Awww, roller derby…don’t get me wrong. I love you, and I love a lot of the people who are involved in this very unique sport. Some are the coolest women you will ever meet. Most of them have unique stories, usually related to courage and bad-ass’ery. Real survivors. Its fun just knowing them and an honor that they consider you their friend. Roller derby isn’t just a sport. Its a community, a sub-culture, a family.
It will push you to your limits physically and scare the pants off of you once you start playing. On your good days, you feel like you can accomplish anything, and on your bad days, you cry your eyes out on the way home from practice. There will be days when you want to throw in the towel. Maybe you got your feelings hurt because someone yelled at you to do better. Maybe you don’t feel like you’re as good as everyone else. Maybe you just can’t handle the level of commitment that’s required to really be successful. Whatever it is, you’ll get over it. You’ll come back.
However, one thing you will not be able to overcome are the adult bullies that make their way into the sport. You can learn to tolerate and even ignore them, but they will always challenge you, your patience and you urge to fight back. Derby prides itself on being a sport of inclusion, acceptance and individuality, but consistently looks the other way when it comes to skaters picking on other skaters. It must be because the bullies bully in very subtle ways, like you know you’re being picked on, but its not something super obvious. You get the eye rolls, feelings of exclusion, gossiping, those not-so-subtle unnecessary body blows during drills, and being ignored when you try to engage or interact with them. And these are adult women!
When I first joined derby, my bully was my coach. She was super hilarious and made learning fun. She was interactive, jovial and cheered me on. The minute I progressed enough to skate safely with the team during practice and not one-on-one under her direction, she immediately shunned me. Wouldn’t talk to me, unless she was reprimanding me. Wouldn’t respond when I greeted her, and looked away when I tried to engage. I was floored. I racked my brain trying to think of what I could have done to make her this way. Did I say something offensive? Does she feel like I am competition now that I am skating a little better than when I started? What did I do? Then it dawned on me. I did nothing. This was about her. Her issue. Her character flaw, not mine.
So how do I continue to enjoy derby and ignore her? This is something I still grapple with. I’m not going to lie and say that I’m really good at just letting this shit go, because I’m not. Her behavior tainted my view of derby being this safe place for all women to enjoy. I’ve read even worse stories online about other experiences skaters have had with bullies. Its not fun, especially as a working professional in my 40’s with life’s stresses. Derby was supposed to be my outlet. It wasn’t supposed to feel like high school again.
I see others being bullied too, by my bully and other skaters that I would consider to be “the nice ones”. I don’t think there are any solutions to this problem. After my bully bashed me in the back on purpose during a drill, I filed a formal complaint. Now things are worse than ever. No, she hasn’t physically attacked me again. Its even worse and actually embarrassing at times. She will skip me when we are doing drills. She’s gotten two of her friends to shun me now as well. The coaches avoid having us skate together during scrimmages, and I have no idea how we would even play together in an actual game with her level of animosity. I’ve been told by my confidants that sadly, this is just how it is…that the Board can’t make people be friends. I totally get it, but how about kicking people out of the league for bad conduct? Either players resolve issues so that the team can flourish, or get out? Maybe its time for roller derby to expect more out of its members. Maybe there should be a no tolerance policy for this type of behavior?
I can dream at least.