Tearing Down the Stigma Surrounding Roller Derby, Part One

When I worked for the Edmonton Rush Lacrosse Club it was eye opening the struggle to sell a new’ish sport to someone who has never watched it before. It was double the struggle to get a new fan to come to a second game if they could not immediately sound knowledgeable about the sport. Well this article is about Roller Derby not lacrosse, and it is seemingly triple the struggle to sell Roller Derby.

More than the broad stroke reasons listed above there seems to be a negative stigma surrounding Roller Derby. Several members of Oil City Roller Derby (OCRD) agreed to help me to attempt to tear down the stigma surrounding the sport. There will be three stereotypes investigated and explained in three separate articles – pageantry/gamesmanship, violence, and the nature of the events.

Please explain the pageantry/gamesmanship of the sport? The most obvious aspect of pageantry are the roller derby names. How is the novice fan suppose to take you seriously? 

Diva De Mortis

Diva De Mortis circa 2016. Credit, OCRD website.

This is a question that is asked frequently. We acknowledge that this adds whimsy to the sport, and can detract from the idea that derby is a legitimate sport. It is one of the legacies that has stuck. There are conflicting views on this within the derby community. Some want to keep the “derby name” and some want to dump them. Originally, the derby names were part of that pageantry. Part of the show. Now they are more of a right of passage as a skater achieves passing the fundamentals program and getting a chance to play in a “real” game. Finally their name is announced. A name that they chose. A name that may have more meaning than their birth name. Sometimes the names are just silly, and sometimes they are serious. But regardless, the names have meaning. The person who chooses a silly name may only have derby as an outlet to be silly. The person who chooses a serious name may only have derby as an outlet to express that. I like to think of the names as tattoos. Choosing a tattoo is personal. The meaning is for YOU and you only. But it doesn’t change who you are as a person, but rather provides you with a creative outlet to express yourself.

And in terms of the other pageantry of the sport, this is something that is slowly disappearing as the sport becomes more mainstream. You still get the new skaters that think it is great to skate in fishnets, and the veterans skaters that do the same, but comfort often wins over pageantry (Lol). Also, derby is an inclusive environment, so we do not discriminate if someone wants to be seen in fishnets (or other embellishments) while skating. Typically, as a skater becomes more serious about derby, those embellishments disappear. Other than makeup, you are unlikely to see any fancy costuming in the roller derby world cup for example.

Tex Rexem #357

The names draw people in. It’s fun. You could well ask the same question of the drag community but i’ve not seen anyone do so – they understand or will learn that along with a challenging sport, roller derby still offers an opportunity for self invention. Theatricality and pagaentry are entertaining to watch, satisfying to participate in, and entirely optional. Plenty of players simply have their last name on their jersey.

Ivana Kischmoo – Drag n’ Drop’s Wife

Our names are all different… and ways to identify us when we play. The fan doesn’t HAVE to take it seriously. In fact, I hope they ENJOY the playful names, but if they come watch games and see the sport for what it is, they will QUICKLY see that a name is just a name. Wasn’t there a famous quote by some well known author about a name just being a name?

Some names have deep meaning – or a connection to who we are in real life. Some are silly and fun because in real life we might be silly or fun. Some are messages that you may or may not get. Some are gifts of love and affection from our teammates.

I challenge the fans to get to know us, not just our names but who we are, how hard we play, and how hard we show up in this world.

Vulcan DeathTrip # 8008ies:

Also – who says we want to be taken totally serious?

Maybe some “goofy” names act as a reminder to spectators that we have a sense of humour, especially while they watch us violently smash into each other.

Inspector Gidget Charleau #94:

I didn’t join derby because it’s serious. I joined derby because it’s fun. There’s obviously a ton of hardwork involved, but the spectacle behind the sport is a great way to be able to bring out individual personality.

London Brawling # 1979

 Nicknames are a part of sports, even if they don’t always end up on the back of a jersey (though NFL fans may remember that Chad Johnson went by the name Chad Ochocino for several seasons).

The theatricality that comes with the names, makeup, and crazy boutfits make derby incredibly fun (for skaters and fans) and a little more accessible for people who maybe don’t enjoy traditional sports. Frankly when I was starting out, the idea of nicknames and face paint made the sport a little less intimidating for me to approach, not because I didn’t think it was serious, but because I knew that having fun was a huge part of it.

Drag n’ Drop # 301:

 Having a derby name makes me feel like a superhero. We choose our names and they mean whatever we want them to. They can be deeply personal, totally frivolous, or anything in between. How cool is that?

PSL aka Pumpkin Spice Latte – #28

In every sport, even most jobs, there are ridiculous nicknames. We name ourselves to let out a part of us we maybe can’t let out in our regular day to day. For myself it’s a not so inside joke with my best friend Taco Bruiseday, it’s a nickname going 4 years strong. Just releasing my inner basic queer. So to people who think a name stops you from taking derby seriously think of the nicknames you have picked up though the years and tell me if I should take you serious in your business suite marshmellow. You’ll forget a last name, but you’ll never forget a derby name.

Low Key #314

Derby names are a leftover from the theatrical stage of Roller Derby. It was (and is) one of methods for skaters to draft different personas, to let go of of their daily life stresses and be someone a bit different for a little bit. Some teams do forgo derby names for legal names to be more professional seeming. Personally, I love the derby name aspect. It seems to reveal something about the individual: their sense of humor, background, religion, sexuality, hobbies, what’s important to stand out to them, something they look up to or want to be more like, etc. Personally, I took mine from a book (shocking, I’m a reader). But what’s funny to me is how it ended reflecting my playing style. I’m told that I’m sneaky on the track, skaters think they’ve lost me, but then I pop out of nowhere like a ninja (“Low Key”).

Roxy Belleboa

Not all derby skaters have “derby Names”. Some skaters skate under their last name or no name at all. Look at wrestlers for instance they all have “gimmick names”. If you were to meet “The Undertaker” for instance in real life, you wouldn’t go up to him and call him Mark Calaway, would you? You would call him the Undertaker, because that is who he is when he is wrestling. The same goes for us.

Some of us do have fun name like Rainbow Juicepig, but then there are others who have more “Punny” names and that is where the fun come in. We have everything from doctors to morticians that play this sport and having a different  “gimmick name” to play under gives them the opportunity to have fun and be someone they don’t get to be Monday to Friday. 

Stay tuned for part two!

EDITOR’S NOTE: All professional head shot photos were taken by Cellar Door Photography.

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