etc).

    As a non-skater, I wonder how much I can actually offer to this wonderful sport, before I hit the ‘non-skater’ prejudice. I have heard a lot of stories already, and have read a lot of posts suggesting the concern is very real. Having been involved with community groups for over a decade, I have experienced the best & worst of people, and usually the worst is the part that floats to the surface. The sentiments above highlights concerns many have regarding the sport, but not enough will realise before it is too late. Too many of us enjoy making a good ‘drama’ about life, but rarely realise the consequences.

    I hope that more fans of derby (including players) read this blog, and realise that derby can be ‘by the skaters, volunteers & fans, for the skaters, volunteers & fans”

    Reply

    • Posted by anon on 6 February 2012 at 10:49 am

      Where does the money go? Venues are much more expensive then they look (several hundred to $2500). EMTs. Giving the visiting team a travel stipend (between $500-$1000). Donating a portion of each bout to charity. On my league, a bout costs about $4000 to put on. Since we only bring in about $2500, that means each bout has a net LOSS of $1500. Any profit (which is nill, but theoretically) usually would go to things like practice space (which can cost several thousand dollars a month for a space), uniforms, merch, travel expenses for away bouts – because believe it or not $500 doesn’t cut it for 20 people to travel as much as 12 hours away.

      Reply

  3. Posted by N8 on 6 February 2012 at 5:14 am

    One nitpick, all the pushback against USARS I’ve heard has been because of the Olympics. From what I was told, the Olympic committee was ready to let inline speed skating into the Olympics, but USARS said “you take all the roller sports or you take none” and the Olympics took none of them, and then most of the inline speed skaters switched to ice (like Apolo Ohno). So, there is nothing they’d like better than to go around USARS and get to the Olympics without them.

    Reply

    • That was a detail about USARS I was not aware of, though it doesn’t completely surprise me. I’ve heard about issues with some skaters having trouble getting USARS insurance claims paid to them and other issues when trying to deal with them directly.

      People who have issue with USARS very well may have legitimate gripes against them, but I’ve also heard people with plenty of legit gripes with the WFTDA, so it’s not like one or the other is automatically better. Derby is very young and growing fast, so there’s bound to be a lot of disorganization within it, even in so-called “organized” bodies.

      Regardless, there are people (derby fans!) in both organizations that have the best interests of the skaters and the sport in mind. It’s just going to take a while to iron out the kinks and streamline things so they can do their thing without all the red tape getting in the way.

      I figure, it’ll probably be 20 or 30 years before derby can really get seriously serious about an Olympic bid. I’d love for that estimate to be a gross overestimation, of course.

      Reply

  4. Posted by Scott on 6 February 2012 at 11:34 am

    I’m a fan. I have friends in the sport, and I am a fan. I’d like to be a better fan; part of that is how the game is played and presented — could use a little pizzazz, a little razzle-dazzle, a little way to pick up the pace and make it more of a show. I know that violates some weird DIY aesthetic, but that’s the nature of having an audience.

    I’d like to be more of a fan, but I’ve heard tales of exactly how skaters treat the very people volunteering to make them look good. I have a friend who volunteered as security for some bouts, but quit in disgust because skaters treated him like he was dirt. Which is pathetic bullshit.

    There’s the old saw about how those who are bullied become bullies themselves. In the days when derby attracted the outcasts, the square pegs, the ones who didn’t fit into any sort of easy slot, it was a celebration of who they were. But now it seems that those who were once excluded have learned to exclude; those who had no social station have learned how to lord their status over anyone else, even the people who are giving up their free time to help put on the show. Treating the crew like dirt is the surest sign of an out-of-control sense of entitlement. Rein it in.

    Reply

    • They not only treat the volunteers that way but also fellow skaters and teammates. At times, it is like high school all over again.

      Reply

    • Posted by Ixnay on the Amadray on 6 February 2012 at 11:56 am

      It’s pretty amazing to me that roller derby, which supposedly is an outsider sport, most resembles in its organization the ultimate insider organization: sororities.

      Reply

  5. Posted by Ixnay on the Amadray on 6 February 2012 at 11:54 am

    I was mostly with you, with one exception:

    *I’ve learned that it’s also created two schools of roller derby: The athletic school and the social school.*

    This statement concerns me, as a recent recruit who was a longtime volunteer and has a ton of derby friends. I’m athletic, and have played sports all my life. But I am older and fatter than the average derbier and had almost no experience with skates when I started skating. In fact, I tried out twice. I didn’t make it the first time, and I went out an attended open skates and so on and tried out again. Right now I’m on that Fresh Meat/L1 line after having broken my arm during Fresh Meat. (And I’m not commenting on my team. I’m commenting on multiple leagues with whom I’m familiar all over the world.)

    My experience as someone who works hard but doesn’t make ideal progress is that the sport is getting less and less tolerant of people who are learning to skate, but may not be elite skaters. There seems to be the notion that if you don’t progress at x rate, it’s because you don’t want to, and this seems to be the basis for arranging off-rink league privileges around skating skill. But there’s really no correlation, and that kind of mindset can be very alienating for more marginal skaters. In my mind it’s a symptom of the entitlement mentioned in the column — it doesn’t make organizational sense, but it’s institutionalized because people believe they are entitled to statuatory superiority. And since you’re not dealing with a captive audience, this is a contributor to the way-too-high attrition that most of the leagues experience. (Plus, most other adult sports are thrilled to have anyone who can meet pretty basic standards and pay to play. So we’re in competition with other organizations that don’t routinely take an exclusive attitude toward potential players. For example, you’re not going to get into the Boston marathon without a qualifying elite time, but nobody’s going to tell you that you’re not good enough to run the neighborhood 10k.) Further, we need skaters at all levels — the less-skilled ones will mostly progress into greater skill, and those with fewer skating demands on their time can be very valuable in terms of the manpower you need to run a league.

    Also, the creep of standards can be kind of galling, given that many of the current-day elites didn’t come up in a a highly restricted atmosphere because the leagues weren’t as developed. At the lower levels, in some cases leagues are putting up barriers to participation in front of skaters who are separated from open-recruitment skaters by a matter of months — meaning that someone who came in just before another gets the time she needs to develop, while the other is shut out. So, are we about accessibility and empowerment and the people, or are we not? Because the language says we are, but that doesn’t mean we act like we are. Incidentally, I really don’t think that the creep, per se, is a problem — it’s more a matter of how it’s handled and communicated by the players. So, back to that entitlement business.

    Reply

  6. The UFC is a perfect example of that style of new kind of up-and-coming, sort-of grassroots-start sport that has somebody at the top making those kind of business decisions. The mission of the WFTDA isn’t business. It’s to provide the sport for the membership that we have as an organization.-Grace Killy

    which is why UFC is on Fox and derby is on justin.tv

    Reply

  7. I was with you for about half of it and then I just sort of stopped agreeing with most of what you were saying. I think there is quite clearly an element in derby that is anti-fan anti-listening-to-suggestion but I don’t think that element is at all separate from the athletes. You wouldn’t put Carmen Getsome in your third category, would you? But, that seems like what you’re doing (although, I wouldn’t put her in that category which I’ll get to). In all honesty, most of the pushback to fans from skaters are the people in there working hard every day and working for WFTDA. The girls that don’t show up to practice to go out for drinks really don’t care enough to argue with fans.

    I also have no problem whatsoever with the way WFTDA is organized. I don’t think fans should have a say in anything (officially or not). Skaters just need to listen to what people say and not prejudge ideas or arguments because they aren’t coming from a fellow skater. The prejudgement is the problem. It really doesn’t matter how great of an idea or whatever someone has unless they’re paying dues.

    While skaters should listen to fans, I also think fans should realize that on-track action does not necessarily mean that a team is actively trying to make the sport worse. Rat City was just trying to win some games. I have absolutely no problem with a team trying to win at the expense of fan enjoyment. Entertainment should not enter teams’ minds when they’re practicing for their next game at all. But, just because Rat City executed that strategy, they should still vote to outlaw it. Because, they should know it’s bad for the sport. As a skater, they should make decisions in the best interest of their team. As a voter, they should make decisions in the best interest of WFTDA. I have faith that they can separate those two things. We’ll see in June.

    But, here’s what I guess I’m not understanding. Is your solution really an All-Star game? Really? How would that make anything better? I don’t doubt that specific game would be entertaining but what does that solve? Fans will suddenly feel listened to because they get to vote for All-Stars? That’s sort of an empty gesture, don’t you think?

    Aside from my minor disagreements with you, Grace Killy’s quotes have bothered me for a long time. A sport does NOT have to be professional to be entertaining and to have paying fans. The Olympics are NOT professional. College sports are NOT professional. Does she think the Olympics don’t pay attention to what their audience wants? Please. As soon as you ask an audience to pay for something, you cease having full control and WFTDA, as an organization, needs to realize that. If they don’t realize it now when they can fix it, they’ll figure it out later thanks to plummeting ticket sales. At that point, it will probably be too late to fix anything.

    Reply

    • But, here’s what I guess I’m not understanding. Is your solution really an All-Star game? Really? How would that make anything better?

      An all-star game in and of itself wouldn’t change anything. It’s the process behind setting one up and putting one on, just to officially show that the skater collective appreciates the fan collective for everything the fan collective has been doing for the skater collective.

      A little appreciation goes a long way (for the givers and the receivers). This appreciation doesn’t have to take the form of an all-star game, but as far as sports go, it’s a win-win for all involved.

      Now, if only we could get our politicians to listen to us and to appreciate their fellow citizens…

      Reply

    • The Olympics and college sports AREN’T professional? Maybe in the minor sports/Division II and III but your major sports like basketball and tennis in the Five Ring Circus and BCS leagues aren’t EXACTLY acting like amateurs.

      Reply

    • No, the Olympics and college sports are not professional but they do act like it, like you said. Maybe that’s why they’re so popular? Hmm…

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    • I don’t think Serena Williams and LeBron TRAITOR! are getting played to be in London this summer, but I do remember they get paid to play.

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    • They get paid $10-25,000 if they win a medal (like all US Olympic athletes). I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t work for 4 years to hopefully win $25,000 and consider myself pro. That’s $6,125/yr. Not a great salary.

      There are pros that play in the Olympics but that doesn’t make the Olympics a professional competition. If Suzy Hotrod gets $40,000/yr in endorsement deals, does that make roller derby professional?

      Reply

  8. Posted by Shadow Cat on 6 February 2012 at 9:47 pm

    I thought some parts of this blog were spot on but I had some major problems.

    1). As someone from Denver, I think encouraging people to read Angus’s blog is just more gossip-mongering. If you’re really concerned with the way derby people are mean to each other then why would you encourage people to read an incredibly one-sided account of an event where you have no knowledge of what actually occurred? You want to know what DRD people did when they read it? Laughed, because it was so distorted and absurd and went on our way.

    2). You can’t criticize a team for using whatever tactics they think are necessary to win. You’re going to defend Dutchland and hate on Rat City? They’re doing the exact same thing. The game needs to change, for sure, but it’s the team’s job to do whatever it takes to win.

    3). An all-star game would be great. When WFTDA offers to foot the bill I’m sure that will happen. Individual leagues and skaters can are logging countless fundraising hours as it is.

    Overall, we can all be nicer to each other. But that can be said with pretty much any organization.

    Reply

    • 1) I have no knowledge of what actually occurred in Denver. That’s why I said many times that they were allegations, that’s why I questioned whether or not they were true, and that’s why I mentioned it was a “single, one-sided account.” If what he said was completely false, and things like this are not happening anywhere in derby, then everyone else will laugh it off as well.

      But I believe there’s enough truth in what he says for alarm bells to be raised in general. I’ve personally seen skaters in my own league go off in fits of jealously or selfishness, not dissimilar from what Angus was describing. Plus, he and Dumptruck said they’ve both felt like “second class citizens” in the derby community. Why is Angus Con wrong in saying that, but Dumpy isn’t?

      Oh, and although I am not and will never personally implicate Denver in this alleged incident, there’s something else that can’t be overlooked in this situation. Here’s a blurb on Denver from my west region playoff preview from a few months ago:

      One would be remiss to forget that Denver, also going into the playoffs as the #3 regional seed last year [2010], failed to win their opening game against Bay Area. A few jams into that game, the score was 24-1 against Denver before they started building their point total again, but it was too late: They fell by 4 points. When Denver got to the 5th place game they faced Rat City, and gave up a 51-2 run early in the first half…they lost by 9 and had to settle for 6th place that year.

      That it’s still happening this year [2011] only confirms that it’s something to be concerned with. What that 135-117 score against Texas won’t tell you is that Denver led by 76 points nearing the start of the 4th quarter. They only won by 18….so that means Denver got outscored 70-12 in the last chunk of the game, including a ballistic 52-0 run by Texas during that time.

      On paper, Denver should be good enough to prevent huge runs like these from happening. But in reality, they’ve been very inconsistent with their state of play ever since their 3rd place at Nationals in 2009. What’s been happening on the track doesn’t conflict with what he was claiming was happening off of it.

      Now, I am not saying these results validate every single thing Angus Con said. There could be a completely rational explanation for those games that had nothing to do with this alleged incident. But to someone from the outside looking in, there are signs of smoke. That bears a little investigating to make sure there isn’t a fire raging underneath it all.

      2) Many justified what Rat City did as “you’ve got to what it takes to win.” Dutchland should have got that same reaction (since it was the same thing, as you say) but instead you had derby folk genuinely wishing harm against them. Rat was doing what it needed to do to win the game, and Dutchland was doing what it needed to do to do well at the tournament. So why the different reactions?

      In my Globalthermonuclear War post, I said I don’t completely blame Rat City for what they did. I defended Dutchland, yes, but that was because no one seemed to understand why they did what they did. But in either case, the overreaching problem is that state of the game, be it rules or equality of talent, has not progressed as far as people would like to believe.

      That’s important to realize, because as I said in The Pack Solution, under no circumstances should a team doing “whatever it takes” to win be allowed to stand around and do nothing to achieve that goal. They should be fixing that during jam starts for the 2012 rules, but I have a feeling that there’s going to be a lot of standing around during power jams this season should everything else remain the same.

      Reply

    • Can I pipe up here and say that what Dutchland and Rat City did are not even in the same hemispheres of the same thing?

      Rat City used an in-game strategy that stretched the nature of the rules but more importantly got in their opponents’ heads. They did nothing to gain an unfair advantage and nothing that would sacrifice their own standing in the tournament.

      What Duchland did was unfair to Gotham, their future opponents and themselves. Was it within the bounds of the rules? Clearly. However, it wasn’t the right thing to do. Say what you will about various in-game strategies that many don’t like but they aren’t right or wrong. The only wrong thing a team can do in-game is put someone in physical danger or treat the opponent or ref with complete disrespect verbally or with their actions. Rat City did none of those things.

      Gotham spent a ton of money to be at that tournament on Friday and what did they get for their money? No official game.

      Dutchland’s future opponents all played the games that were put in front of them and had to unfairly go up against a team, in Dutchland, with fresher legs.

      Dutchland hurt themselves by taking themselves out of the tournament (the consolation rounds DO NOT MATTER, sorry folks, the point of regionals is to find three teams to go to championships, every other game is to justify the travel costs). They hurt themselves by not learning by playing the best team in the world. And, ultimately, it didn’t even help them since they lost the rest of their games. It was just a dumb strategy (like giving up a touchdown on purpose in the 4th quarter is a dumb strategy).

      Did some of the reaction to Dutchland’s forfeit go too far? Absolutely. However, criticizing Dutchland for poor strategy and trying to gain an unfair advantage is not the same as criticizing Rat City for trying to beat their opponent fair and square.

      Reply

      • Dutchland hurt themselves by taking themselves out of the tournament (the consolation rounds DO NOT MATTER, sorry folks, the point of regionals is to find three teams to go to championships, every other game is to justify the travel costs).

        You can say all you want about Dutchy’s forfeit not being fair to Gotham, but to keep saying the consolation rounds don’t matter is stupid. They said it matters to them, and that’s good enough for me. For you to keep saying it doesn’t matter to them even when they say it does matter to them is to blow smoke out of your ass. Just drop it, man.

        Look, I know what Dutchland did was not cool. I never said I approved of what they did, I only said I supported their decision and thought it was the right one when looking at their situation. If your friend kills someone in self-defense, you can support their decision without approving of murder itself. Same thing here.

        That people are still trying to persecuting them in the public arena isn’t helping change the fact that there’s a big discrepancy in the rules and in competitiveness. It happened, it was a bummer for everyone involved, it’s over, and we’ll learn from it. Why do we need to take it further than that?

    • Posted by Angus Con on 8 February 2012 at 9:03 am

      Correction, Shadowcat. You should list yourself as “As someone from Denver who has no idea what happened because I wasn’t privy to what happened in any capacity.” That makes your statement to WindyMan rather hypocritical. That would be this statement: “…why would you encourage people to read an incredibly one-sided account of an event where you have no knowledge of what actually occurred?” Because he knows about as much as you do about what happened.

      Be careful of the brainwash, dear.

      Reply

    • @Windyman What? You made a POST in which you bashed Rat City for decisions they made months ago and I can’t make a comment (that was purely meant as a defense of Rat City and not to bash Dutchland) that criticizes Dutchland’s decision from months ago? Okay.

      That people are still trying to persecute Rat City and Carmen Getsome in the public arena isn’t helping change the fact that there’s a big discrepancy in the rules and in competitiveness. It happened, it was a bummer for everyone involved, it’s over, and we’ll learn from it. Why do we need to take it further than that?

      Reply

  9. Posted by No one of consequence on 7 February 2012 at 6:47 am

    I know you said it very clearly, but I am still amazed at the ignorance out there on this whole USARS / Olympics thing from the people that “heard this” or “heard that” or demand that WFTDA go around USARS. It is as a result of law – federal law – that only USARS can. Period. End of story. And even if someone wanted to waste time and energy trying to get WFTDA around that law, they would still not be allowed as the same law requires that to be a nationally recognized governing body an organization can not discriminate or differentiate on the basis of gender (among other things). Hello?!?!?!?

    What interests me about the whole athletic school / social school concept is the amount of leagues out there that are, or are becoming, athletic and exclusive – to mean limited membership, hand picking new skaters through periodic try outs and telling the rest “try again next year”, and or controlling what they perceive to be territorial rights.

    I’m with a non-major organization, and it’s pretty dang amazing the amount of skaters we’re picking up and leagues either joining or expressing interest in joining because of the exclusivity they are encountering elsewhere.

    Reply

    • Posted by Another nobody of consequence on 7 February 2012 at 7:54 am

      Call me a throwback, but I still believe there are enough kinds of derby for everyone. I skate for a well-established WFTDA league, and although we sometimes part with skaters who want to skate more recreationally, we also pick up skaters from other types of leagues who want to skate and train more competatively.

      Reply

    • Posted by A fan and a skater on 7 February 2012 at 6:36 pm

      Maybe I’m a minority, but derby going to the Olympics is pretty low on my personal priority list of goals for the sport. I think there’s a ton of work that needs to be done before that can happen, and further, there are plenty of extremely successful sports that don’t go to the Olympics and are happy not to. The Olympics has never seemed like the place for team sports to me…Most people are there for the display of athleticism by individuals or duos – like figure and speed skating, skiing, gymnastics, running, jumping, etc.

      Also, to the second point above about leagues being too selective, there are two things: resource access and product.

      1. Resources- as most leagues know, there are few leagues that generate a significant profit. Many break even at bouts, and any excess money goes to provide a practice space for their skaters at various levels. At a certain point, you only have so many resources. There are only so many skaters that can train up-and-comers (for free), only so many teams that can exist because there are only so many bout dates that can be reserved at the local venue, and there are only so many nights in a week that practices can be held for said teams.
      At SOME point, the competition HAS to get fierce and selective, you can’t accommodate everyone. Just like at some point, hotel rooms all book up, concerts sell out, summer camps are full, and so too, are derby leagues. Doesn’t meant that those skaters aren’t worth anything, which is why leagues that CAN often have Rec Leagues built in also, and ways to vary your commitment level. But eventually, if those skaters want to play in front of crowds, they have to move to a smaller league that isn’t as competitive, or they have to step up their game. This is not different in ANY other sport, trust me. We just don’t have as clear a line between club levels.

      2. Product- how do you expect to provide a stellar product for FANS when you’re using shotty materials? I hate to be the person to turn up the elephant in the room, but if a league wants to be competitive and fan-friendly simultaneously, they need to showcase skaters that people want to see and provide a production value that keeps people coming back. Production takes money, but so does harvesting talent, as the reference to resources explains. For me (and I don’t speak for everyone), if I don’t have money for amazing sound and lighting and half time shows, I’m going to pick the best damn skaters my league has to impress a crowd and get them to come back and hopefully forget that we can’t afford the fancy stuff. Then after they come back x number of times, one day, we’ll be able to give them the fancy stuff.

      Reply

  10. Posted by Anonymous2 on 7 February 2012 at 7:42 am

    Quoting: “Everything that has to do with WFTDA roller derby is controlled solely by the skaters who play the game, for the benefit of the skaters who play the game.”

    I have never competed in a WFTDA bout… and I have been able to not only contribute to the success of the sport but also to direct and control major aspects of the sport, locally, nationally, and globally. I do it by showing up, respecting what the skaters do, finding areas of interest, and making an honest and good-faith effort that people respect. And I know scores of people for whom this is also true. Some have wife or girlfriend skater connections, and some don’t have any prior connection at all.

    The “By the skaters, for the skaters” motto is only objectionable if you choose to interpret it as rigidly and literally as you’ve chosen. In this case, it doesn’t mean “ignore everyone else.” What it means me is “non-exploitative and responsible ownership.”

    Look at what happened to the MagicJack women’s soccer franchise in Boca Raton (do a quick Google search for Dan Borislow / MagicJack). “By the skaters, for the skaters” simply means “NOT THAT.” It means we don’t have skaters under labor contracts, so as soon as it stops being fun or interesting to a skater, they don’t have to keep skating.

    Tossing fire bombs from outside the perceived walls and then complaining that only insiders get to control things is a pretty self-fulfilling complaint. Of course, your local WFTDA league experience may vary.

    Reply

    • The “By the skaters, for the skaters” motto is only objectionable if you choose to interpret it as rigidly and literally as you’ve chosen. In this case, it doesn’t mean “ignore everyone else.” What it means to me is “non-exploitative and responsible ownership.”

      That’s what I was driving home at the end of my post. It’s the spirit of the motto that’s important, not the literal interpretation. A lot of people in derby are letting their success get to their heads, I think, and are forgetting that as the principals behind derby’s success they need to be responsible to and non-exploitative of the people that help them play roller derby regardless of whether they skate or not.

      Look at what happened to the MagicJack women’s soccer franchise in Boca Raton (do a quick Google search for Dan Borislow / MagicJack). “By the skaters, for the skaters” simply means “NOT THAT.” It means we don’t have skaters under labor contracts, so as soon as it stops being fun or interesting to a skater, they don’t have to keep skating.

      “For the fans, by the fans” is one better than “for the skaters, by the skaters,” for exactly this reason. When he bought the team, was it because he was a fan of soccer, or was it because he just saw a profit opportunity? When someone puts money ahead of people, nothing good will ever come from it.

      Someone owning a sports team or league is ultimately looking to make money, obviously. But good owners treat their fans as people who are important to them, and bad owners treat their fans as a just another revenue stream. By no coincidence, teams with some of the most fan-friendly owners in sports are also among the most successful, in terms of winning and in profits.

      This is what I’m on about. The right people should be caring for derby, not just the players who play the game. In your league, the “right people” just also happen to be “the skaters.” That’s good. That’s probably true for a majority of leagues. I’m not saying it’s not.

      I’m just saying that there are many people in other groups–fans, volunteers, people with lots of money–who are also the right people, and should be respected as such. But not all the skaters do that, either because they don’t understand…or because they’re assholes.

      By the way, since you brought up the horror story of a sports owner gone mad for profit, here’s something from the other end of the spectrum. The guy who invented Slamball (remember that?) got a TV deal done before their first season, and had their championship game televised on CBS in just three short years. (If we’re saying derby is growing fast, Slamball grew at light speed.) Television was waving a shit-ton of money at this guy if he ceded some control over the game to the networks, but…

      He walked away from the money, because it wouldn’t have been good for the sport.

      Replace “Slamball” with “roller derby” in that video, and maybe you’ll get a better idea of where I’m coming from.

      Reply

  11. Posted by Carmen Getsome on 7 February 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Thanks Derbytron and others for standing up for me as an athlete. I appriciate what others said: all teams have to play within the rules to try to win a game. As an athlete I, along with my team play hard and within the rules in an attempt to bring home a win. I cant play for entertainment or that would make me an entertainer and not an athlete. I care far more about being a great athlete than being enterataining.

    As far as separating playing the game and seeing how we can improve it I can tell you that I personally have voted for a rules change in regards to improving the sport. I vote everytime I can on the rules because the game matters to me. The game that is being played should not only be fun to play but fun to watch. My vote counts in my league, and then my league in turn tallies our votes and votes to the WFTDA.

    Please try to see and understand that just because I am not concerned at a national title level if I as an individual am entertaining the fans it doesnt mean I dont care about them. I take a lot of time to interact with fans, including taking time for derby press. I feel it is my main duty to try my hardest to do my best and to be as successful as possible for my fans, they expect nothing less from me.

    I have put in 5-6 days a week for the last 7 years of my life into become the best derby athlete I can be…I didnt even take time off for my wedding or honeymoon. I skated in a bout the weekend before my wedding and coached over my honeymoon.

    I am so dedicated to the sport of roller derby in all of its forms I started a banked track team, and I own one of the first derby training companies in the world. I travel internationally to teach people how to skate, the rules of roller derby and get them playing the game.

    As far as playing without fans…I do every single day. I practice 5-6 days a week and only play in front of fans once a month at most. I love those fans. I love that they enjoy the end product of all of the blood, sweat, tears, hard work, development of strategies, lifting in the gym, and creation of teamwork that we do during our training. I appriciate how loud they are when we take the track and I love that they care enough to pay attention to our stats.

    So please dont take one statement I said out of context and use it to create a warped impression of who I am. I am not a selffish skater. I love derby and will continue to love it in all of the forms it takes on…flat, banked, mens, womens co-ed….I love it!

    Reply

    • I cant play for entertainment or that would make me an entertainer and not an athlete. I care far more about being a great athlete than being entertaining.

      Carmen, I know you’re an athlete. You’re a fucking amazing athlete. I never said you weren’t. Please understand that what I said in regards to you should not be taken personally, because I’m coming down hard on derby as a whole, not an individual or a team.

      But in saying this, you’re actually illustrating my point about people being worried about derby becoming more “entertaining” for fans. Legitimate sports are inherently entertaining exactly because of people like you: We want to see athletes do athletic things.

      Usain Bolt breaking human speed records? Athletic and entertaining. A football player jumping three feet in the air to make a one-handed grab over a defender? Athletic and entertaining. Roller derby players skating fast, blocking hard, and playing fair? Athletic and hella entertaining. (Roller derby players standing around doing nothing at the back of the pack and waiting for it to split? Unathletic and boring.)

      Sports are entertaining because of the conflict between athletes trying to out-athlete each other. Real fans of sports want to see athletes be athletes, doing athletic things while competing against other athletes. Fake “fans” of sports are the ones that want to see fighting, hairpulling, women in revealing clothing, etc., and are not the type of person I am including in “by the fans, for the fans.”

      I want roller derby fans to be real fans of the sport of roller derby, not those that primarily come to see pretty girls on skates hit each other or just skate so they can be voted in to sparkle parties. What I’m wanting to convey is for you, and for the real derby athletes and those that aspire to be, is to keep doing what you’re doing. As long as people like you and the people who want to watch you play appreciate you for what you are, and vice-versa, derby will prevail—and be a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

      So please don’t take one statement I said out of context and use it to create a warped impression of who I am.

      Ah, but that’s the nature of spectator sports. When you have a lot of people watching you, everything you do or say naturally comes under more scrutiny. The more scrutiny, the higher the probability that something you say or do gets misinterpreted, especially when emotions are running high.

      I know you didn’t mean to intentionally offend the fans when you said what you said. But the fact is a lot of fans feel you did, albeit accidentally. Athletes, politicians, celebrities, and others in the public spotlight get into trouble all of the time when they say (or tweet) something that can be interpreted the wrong way, even though they meant no harm in their words. Really good roller derby players that play in front of thousands of people are now in that same boat and need to start being cognizant of the weight words carry.

      I mean, just look at this from the fan perspective. A lot of derby fans (Rat City fans too, from what I’ve heard here and there) were not happy with your team’s tactics during the Rocky Mountain game. Not helping things was the fact that many people had no idea of the “why” behind the strategy, so many thought there was no justification for your inactions and reacted accordingly. After the game, when you were asked about that reaction, you had an opportunity to give those booing fans some consolation.

      By saying you were “okay with it,” you made a lot of people even more angry at your team. Whatever your intentions were in saying what you said, a lot of fans interpreted your words as I did: “They don’t care about us.” It’s clear now that’s not what you meant, but it’s what all the pissed-off fans heard. Can you blame us for thinking that way?

      All I’m asking of you, and of all derby players, is to just be a little more mindful of the fan perspective when saying something publicly, so that situations like these don’t blow out of proportion. I know that probably wasn’t on your mind when they stuck a microphone in your face a few minutes after you finished playing a game, but still. I’ll be happy to chalk this up as a learning experience for everyone and call it a day with no hard feelings.

      I am not a selfish skater. I love derby and will continue to love derby in all of the forms it takes on…flat, banked, mens, womens co-ed…I love it!

      Of course you aren’t selfish. Of course you love derby. I love derby, too. We’re both on the same team. To be honest, you’re on my secret(-but-not-really-a-secret-anymore-in-your-case) list of skaters I want to meet and chat about roller derby with, because I think you’re awesome. I want to try to make it to westerns this year so I can actually see you, and Rat City, and all the other skating fans of derby be athletes in person.

      Because why would people want to see roller derby if their athletes were doing boring things?

      Reply

  12. Posted by ABF on 7 February 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Thanks, I liked your article.

    Reply

  13. Posted by R. Prime on 8 February 2012 at 9:16 pm

    Individual leagues are responsible for providing a good experience for their fans, not the WFTDA. This is the same way that professional sports organizations operate. The NFL does not dictate how the Giants produce games at the home stadium, the Giants do. You’re argument about roller-derby and its need to be more fan friendly is well-founded, I believe, but your focus on the WFTDA governing philosophy is off base. It should never be their charge to dictate the bout production for leagues. Now, some resources provided to, or shared with, leagues to help them create successful events–now that would be a more reasonable expectation.

    Reply

    • Individual leagues are responsible for providing a good experience for their fans, not the WFTDA. This is the same way that professional sports organizations operate. The NFL does not dictate how the Giants produce games at the home stadium, the Giants do.

      Not exactly. The NFL and other pro sports leagues has significant control over many things to make sure they can present a consistency of their product across all teams in the league. (TV contracts have a lot to do with this.) The Giants as a team and the NFL as a league share the same goal of making sure their fans are accommodated for, and team league does things differently specifically for their fans and sponsors, but that won’t change the fact that a lot of things are standardized by the league office through league guidelines or league rules. It may be “Giants football,” but it’s “NFL football” first.

      your focus on the WFTDA governing philosophy is off base. It should never be their charge to dictate the bout production for leagues.

      Actually, the WFTDA took over administrative control of running all the Big 5 events last year. They also took over control of streaming coverage to standardize it and make it a source of revenue (the HD stream option). (“Revenue” here doesn’t mean for profits like in pro sports, but just to make it possible to pay for everything.) The WFTDA wanted to make sure they were presenting the sport in a consistent matter across the five tournaments hosted by different leagues. The quality improvements between 2010 and 2011 was huge, in large part due to that change.

      In years’ past event production and streaming coverage of tournament season was up to the individual hosting leagues. However, that created a disjointed presentation. Even if a league hosting an event puts on a good show to those that are in attendance in that one event, if those that aren’t there also don’t get a good experience, that’s not so good. This is what happened with the world cup: The 1,500 or so people who were there thought it was a great event. Most of the 7,000 who weren’t there, struggling to find schedules and brackets or watch the games online, thought it wasn’t so great.

      If there’s no one at a higher level to make sure things like that are taken care of, no one would know to take care of it. An individual league can’t be expected to have the resources to present an event to a national audience. It’s a better fit for a national body to do that, so that job falls to the WFTDA. That responsibility should also entail making sure the fan experience is (mostly) consistent across the board regardless of how fans watch WFTDA roller derby.

      Something like this needs to be taken care of from the top down, not the bottom up. For example, if the WFTDA were to issue guidelines on this matter to member leagues, they could leave it up to the leagues to enforce them. One of those guidelines could be a “no drama” policy that seems to be popular with banked track leagues–my league has one as well. Individual leagues may not want/need that for themselves, so they may never bring it up even though it’s probably a good idea for everyone to implement.

      Reply

  14. Posted by slight correction on 10 February 2012 at 9:12 am

    “Actually, the WFTDA took over administrative control of running all the Big 5 events last year.”

    Correction – the WFTDA announced that in 2012 it would take administrative control of the Big 5 events last year. 2011 was still ran by host leagues.

    Also – it’s ridiculous to think the WFTDA should try and control skater or league drama. That’s not what they’re there for, not what member leagues want and not at all what a 98% volunteer organization has the resources to do.

    Reply

  15. [...] recent blog post For the Fans, By the Fans has been making the rounds, but before the cast dives into a full discussion, we want to hear from [...]

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  16. Posted by Costa Ladeas on 10 February 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Steve, I love you and all (no homo) but you can talk about “by the fans, for the fans” until kingdom come, as long as the fanbase remains disengaged, nothing will change.

    I would like to know your opinion of the derby fanbase. To be perfectly honest by sports fans standards, these are the worst fans I have ever been around. These people are devoid of passion and imagination. These are the type of people you would see at a Broadway/off Broadway/off off Broadway show. These are the type of people would complain about cursing at a pro sports event and in response something bad might happen to them. Now if you’re talking about. fans like you and me that are smart, that pay attention & watch closely what happens in derby, sadly we are the minority. The vast majority of derby fans are “hipsters, trendies, “too cool for the room types”, people that are most likely involved in GLAAD, those types. The majority of fans and the skaters/announcers/refs et all are people cut from the same cloth. That’s why in my opinion the derby fanbase for the most part is not engaged and to be blunt could care less if “slow derby” was played for 60 mins.

    Responses, criitiques and the occasional bashing are welcome.

    Reply

    • will the Delta Bravo that gave Brother Costa the thumbs down explain yourself.

      Reply

    • I would like to know your opinion of the derby fanbase.

      Right now, a lot of the derby fanbase is made up of the skaters and those close to them in their circle. Someone made a very insightful comment on (I think) a Seattle Examiner post about Rat City’s slow derby tactics, noticing that much of derby’s rapid fan growth can be directly attributed to the rapid increase of the skater population.

      Any new skater that plays derby is automatically going to bring with them, let’s guess, five to ten family members and friends to watch them play. That’s good, but if the skater goes, so go those fans. It doesn’t help that many of them may not know how to view the game objectively (see Part II of my BotBIV Diary) so asking their opinion on the game may not do much to improve it.

      Then there are the people who don’t take it seriously as a sport, but rather treat it as an “event,” no different than seeing a show at a club or going to a concert. These are the people that go to a game, say it’s awesome, but never come back since they’ve “already seen that.”

      The L.A. Derby Dolls have this problem, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other leagues do too. Every time they ask the crowd how many are seeing derby for the first time, a loud majority responds. That’s great that so many new people are seeing derby, but why are there so many new fans, and not always so many repeat fans?

      All 2010 LADD games were obvious sell-outs well before game day, but very few 2011 games did even though the derby was greatly improved. Plus, the LA/Bionic game was easily the best game, whistle-to-whistle, that I had ever seen at the Doll Factory…and I’ve been to them all. But even that one didn’t sell out. Anyone who saw that in person will almost certainly come back, but few are knowledgeable enough to know that that was a “must-see” game.

      The thing that a lot of derby leagues may not realize is even if they can do all sorts of neat things for fans, like skater interactions, t-shirt tosses, raffles, halftime shows, etc., the one thing—the only thing—that will guarantee fans to not only come, but give them a real reason to come back, is the quality of the 60 minutes of roller derby played out on the track.

      This why derby needs a lot real derby fans like you and me. Many skaters want to watch and play that kind of action-packed derby as well. A core fanbase of folks who appreciate roller derby as a sport first, and a culture second, needs to exist in order to sustain roller derby’s growth. Like I said, a strong foundation is needed to build the sport upon. That includes taking care of your in-the-know fanbase, too.

      Reply

    • Posted by Chris Jones on 14 February 2012 at 11:38 am

      The thing that a lot of derby leagues may not realize is even if they can do all sorts of neat things for fans, like skater interactions, t-shirt tosses, raffles, halftime shows, etc., the one thing—the only thing—that will guarantee fans to not only come, but give them a real reason to come back, is the quality of the 60 minutes of roller derby played out on the track.

      I agree. I’ve come to this sport strictly as a fan who finds it an interesting game and sees a lot of potential in derby as a sport. Whenever I go to a bout, I usually bring one or two other friends/relatives with for what I promise will be a fun night out. Once they understand the basic rules, they’re usually into it–until a few ref huddles drag on, or there’s another slow start/scrum, or several skaters get boxed for a fourth-minor infraction, or one team gets a power jam with pack advantage and the jammer just racks up points skating around a stopped pack. I’ll explain what’s going on, and although some are polite enough to nod, others respond with some variant of “well, that’s silly”.

      By the end of the night their enthusiasm has ebbed (it doesn’t help that most bouts IMO are blowouts decided by the half or at least non-competitive in the final 10 minutes), and it’s rare if they come back again or even express an interest in the sport. Believe me, I’ve heard a lot of first-time attendees exasperated that “they’re just standing around”, or “She’s skating backwards?” All the explanations for these tactics sound like legalese, and after a while fans just tune out–and of course stop coming.

      This is why–for me–improving the ruleset to encourage better bouts (from the fan’s perspective) is so critical, and not just for the derby geeks. Rules that showcase the peculiar blend of skill and athleticism in modern derby should be encouraged because that’s what will keep the casual fans hooked. And no, it isn’t that casual fans want more blood or cheesecake, they just want a more interesting game on the track.

      Reply

    • One proiblem, Windy-Some leagues would rather have the hipsters than actual sports fans. Don’t believe me? I bring up soccer as a low scoring yet VERY popular sport, and some Delta Bravo gave me a thumbs down.

      Reply

  17. Posted by Ixnay on the Amadray on 11 February 2012 at 9:33 am

    …which is why I actually don’t think that athleticism, per se, is what derby needs. Certainly it does in a limited number of large markets. If you have millions of people to choose from, and a rec league, and 5 or 6 intraleague teams, and a junior program, certainly when you send out the official team it needs to be highly competitive. But what sells derby in smaller markets is the personal connection. For those leagues that barely have enough skaters to fill out a travel team and a handful of intraleague teams, there should be room for the developmental skater.

    Reply

  18. Posted by manburger on 12 February 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Windy,

    Though I agree with you on your separation between “real” and “fake” fans, I think your view on sports in general is rather limited if you only believe,

    “Sports are entertaining because of the conflict between athletes trying to out-athlete each other. Real fans of sports want to see athletes be athletes, doing athletic things while competing against other athletes.”

    There’s a second aspect to all sports that is called Team Work. Team work more often than athleticism wins games while being entertaining (to some). Team work is more a major component for why an underdog can rise up and knock off a powerhouse from time to time. It is the collection of people executing close to prefect tactics for the entire time of play rather than a few seconds here and there of mind-boggling skill that wins games.

    It is this difference that leads most Americans to misunderstand soccer. Soccer is a game that takes a lot of team work to achieve a win. Sure there are athletes who can do amazing things but at the higher levels of the sport it takes a team to put that star player in a position to score or to deny the other team opportunities to score. Look at the size of the goal. It’s huge by the standards of most sports and yet there is such little scoring because great athletes can not rule the field because there is an immense amount of team work going on during the game. It can be as simple as between two players or as many as all 11 well positioned making opportunities for a single play.

    In my opinion, casual fans enjoy a moment of great athleticism. They are the Sport’s Center kind of audience. “Real” fans show up because they want to see their team win and they enjoy the smaller aspects to games and talk incessantly about them. A casual fan sees Michael Jordan while a “real” fan understands that if the other four players aren’t contributing the team loses. You are proof of my definition of a “real” fan. How much time have you devoted to strategy, tactics and rules rather than amazing athleticism? I’d wager it’s about 10,000 words for every 1 word. You’ve spent hours and hours analyzing the rules to find a better way to play the game when you could just wait for the athleticism to catch up to the current rule set to do away with “slow derby.”

    While while I agree watching great athleticism can be fun it does not guarantee a win and the preferred aspect to sports. If pure athleticism were in hot demand (as you are insinuating), sports would have All-star games multiple times during their seasons. Conversely it seems a lot of fans of other sports are less interested in All-star games. For example, the National Hockey League (NHL) has to gimmick up their All-star game recently to make it enjoyable to their fans. I’ve heard the Nation Basketball Association (NBA) is considering some changes to their All-star game. The National Football League (NFL) moved their All-star game to before their championship game because fans weren’t interested enough in it. Very few people get excited about the college football All-star game. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a world wide soccer All-star game (though arguably that is called The World Cup)

    Maybe it’s all semantics at this point but I don’t believe people expend their emotions as “real” fans over just athletics. I think they support their team because they identify personally with some aspect of their team. It could be the city the team is in (Rat City), it could be their work ethic (Oly), the strategy they use (Jet City), or that the skaters have a strong personal connection with their supporters (Dockyard) but it’s not simply athletics.

    Reply

    • Team work more often than athleticism wins games while being entertaining (to some).

      Yes, but teamwork is still “work.” A team cannot succeed unless its individuals work their hardest to overcome the individuals on the other team. As the saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

      Soccer…great athletes can not rule the field because there is an immense amount of team work going on during the game.

      Everyone who plays soccer at the highest level is a great athlete. They can’t rule the field individually, but they can rule their personal space and the people around it.

      A casual fan sees Michael Jordan while a “real” fan understands that if the other four players aren’t contributing the team loses.

      Ahem.

      Maybe it’s all semantics at this point but I don’t believe people expend their emotions as “real” fans over just athletics. I think they support their team because they identify personally with some aspect of their team. It could be the city the team is in (Rat City), it could be their work ethic (Oly), the strategy they use (Jet City), or that the skaters have a strong personal connection with their supporters (Dockyard) but it’s not simply athletics.

      As I said in my Battle on the Bank IV Diary, Part II, I have a sports rule about that:

      A true fan of a sport will be able to watch and enjoy a game played at its highest possible level between any two teams of that sport, even if the teams involved are not their local and/or favorite teams.

      To be a fan of a team doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a fan of the sport they play in. Roller derby needs more fans of the sport, not more fans of the “local” team. It seems a small difference, but it’s actually a pretty fucking big one.

      Reply

  19. [...] get deeper into our thoughts and responses to WindyMan’s For the Fans, By the Fans essay.  Hope we’re all still [...]

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  20. Posted by Shadow Cat on 18 February 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Incorrect Angust. I list myself as someone who was able to hear two sides of a story- yours and other people in the league- and then draw my own conclusions. My point is that other people don’t have the same opportunity. They only get to hear one side of the story, and if we as a derby community want to stop engaging in gossip then an influential derby blog shouldn’t necessarily be encouraging people to read/believe only half of a story.

    I’m NOT saying your feelings are invalid, simply that there are other perspectives on what happened. And I think saying that I’ve been “brainwashed” is a little simplistic. I know the character of people in our league, what they’re capable of-both good and bad. I can use my brain (the parts that haven’t been washed) to recognize that there were hurt feelings and miscommunications on both sides that people should own up to. Calling yourself a scapegoat implies that you felt totally victimized and can’t see how your actions might have contributed to the team choosing a different coach.

    Reply

    • Posted by Angus Con on 20 February 2012 at 1:45 pm

      You are “incorrect” if you believe you know what people in your league are capable of. Truly. To claim you know such a thing is absurd and naive. I described a situation that very few were privy to, up to and including many MHC skaters and most certainly the league as a whole. You really don’t have that great a perspective on things because you, like most everyone else, were never privy to the real information. Of course I have no doubt that history was changed once I left. Of course people still on that team (and the league that is bullied by certain skaters on MHC) are going to close ranks.

      But that’s not what this is about really. You fancy yourself a crusader eh? Well, this is not a good cause to fight for. You don’t know the people involved very well (myself included) and that makes your statements misguided at best. Nothing personal towards you, but you have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re trying to defend a league that doesn’t need it and a team that has to lie to itself when looking in the mirror. Don’t waste your energy on them because they aren’t worth it. Nor am I. Not your fight.

      Reply

  21. I feel that our fans are our community, I have been given the opportunity to not only participate in a sport I love, but I now have an even greater opportunity to give back to the community that supports the Blue Water Roller Derby League out of Port Huron MI. Our league is going into its third season and we have faced great adversity and many challenges. Derby is not just about stradegy, slow starts, knee drops and winning by a hundred point spread. Taking the responsibility of operating a roller Derby League was never an ambition I held, but I can see a bigger picture and a brighter future than I could have ever imagined. This season we started a junior league, and a powder puff positional blocking and learning the sport league. We even have ladies with MS and other disabilities getting on the track and feeling that Derby sisterhood that sometimes makes life more tolerable. When you get 500 fans to pack your venue, it can not be just about the 30 skaters. That is why we support at least one local charitable organization at every event. We are supporting The Leader Dogs for the Blind and holding a pet adoption at our first bout. I am hoping to raise enough money to equip 7 people with disabilities and a Leader Dog with a new GPS device to enhance their quality of life. Win or loss the bout, doesn’t really matter, we will win by giving back and working together…

    Reply

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