Journalists miss the real ($50M) roller derby story. Every time.

News reporters miss the roller derby story every time. Every. Time. Distracted by the glitter, wheels, hitting and names that are bleach-penned onto our shirts, journalists slip and don’t cover roller derby like they would any other trend news story.

Regional and local papers always write the same story: YOURTOWN — By day Lacy Clems, 33, of Yourtown, is a nurse at Yourlocal Hospital. But by night the nurse pulls on her fishnets, laces up a pair of black roller skates and takes her place with the Local Rollergirls. (And then 600 more words about how people roller skate in an oval and somehow there are points scored, it’s maybe about community service and women and athletics, and also some quote about how one of the ladies uses this as stress relief from her babies and job.)

And that’s the local story.

The New York Times wrote about derby today. They wrote about Gotham’s intro to derby classes.

(Takes big breath)

And before I say what I need to say, I need to be fair: the Times let a derby girl write about derby back in 2010. They did a great job in 2009 covering nationals. And, with derby fitness classes gaining popularity, they covered this story at the exact right moment. But those are all the derby articles I can find without searching too hard.

Where were they at the first-ever world cup? Where were they at championships in 2011 and 2012 when Gotham slaughtered everyone? For the Times, it’s not just a local hokey story, it’s a national story, it’s an international trend. It’s sports, entertainment, news, economics, business. It’s a video opportunity. It’s gorgeous photography waiting to hit A1 or the cover of sports.

No matter.

They — and all newspapers — are missing the story. So, let me give it to them. This is for you, fellow newspaper reporters of the world:  Derby is the viral sport of this past decade. It has infected your town. It has infected every town in this country and many cities everywhere else in the world. In Rockland, Maine there is roller derby. In Austin, TX there is derby. Athletes skate in Berlin, London, Sydney, Brasília, Moscow, Toronto. They skate in Lansing, MI and in Moab, UT. And to those towns — those towns that can be dull, cloudy, economically depressed — these leagues are raking in two things: Women, money. To the former point: We are EVERYWHERE.

To the latter: As reporters, we love to “follow the money.” But when it comes to these hundreds of local businesses and nonprofits … nothing. Nothing on the multi-million dollar industry that is derby.

This bout brought in about 2,000 people (capacity) ... in a town of 3,000 people. That brought in ticket sales, got sponsors advertising time, brought in money to the local hockey rink ... and to the police force which surely collected parking ticket money.

This bout brought in about 2,000 people (capacity) … in a town of 3,000 people. That brought in ticket sales, got sponsors advertising time, brought in money to the local hockey rink … and to the police force which surely collected parking ticket money. Photo by Eric Baseler.

The nonprofit Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association looks over about 250 leagues. The roller derby roster — a derby name registry — has 39,239* skaters (mostly women) listed.

I’m sorry, I’ll say that again because maybe you didn’t quite read that right: 39,239 skaters. That’s as many women there are in Portland, Maine (the state’s biggest city).

OK. Now, let’s do math. Blog followers know how I love math. According to a study by WFTDA last year, skaters spent an average of $622 on skating equipment and gear in 2011, along with $656 in travel for roller derby and $223 in other support costs (dues, tickets for events). That’s $1,500 a skater. If there are in fact 39,239 skaters that is $58,858,500  — yeah, about $59 million a year from just the skaters — not the fans, the referees, the support staff, bout venues, rinks. That $59 million goes to local skate shops, local rinks, American skate companies, local hotels.

It’s a big fucking deal. (Do you hear me, New York Times?)

According to that WFTDA study last year, a third of derby fans make more than $75,000 a year. They have disposable income. Income to spend on $5-$30  bout tickets, merchandise and all the companies surrounding and sponsoring the sport.

They also have reach. About 36 percent of fans heard about derby through a friend. We have a crazy-huge network of people buzzing about derby in the world. I don’t have figures for how many derby fans there are in this world or how much they spend to travel to see games, how much they pay to stay in your towns, to eat in your towns, to support the local roller derby sponsors. Etcetera.

That’s where the story is. Somehow journalists have missed the (way more than) $59 million story of derby. A very basic story about the immensity of this sport that has lodged its claws into our nation. Sure it’s also about how thousands upon thousands of women have become better human beings: become athletes, learned to run a nonprofit, found a safe space to grow, and yes, a place to get away from stressful jobs and babies where they can wear fishnets and no one will call them a slut (…. OK, we might call them sluts, but it’s loving, not shaming.)

This sport is changing our world and impacting our local economies in a real, quantifiable way. GET ON IT, PRESS.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A journalist by day, Heather Steeves, 25, of Portland, types angrily at her keyboard. But by night, Steeves -- aka Hard Dash -- straps on her old-style black roller skates and elbows you in the face.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A journalist by day, Heather Steeves, 25, of Portland, types angrily at her keyboard. But by night, Steeves — aka Hard Dash — straps on her old-style black roller skates and elbows you in the face.

*That 39,239 number might be inflated number because of skater drop outs — but there is also a huge back up of names waiting to be registered, so it’s unclear. (To make it harder to estimate: WFTDA does not keep a headcount of skaters, and even if it did, that number wouldn’t account for the non-WFTDA flat track leagues, the banked track leagues, the USARS leagues, the renegades …)

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68 Responses to Journalists miss the real ($50M) roller derby story. Every time.

  1. Miss A says:

    Every derby league in the world should hand this article out with their sponsorship materials. Thanks Dash.

  2. wrtrgrl77 says:

    THANK YOU! This is actually the same pitch my league is using to work on getting new sponsors this season.

  3. Meesh says:

    Nothing drives me more insane than the “by day, she’s a….” roller derby story lede. I see red when I read it. Thank you for this, I’m sharing it!

  4. derbyfan says:

    Don’t knock the press coverage too much. Part of the reason Derby has taken off so much is the press coverage and yes unlike most other sports the idea that people have real lives just like me, the person reading the story is part of the attraction. So don’t get too upset about the day and night stories. They worked. They helped get derby where it is now. I have this debate with my own local league here. They have spent the last few years trying to “professionalize” their league. Tha latest this year was to require allt he uniforms and helmets to be uniform, no personalization. I am sorry but that is boring. The personality is why I liked derby. So while I respect it as a sport and I can tell you all the finer points of the rules and strategies, I also enjoy the spectacle. Do not work to hard to become “just another sport” because that is a losing game plan.

    • WindyMan says:

      Derby only has a participation level in the tens of thousands, compared to tens of millions major sports that have. That’s still a young, small sport, and the mainstream media coverage that has been given to it thus far is, I believe, appropriate for where it’s at now and will be for the next couple of years. Derby is big and growing fast, but it isn’t as big right now as people in derby might believe it is.

      > “I am sorry but that is boring. The personality is why I liked
      derby. So while I respect it as a sport and I can tell you all the
      finer points of the rules and strategies, I also enjoy the spectacle.
      Do not work to hard to become ‘just another sport’ because
      that is a losing game plan.”

      Other sports have “spectacle,” too. However, at the end of the day, those other sports are ultimately judged by how accessible and fun-to-play they are at lower levels, and how competitive and entertaining they are at higher/professional levels. If you take the spectacle out of roller derby, then all that’s left is to judge it on the game people are playing on the track. If that alone isn’t strong enough to like the sport, than THAT is a losing game plan for the greater health of the sport in the long run.

  5. Vivi Section says:

    Right ON, sister! I’m also a journalist and a derby girl and I absolutely despise these cliched mainstream media “by day, by night” portrayals. Excuse the self-promotion, but I wrote a screed about the same topic on my blog last summer after seeing yet another one of those tired old ledes: http://callthejam.com/2012/06/hey-journalist-dont-make-me-hipcheck-you/.

  6. Mike says:

    Seriously? I was right there along with you, that is until this cute (and awful) stereotype hit me in the face (like a Major Elbows Penalty…) “But by night, Steeves — aka Hard Dash — straps on her old-style black roller skates and elbows you in the face.”.
    I appreciate the peice, but pandering with the “elbow to the face” bit is just more of the same…

  7. T says:

    fwiw, I enjoyed the joke! ;) great piece

  8. Alicia Vandall says:

    Not to mention the skater’s (like me) who won’t ever have their name registered with twoevils because of name similarity!

    • Word, I’m right there with you. Mine was registered 2 years after I picked it out and by then someone else had come along. The registry also may not list those who just didn’t want to pick a name. Like… all of Mother State in Virginia or the [former] Charlotte Speed Demons

  9. David says:

    I can understand the writer’s fatigue with by day/by night stories. But I’m not sure the economic activity angle is all that interesting. If the sport didn’t exist, people would find other ways to spend their disposable income. Money changing hands does not equal wealth being generated.

  10. C says:

    And what about the juniors? I’d be curious as to the numbers after totalling the active skaters in adult and junior leagues around the world.

  11. Slayla says:

    I respect the writer’s opinion on how derby is usually written about. However, “retirees” is a more apt word than “dropouts” for skaters who put in years of hard work and then retire due to injury, injury, injury, or maybe pregnancy, can’t afford the $1500-$2000 per year anymore in a recession economy, family illness, etc. etc. -Slayla, retired Nashville Rollergirl All-Star

  12. The Other Guy says:

    Articles about roller derby most often appear in the ‘living’ (formerly ‘womens’) section, rather than the sports section. Why? Roller derby is not seen as a legitimate sport by sports fans. The reasons for this are myriad but the biggest may be that it is seen as a ‘retro fad’, like burlesque, with the emphasis on the ‘empowerment’ of the participants as opposed to the enjoyment of the fans. Focusing on players with big tattoos, piercings, and risque names doesn’t help. The leagues are slap-dash affairs and miss-matched teams play to often hugely lopsided scores. The frequent blow-outs aren’t helped by sometimes woeful officiating and frequent stoppages in play. Penalties acerbate blow-outs by doubly penalizing teams for penalties, first by removing the player from the track and secondly giving the opposing team an automatic point for each penalized player they ‘pass’. Seldom is there much drama and a game that has a 50 point gap is considered a ‘close’ game. It is a good thing that many players find it exciting to play no matter what the score is, because it’s often boring to watch. Sorry, but that has been my experience.

  13. fonda k says:

    Great article but the comment about “elbows you in the face” just leads to more of the same old same old…..”is it real? Do you punch eachother?”. These kind of remarks, even in jest, need to be put to rest. It might help with making derby more widely recognized as something way different than the 70’s counterpart.

  14. cwage says:

    I definitely commiserate with the struggle to get more media coverage, but I think the economic angle is not the strongest. $50 million is not really that impressive a figure — in the world of sports, much less the national economy. Sadly, money is still a huge problem for a lot of leagues. Conversely, the lack of big money involvement is probably a huge reason the sport is gaining popularity, so there’s that.

  15. Bob from Accounting says:

    What do all professional, successful womens sports have in common? Tennis, Ice Skating, Soccer, Basketball, Gymnastics…. All of these involve women who are in excellent shape who’ve trained all of their lives to make a career in a sport they love despite the mainstreams ‘ho-hum’ enthusiasm for any professional women’s sport. These women are not part-time athletes, they’re not 30 year old social outcasts past their prime playing a sport is as boring to watch as NASCAR but without the excitement or risk of death. $50Million dollars for an entire world-wide cast of volunteers? I don’t see my local kickball and ultimate frisbee teams screaming for media attention. The fact that this retro-sport gets any attention at all should be perceived as a blessing on its own. Those young women who train all their lives and invest thousands of dollars and millions more through endorsement and sponsorship have struggled for years for their sport to receive some sort of public approval. I guess what I’m saying is, nobody cares about a bunch of overweight part timers playing a sport the general public stopped caring about 50 years ago. Enjoy what little attention you receive.

    • Fast Skater says:

      I’m not sure why you took the effort to comment and insult a sport about which you evidently know very little about, choosing to make disrespectful and ignorant comments about women based on their bodies and social positions. I am sure you must have better things to do with your time. Perhaps you should sign up for training in your nearest roller derby league and see if you can keep up with, as you put it it the “30 year old social outcasts past their prime” who are “overweight”. Women of all shapes and sizes play roller derby and what they all have in common is that they train very, very hard for an extremely physically demanding sport.

    • Lauren says:

      I can understand the reasons derby doesn’t get the coverage some believe it deserves, but “30 year old social outcasts”? “Overweight part timers”? I’m no Ronda Rousey, but I train 6 days a week on top of my 4 day a week practice schedule for this sport. I also hold a respectable full time job. I’m in excellent shape. Maybe you should look up images of Bonnie Thunders, Suzy Hotrod, Heather Juska, Tracy Akers. These are just the surface of women who spend all of their spare time to train for derby. Hell, I wouldn’t EVER want to get hit by someone like Bork Bork Bork. Terrifying! Instead of name calling and assuming, educate yourself before making your point.

    • TARA ARMOV says:

      Ah, looks like a certain somebody from accounting hasn’t been to a top-level modern derby game in the past three or four years. I dare you to find “overweight part-timers” on any interleague top team.

      The sport has changed SO MUCH in the short amount of time it’s been resurrected. What you’re right about is that the women who will be able to make money as a derby skater will have trained as kids. In other words, today’s junior leagues are the ones who will benefit from the work being put in by all the volunteers that are involved in derby now. I seriously doubt there will be any current “superstar” skater who will be able to hang in there long enough to compete and make a living as a skater by the time that’s even possible.

      The way this sport should be covered is to focus on the junior leagues. The more kids that get into the sport now, the more likely adults will start giving a crap about the sport later.

  16. Mary D. says:

    I hate to admit it but The Other Guy is right…..I’m sure, as a player, derby is fun to play but as a spectator, it’s really boring to watch. But that’s not the main reason why I won’t be attending any bouts this upcoming season….in my town, roller derby is marketed as an event for the whole family but I don’t want my daughter learning that the way to garner male attention is by ripping her shirt off and skating around in a hot pink bra with her ass cheeks hanging out of her tiny, little bootie shorts. Someone please tell me how this is considered “female empowerment?”

    • Chris Wage says:

      It’s presumptuous of you to assume that the purpose is “male attention”. Further, you might consider the attire and celebratory behaviour in just about any other sport (male-dominated or otherwise) — I think you’ll find a lot of similarities. You may not want your daughter to see it, but I guarantee you she’s learning more from what you’re projecting than anything she’d see at a bout.

    • Bladerunner says:

      Mary
      It is very disappointing that anyone will feel that way about a growing a positive sport for women. I am a man and I attend and in these bout because of the athleticism and competition. There are other sports like Track and field , and Volleyball( beach and gym) where women wear less clothing and more provocative . Yet they are not only Olympic events , but also one can obtain college scholarship for participation.
      As a matter fact, Derby gets me through the drought of not watching football during off season. These women train harder than most athletes.
      If you need more education on Derby, I would be more than happy to give you some positive incite. Education is key .

    • A.T. says:

      While I understand your perspective, I really resent the suggestion that derby girls dress the way they do to “garner male attention” — I sure don’t. But then again I’m a pretty modest individual. Key word there being individual, and you can’t judge a whole group of people, or a sport, by looking at me any more than you can by looking at another individual person. But point being, the way we dress is about having fun and freedom of expression, and certainly not about being sexualized for attention as you are implying. And I can’t remember ever seeing a girl “ripping her shirt off and skating around in a hot pink bra”… and if you don’t even attend the bouts in your town to see what they’re like, how would you know what they’re like? That sounds like a judgment you came to based on annoying and outdated stereotypes. Or perhaps you encountered something before that was an exception, but not typical behavior. Either way, you’re entitled to your opinion, however you came to it, but you really shouldn’t be so quick to judge. As far as “ass cheeks hanging out of her tiny, little bootie shorts” then perhaps you’d like to focus some attention on cheerleaders in professional sports. In my experience, the girls in derby are generally MORE covered up than a cheerleader, and these girls are actually working their asses off PLAYING the sport. Not jumping around scantily clad and cheering on men. (Not that I’m trying to stir up issues with cheerleaders, but I’m talking in reference to the things you have expressed finding offensive and how they equate to other things.) Then consider athletes like female volleyball players… gymnasts… swimmers… and so on. By comparison, I’d say the way derby girls dress is pretty modest a lot of the time, or at least comparable. Maybe we’re a little more flamboyant with our outfits, but there’s no harm in that. If a person sexualizes that, then that’s on them and says more about their character than it does about anyone else. I’m a person that despises sexual exploitation and can’t stand how women are objectified in our society. And you know what? Derby has never made me feel objectified, and I’m certainly not doing anything I do to be pleasing to a male audience. Roller derby empowers women in many ways. Being part of a team, getting in better shape, making new friends, building confidence, learning to manage and promote a business, doing something you love… realizing the potential you have and learning new things about yourself, challenging yourself, opening yourself up to new experiences… the list can go on and on. Maybe all leagues are not the same, but I know our league also promotes games as family friendly, and the kids really enjoy it. Our sport is no more violent than football when you get down to it, and the girls who play are committed to derby heart and soul because of the POSITIVE things that derby has introduced to their lives. We have all kinds of girls, from all different walks of life, and it’s wonderful to be part of something that brings extremely different people together, working together to achieve common goals and share something they love. It would be fantastic to see more of that in other areas of life. I bet you’d never guess that someone in our league is Mormon, for example, and doesn’t drink alcohol or show a lot of skin. So before you judge all of us roller derby girls, maybe you should educate yourself a little more on what derby is really about. Your daughter is not going to be corrupted because she went to a roller derby bout. There are way scarier things in life, and more impressionable, than letting your daughter see girls skating around in booty shorts. Your focusing on the wrong aspects of what derby is. Because it *is* empowering for the women who have opened themselves up to the experience. Now, if you think it’s boring to watch, then that’s an opinion I won’t challenge. Some people like it, some people don’t, and that’s life. But let that be the reason you don’t go watch a game. Don’t avoid it simply because you judged the book by its cover. If you had a bad experience before, then I’m sorry to hear that. I know there a lot of leagues out there that are trying to promote a more professional image of the sport, even if others are not. You just have to find what works for you and roll with it (no pun intended).

      • Mary D says:

        Thank you for your thoughtful response. I apologize for lumping all derby skaters into the same category. I did attend one bout last season with my kids and at the end of the bout, the “star” skater did rip her shirt off and skate around in her pink bra to the delight of the crowd. I guess this particular skater is known to do this at the end of each game, IF the crowd cheers loud enough for her. It is true, not all the skaters were dressed as provocatively as her but because of the extreme way this girl was seeking attention, she was the one who my daughter was focused on and I dont want someone like her setting an example for my daughter.
        I do recognize and appreciate the hard work, dedication and training that all you women put into the sport of roller derby. As a former high school and college basketball player and track star, I understand the importance of fitness, health, teamwork and comaraderie and I want my daughter to experience these same things as she gets older and involved in sports. But I want her to understand that she should be recognized purely for her talent, skill and athleticism and not because she has to sexualize herself before a cheering/jeering crowd of onlookers. So yes, I did have a bad derby experience but I totally apologize for lumping you all in the same category as this young woman.
        One more thing and then I’ll hush…my two sisters were cheerleaders in high school and I saw firsthand the many, many hours of hard work and practice they devoted to cheering. In other words, they worked their ASSES off to perfect their skills too and even though it wasn’t my thing, I have much respect for the athletic abilities that they possess as I do derby skaters and although sometimes I get it, it can be a little disheartening to hear the public’s perception that cheering isn’t athletic or a sport, much like the perception you skaters work so hard to dispel. Thank you all for responding to me…I have much respect for your athletic abilities and I wish you all well. And when the “flashy” skater retires from derby, then I’ll be happy to take my daughter to more bouts.

    • TARA ARMOV says:

      I think it’s hilarious that you think “female empowerment” in derby equals, “ripping her shirt of and skating around in a hot pink bra with her ass cheeks hanging out of her tiny, little bootie shorts” in relation to derby. That’s “individual expression”, which is different. And doing that isn’t all for “male attention”, but that aspect was already addressed by a different respondent.

      The empowerment of derby comes from the skaters making their own decisions from top to bottom. An overwhelming majority of modern derby leagues were started by skaters. The governing bodies of derby: WFTDA for flat track and RDCL for banked track to name the big two, are also made up of skaters. The empowerment comes from training harder than most ever have in their lives before now. The empowerment comes from doing things that one is scared to do, whether it’s a new skill, new way of training, starting a league, researching business practices to keep the league going, dealing with interpersonal relationships, and reacting to societal judgements of playing a sport where women hit and hit hard.

      Apparently your area doesn’t have a junior league, which is a shame for your daughter. She’d be able to learn a lot about herself and play a super-fun sport at the same time if you were open to it.

  17. My wife and I have a small business and we sponsor the B.A.D.Girls teams. It has been a great experience for us and a good investment for Yount Street Glass. We both have played competitive tennis most of our lives. The friends that we have made through sports are some of our closest.
    Getting to know people (even Republicans!) and to love them has really enriched our lives.

  18. Courtney Hate says:

    i had noticed that trend a few years back in the WFTDA demographics; the fans make more money than the skaters. its been like that for years now.

    what i still cant seem to understand is why WFTDA has no taken claim of the names registry. i love the twoevils girls and all they do but they shouldnt have to. if WFTDA wants to be the ‘go to’ organization in the derby world then they need to handle ALL the responsibilites of the organization adn name registry is a huge one. USARS, Renegade, banked track can have their own spreadsheet but it should be handled by our governing body.

    • LW says:

      Because WFTDA doesn’t care what name you skate under. It’s not an integral part of the game and isn’t necessary, it’s something a skater can chose to do. If I skate under my legal name I don’t need to make sure someone else doesn’t already have it. You don’t even need to have a name. You need a number and that’s it. Why add more work?

  19. NotADerbyFan says:

    I agree with some of the other commenters. I’ve attended a couple of bouts and not only is it extremely boring to watch, but the matches are usually lopsided, and many of those ladies dress like they are dancing in some kind of burlesque freakshow. It might be fun for you to dress up like that but as long as you do, your sport will NEVER be taken seriously like other women’s sports. That’s the truth.

    • Fast Skater says:

      Why do women have to dress a certain way for you to take them seriously? I don’t know what games you have been watching because in the majority of ones I see, most women are wearing fairly innocuous tights and shorts or leggings. A far cry from a “burlesque freakshow” . I think you are exaggerating just the tiniest bit. It does not matter what sport women play, people always feel a need to comment on the appearance of players or obsess about their bodies – tennis being a great example. I’m sure you know what I am talking about.

    • TARA ARMOV says:

      So you don’t take women’s volleyball seriously because of what they wear?

    • yourmama says:

      Luckily, the world seems to be changing and these tired, religious/riteous ideas of how women should represent themselves is falling by the wayside. Someday, the notion of a women (or a man) needing to qualify under what is socially acceptable in order to be taken seriously and respected will be as laughable as it is useless.

  20. Fighty Almighty says:

    Great blog but, more importantly, where did you get that dress???

    • hsteeves says:

      Ha! Thanks. TJ MAxx in Rockland, Maine a year or so ago. Funny enough, I wore it to a party the night I bought it … and I ran into another derby skater wearing the same dress to the same party.

  21. devilspawn says:

    As a Referee… I really hope you’re not elbowing people in the face.

    Good story though.

  22. Penny Lizer says:

    There are also a TON of skaters like myself whose name was denied by the registry for one reason or another who preferred to keep the names we love rather than find a new one because it may be the same or similar to a skater on another continent. So I imagine the number is not over-inflated but quite the opposite.

  23. Bad Bromance says:

    I hope to see Men’s and Coed leagues spread the way that the women’s sport has. I was part of a MADE coed league in DC, and now that I have moved to west Texas, only WFTDA. I want to BOUT! lol. To the point though, no press is bad press, but there IS poor journalism, and it has been copied time and again. The 58M dollar story needs to be published in a WSJ or a Barron’s, though, not in the NYT. If we can get some serious corporate sponsorship for some leagues (which would be a much smaller investment than, say, in a NASCAR team or even an MLS team) we could make revolutionary impact as a sport.

  24. Gareth says:

    Great article, I totally agree that the revolutionary force that is Derby is what needs to be covered. It is also true however, that the momentum the sport has gained in recent years means its becoming very difficult for the “serious” news to ignore. Some of the numbers for the recent Championships must have caught a few eyes around the U.S. at least.
    I think we shall see some interesting developments in 2013… x

  25. Anon says:

    While I understand where you are coming from on this issue, here is why the coverage is as it is. I’m sorry if some get bent out of shape over it.

    Wanna be treated like real athletes? Drop the cutesy names, drop the fishnets, the tutus, the omg i’m a derby girl attitude. The reason it is how it is, is as mentioned in the article, the sport is overshadowed by the glitter. In some cases this is entirely true. Look at some leagues who are more worried about their makeup over skill, or team
    s who put more energy into uniform colors than actual training. Is this all leagues? No, but they help perpetuate that stereotype.

    • Hustler says:

      I’m sorry. There are flashy athletes in every “legitimate” sport. Let me see…name changes to jersey numbers (Ochocinco), crazy hair, tattoos and crazy stunts (Rodman), not to mention rape, rampant cheating, shootings, drug use, prostitution and domestic murders permeate commercialized sports. I don’t think fun names and punk costumes mean we are any less respectable than any other athlete. It is just an excuse to permeate the stereotype that women’s sports are less about athleticism and more about sex than men’s sports.

    • b says:

      Here’s the thing… we are. Names aside (that’s a much longer discussion), at the elite level derby isn’t really about all the outfits and the acceptance into a world of after-work camaraderie. I do think there’s a place for that, and there are plenty of leagues out there that provide a community and support structure for women who want to have fun and work out and wear fishnets. The teams that made it to nationals in 2012, however, consist of women who practice 4-5 days a week and cross train just as much- women who watch countless footage weekly to work on strategy, and have personal trainers and nutritionists and support staff, and play a sport with a TEN MONTH LONG season… I feel like focusing on what we wear defeats everything that is important about what were doing but since you brought it up, we (teams at an elite level) wear uniforms. ours happens to be made by adidas and it has nothing to do with glitter or lamé or cute names. In fact our names aren’t on our uniforms. We are athletes, and we want to be taken seriously. Believe me, I wish I didn’t have to work so I could train for derby all day long. Now excuse me, I have to finish my sweet potato and quinoa and go to bed at 9:30 on a friday night so I can get up to train tomorrow at 7am. xxoo

  26. I’d love to see ANY women’s sport (professional or otherwise) treated like anything other than a novelty act. With the exception of tennis and golf, the female athlete usually gets relegated to the same areas of the press that deal with cute animal stories. You’re absolutely right, there is a huge market there that has only slightly been tapped, usually by enterprising women who happen to be somehow connected to the sport in question. I see the same thing constantly with women’s hockey.

  27. xrobau says:

    It must be only me that reads the tag and goes ‘Wait, elbows you to the face? That’s an expulsion!’

    6.4.10 – Intentional, negligent, or reckless contact with an opponent by using the elbow in an illegal manner.

  28. Wait a sec … Since when have we journalists told the stories our subjects want us to tell? Maybe some writers fall back on corny ledes or don’t dig deep enough, but that’s endemic. On the money side, $59 million nationwide doesn’t seem like very much. Someone else mentioned that. Lepidopterists probably spend that much on nets and pins (ouch, sorry); accountants on printer paper. Maybe it’s a footnote in an article on a growing sport, but surely not the big, untold story.

    The question I’d have for roller derby is about the limits of a sport with a theatrical component. The is-it-serious-or-a-joke angle must seem like a tired one in the derby world, but will likely persist as long as there are funny pseudonyms and creative outfits (though maybe those are fewer in the big leagues). Same could be said of certain political protests. The guy in the rhino costume may have a serious message, but he’s also dressed as a rhino. So, what’s a writer to do? If I had to choose, I’d write about the costume, then contrast it with the guy’s day job where he doesn’t get to wear a rhino costume.

    On media stereotypes, mixed martial arts has managed to crawl out from under some pretty heavy ones — “human cockfighting.” I think that happend by some very calculated changes in the presentation, and as a function of the sport getting deeper, more complex, which brought in more fans.

  29. xrobau says:

    Wow, I’ve got to say, this post has certainly gone viral across australia. We’re discussing it on facebook (I’m a NSO), and I’m spending $600 _in one weekend_ to attend a bout 500km away, and Head NSO there. I’d hate to try to add up all the money I’ve spent on derby over the past few years.

    Also, Expulsion: Intentional, negligent, or reckless contact with an opponent by using the elbow in an illegal manner Just sayin’ 8).

  30. div8digital says:

    Love it, great piece! Thank you!

  31. Pingback: The real $50 Million story | Mens Roller Derby Information for Australia

  32. Great article! And I agree Miss A…this is a great article for inclusion in sponsorship material.

  33. I loved the article, and absolutely agree. I would have most likely only read the comment and moved on with my day….Until the comments describing Derby players in such degrading manner.It has of course already been mentioned that these women and girls are athletes by every description of the word. Derby is sport that welcomes anyone with enough guts and courage to lace up a pair of skates and give it all they have. That is of course if they can handle the training and the ongoing physical demands of such a sport. It was also mentioned that in order to be considered a *real athlete* it must be a sport that can be played at all ages and levels. Well you can join Roller Derby at 7, and I personally know women playing in their 50’s.
    September of 2011 I was just a regular mom of two daughters, wife of a musician. I have been a Respiratory Therapist for 20 years, and a Professional Photographer for 5 years. While my older daughter played traditional sports such as Tennis and Track. Her experience in High School left her with a very profound distrust of other women for judging her and her extremely thin body growing up. Basically women can be bitches to each other, this is the lesson she learned. She also of course discovered that the reason girls were so mean to her is because she had what men viewed as eye candy. Her compensation was to become a sweetheart inside and a hardcore bitch on the outside…she started smoking at 15, and at 23 has more tattoo’s than I can remember. She might fit the description of a Derby Girl as described by several previous posters above. Clearly judging women will never end, Is she my Derby Daughter?
    Nope you see she has a younger sister who was at the time 10 years old, and in our family we lovingly refer to her as *vertically challenged*, sadly she was also at an age where her height and her weight were in a battle. She tried and did not like any other traditional sports, we encouraged her to give various things a try, but none were a fit. That is until we won free tickets to an Adult Roller Derby Bout in Lansing Michigan to see The Mitten Mavens. These players spend their spare time going out and placing flyers up and recruiting, and volunteer work.and guess what they were starting a Junior Team the very next week.
    This 10 year old had never been on quad skates before, showed up at her first practice, and became one of the original Cap City Wild Childs. Right away she knew this was her sport, she learned to fall, how and when to hit. She learned strategy, because of course they are not just skating around a circle bumping into each other for no apparent reason. The first practice where they described the 25/5 sprint..that is 25 laps in 5 minutes, my daughter was in the middle of the group at 9. Within one month she was at the 25, now she surpasses 30-35 laps sideways and backwards, after a full 2 hour practice. My daughter who is a blocker, has grown and matured and become a kind and loving young lady. I believe there are 5 possibly 6 Junior teams in Michigan, so we play each other often, as well as participate in mixed scrimmages. She has learned to play hard against an opponent, get knocked on her backside, get up, fight back, and ALWAYS at the end of the bout, shake hands and hug your friends on the other team. She began derby as a child who could have become an obese teen and adult. Her Dr. had seen her that September and encouraged her to work hard to be healthy, when she saw her one year later, she had lost an entire size in jeans. Her BMI is perfect for her age, and this KID who is almost 13 has muscles in her arms, thighs, rear end. Her Asthma flareups are now next to nothing.
    MaryD I encourage you to give Roller Derby another try, The adult players that my daughter now considers her mentors and friends are the best examples I could every hope to have for my daughter. She is learning to be hardworking, athletic, compassionate, competitive, and so many many many other wonderful things. I absolutely love both of my daughters, but judging people on how they dress or how they look is so wrong. The cheerleader analogy is perfect, because whereas cheerleaders wear bootie shorts under skirts and cheer for men. Derby Girls where tights and YES my 12 year old wears fishnets…for a reason…it HURTS like hell to land on the track with bare skin!!!
    I assure you Derby has changed my daughters life, as well as the rest of our family. Her father and step-father help set up the track, as well as clean up after bouts. I continue to be primarily a High School Senior and family photographer, BUT I can’t just watch the action, I had to capture it. I have grown and learned along the way and have become the photographer for both the Mitten Mavens as well as The Cap City Wild Childs. I have studied other Derby photographers and I know I will improve my skills along the way. Often while I am doing photography I am also there as a member of the mandatory medical personnel, usually along side a paramedic.
    Derby is a family sport, she is cheered on by the rest of our family including her older sister.

  34. Brilliant! I just referenced the derby economy in a media training session today.

  35. Brazilian Bombshell says:

    In the past two years I have traveled to Brasil twice, went to Toronto for the cup and to Vegas for Rollercon, this year I am scheduled to play in Rio de Janeiro in April and in Colombia in August, LA in March, Vegas in July….and we are still in January!!
    I skate on $600+ skates but drive a very old car!! :0)
    Just felt like sharing…
    Bombshell

  36. uvgucci101 says:

    As a PR/Media Relations Coordinator for a Top 20 WFTDA league and a former journalist, I could NOT agree more (and our city is the self-proclaimed “Amateur Sports Capitol of the World”). Great article!

  37. Pingback: The 3 reasons you read “Journalists miss the real ($50M) roller derby story” — and what needs to be done now | The Dashboard

  38. Pingback: The ‘real roller derby story’? | maddiebreezeblog

  39. Pingback: How to write about roller derby: A case study with James Dator and Greensboro Roller Derby | The Dashboard

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