Men in Tights: The Role of Men in Modern Derby

Maiden America and Danger Zone on the jammer line. Photo Credit: Mark Sheehan

Maiden America and Danger Zone on the jammer line.
Photo Credit: Mark Sheehan

This past weekend, the Race City Rebels played the Naptown Roller Girls in a battle for hometown bragging rights. It was an awesome bout, how could it not be? The number 9 ranked team in the Men’s Roller Derby Association (MRDA) skating against the number 12 team in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association(WFTDA)? Awesome! Some of the reactions I heard after the fact? Less than awesome.

A Bit of Backstory

Most of you who have been following Pure Geekery for a little while already know most of this about me. I am a retired skater for the Circle City Derby Girls. Upon my retirement, I started helping out with my husband’s team, the Race City Rebels. Over time, I came to be on their PR team (so part of me is frustrated with myself for giving this issue more attention).

I’m also the “wear your heart on your sleeve type.” I get emotional. I tend to take things too personal. So when I saw some of these horrible things said, I saw red. I saw people personally attacking my husband and my friends. Which of course I’m sure they didn’t intend.

With That Said…

Maiden America jams against Tomka Truck. Photo Credit: Tom Klubens

Maiden America jams against Tomka Truck. Photo Credit: Tom Klubens

I was drawn to derby because of the cute outfits, tough chick image, and funky names. I fell I love with it because of the DIY mentality. The comradery. The speed. The way some skaters seem to dance on their skates. The way there’s a place for all of us.

I learned of men’s derby at practice. See, pretty much as soon as I got out of the new skater workshop (an eight week training camp Circle City hosts twice a year). I was skating with boys. Getting tips from boys. Getting hit by boys. Racing boys around the track. So naturally, I started attending men’s derby bouts to support my friends. And I loved it.

The more I learned about derby the more fun I found men’s derby. I mean, here was my sport played in a whole different way. Because of the physical difference, men just skate differently than women. They stand more upright because they have a higher center of gravity. Shoulder hits are more common because they tend to have greater upper body strength. They come up with different strategies because of their different skating style. But for all the differences, the things I love stay the same.

I’m of a group that has always shared a track with men.

So when there’s a coed derby bout and I see the outrage, I get upset. I get upset at the disrespect shown to both teams. I get upset for the male skaters, because they’re painted as villains. I get upset for the female skaters, because the outrage implies they aren’t able to be trusted with choosing their opponents. That they need protection from the boys. None of which is true. In this particular case, I get upset as PR because what was billed as a bout starring two top ranked teams in the world, gets reduced to boys vs girls.

Part of me understands why people get outraged. It is strange to see men playing an aggressive, full contact sport with women. But to me derby is an example of how this works. Across the WFTDA, and leagues individually, there are so many different shapes and sizes of skaters. It’s one place where bigger isn’t always better.

The co-ed outrage tends to bring up the argument “Do men belong in derby?” Of course they do. Men have always been involved in derby. They’ve been fans, refs, coaches, announcers, and NSOs. We shouldn’t be surprised that some of them want to bout. Heck, both teams that played Saturday have played in scrimmages and mash-up bouts prior to Saturday’s bout. And we should support them as much as they’ve supported us. After all, there’s room for all of us in derby.

And if you don’t agree, I encourage you to go to a bout hosted by your local men’s derby team. See what men’s derby all about. And if you happen to be in Indy, come out to a Rebel’s bout in the spring. We’ll have a beer. You’ll find me cheering in the suicide seats.

(By the way the guys don’t actually wear tights, well except the Carolina Wrecking Balls.)

Update: Some of you are saying you feel like you’re “missing” part of the story because I don’t say what was said. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. It was things like you can probably imagine. It’s more the attitude that is addressed in the post.

Comments

  1. poison says

    THANK YOU! I am officially in love with you! I wouldn’t trade my boys for anything.

    XOXO
    Poison
    Head Coach, CWB

  2. urdad says

    nobody is asking if men have a place in derby. they have mrda. the question people were asking at this particular bout, as i was there, is why have a home opener where you know you’re gonna get spanked by a men’s team? mrda and wftda are separate associations for a reason. just because you learned the sport with men, doesn’t mean everyone is comfortable with it, especially fans. no one likes seeing women get beat up by men. and that is what happens during men vs. women bouts when you break it down to the basics. men hit differently and harder. think about a player who has never played with men before and learning how to take and give a hit on a dude is something you want to learn outside of a sold-out bout. the male skaters just need to deal with it, because they are the villains when they knock down a girl. circle city is special because they get to practice with men on a regular basis and don’t see the big deal. but i would venture to say a lot of female skaters have reservations about playing men and that should be addressed when bouts like this are scheduled. is it worth the possible injuries? is it that entertaining? or is it just sad to watch a jammer never get out of the pack? i would have rather seen the sirens play a D1 team, but that’s just me. also, props to south bend cause that was a fucking amazing bout.

    • Nicole says

      @urdad:

      First of all, yes people do ask if men belong in derby. They question if the MRDA should exist.

      Second of all, the Sirens were not “spanked” or “beat up.” A 100 point differential is not uncommon in derby. Were the Sirens “beat up” by TXRD at WFTDA nationals? They lost by over 100. Did Naptown “beat up” BHRD? They won by over 100. Also, had you read my post you would know these two teams have practiced and scrimmaged together. This was not the first time they’ve played together, nor did it look like it. To suggest otherwise is insulting to the skaters of Naptown.

      Lastly, I understand that some fans did not like this bout and say as much. I saw some very respectful comments from fans who did not like the bout. What I don’t understand is when people are outraged because they felt a bout that Naptown decided to play was “unfair.” Naptown is a great team that knows what they’re doing. When they chose the Rebels for an opponent I’m sure they felt it would be a fun bout for fans to watch. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it.

  3. says

    It’s something we’ve dealt with since the first ref took to the track because holy hell, what the girls were doing sure looks fun!
    This Is How We Roll is a great look at the coming up of men’s derby (https://www.facebook.com/thisishowirollmovie) mostly shot 2006-2009 but still fairly relevant as men’s teams are still so new in some places.

    Girl Fawkes
    manager, CT Death Quads
    treasurer, Men’s Roller Derby Association

    PS- my dudes love playing Race City, we’re hoping to see them on the track again at Spring Roll!

  4. says

    Thanks for writing this. It’s awesome that Indy hosted a public coed bout! We’ve been fortunate in St. Louis that Arch Rival and St. Chux has been highly supportive of us since we started. Their support has made us better derby players and we’ve helped them in return. It’s always sad to hear about other locations where the relationship between the men and women in the sport is not so supportive. Glad to know it’s a healthy relationship in Indy.

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