The significance of Sports Illustrated

It may not have seemed like much.  There have been so many articles and features on women’s Roller Derby that it is hard to keep track:  in Antwerp this week, many in Australia and New Zealand, France, UK and certainly the US and Canada.

But in last week’s Sports Illustrated, under Faces in the Crowd, there was a matter-of-fact four-line paragraph next to the photo of Portia Hensley about her scoring the final points  for her RMRG team to beat the Oly Rollers in the WFTDA national championship game in Chicago.

No mention of bizarre behavior, tattoos, costumes, etc; just that an athlete scored the winning points for her team in a championship contest.

No Roller Derby (wink wink) or any denigrating descriptions.  No, these women are skating Roller Derby and we know what that means.

This may not be as important to you as it is to me.  The legitimacy of the game is not questioned, as it should not be.  No aspersions on the 681 leagues skating in 25 countries.

Photo by Sanja Gjenero from

Roller Derby had its most important impact in 1969 when Frank Deford wrote what was then the longest piece ever in Sports Illustrated on the game.  It became the basis for his book “Five Strides on the Banked Track”.  Frank portrayed the game and the skaters as they were, and it was a great article, but although it acknowledged the athleticism of the players, it was not an endorsement of the sport.

And when Robert Lipsyte, perhaps the best sports columnist ever on the New York Times wrote:  “Roller Derby defers no payments, it rings bells now.  It offers one-dimensional action and excitement without baseball’s fabricated mythology or that increasingly suspect insistence, in all major sports, on the integrity of the game.”

And this is how people accepted and enjoyed the game, and that was its eventual downfall.  Sponsors did not take it seriously and without continued television, it faded from sight.

The new Roller Derby may have started from a strange beginning in Texas early in this century, but it has grown full-blown into a team sport played and enjoyed by tens of thousands of players and hundreds of thousands of fans.

And it is very important to me that the game be acknowledged for what it is today: the incubator for what will become one of the world’s great sports.

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10 comments on “The significance of Sports Illustrated

  1. I think we are well on our way, Mr. Seltzer, to being accepted as a legitimate sport. It may have only been a blurb in SI, but it was a significant one. To paraphrase the words of a great man: one small step for women, one giant leap for Roller Derby.

  2. Very interesting read Jerry I mostly agree but as usual I like to add my two cents worth. The way I see it is that thankfully there has been a radical morality shift since the 60s and therefore the timing is just right for Roller Derby to bloom.With spectacular events and the crowds Roller Derby is attracting Sports Illustrated could hardly ignore it. As woman we no longer look to men for approval or recognition that Roller derby is an actual sport the players are just getting in and DOING it.The make-up ,tattoos and fishnets are mainly for added fun and protection which helps to identify RD as an evolving niche womans sport that is also an extreme spectator experience.Our approach to sport may be a little different to most as we juggle the demands of work and family responsibilities but the desire to skate derby and become fit or fitter is a challenge that a lot of woman (including myself)are embracing while breaking myths that woman are incapable of participating in a competitive full contact sport.

    • Hi Kerry: I hope you realize I was not criticizing how you dress and act and play the game; after all, it is your game. I was merely stating that that was not what that article emphasized as so many of the others do. With all the work you women put into making Roller Derby happen, it had better be fun for you. And no, I am not getting any tattoos.

      • “And no, I am not getting any tattoos.”

        Spoken like a man who cares where he’s allowed to be buried. *~[;-{p>

  3. Hehe Here i was trying hard not to be offending you with my feminist based comments that get me in a lot of trouble on occasion 😀 I have said this before that being pro woman does not mean I am anti men and have have the greatest respect for you and your families acheivments

  4. Agreed, Jerry. Great for the sport, great for Rocky Mountain Rollergirls, great for WFTDA, great for all of us.

    I have to think that this stems in part from Rocky Mountain Rollergirls’ partnership with Live Nation, a player in the promotion business.

    Sometimes the rising tide really does float all boats. Sometimes the tide goes out, too.

    Some resistance towards derby on the sports page probably comes from older editors. Some from a tendency to judge without seeing. Some from the average sports page reader being “typical guys.” Guys tend to be more resistant to new sports (especially those featuring women). If it’s not football, baseball, basketball or hockey, it’s “gay,” or at least a threat to their personal sports status quo.

    The only “new sport” to really break through for an extended period of time in the last 40 years is Mixed Martial Arts. I would probably consider soccer to still largely be a failure in capturing the American mind as a major sport. Soccer probably works here in Rochester and where the ethnic mix is right. Even here it’s sometimes a tough sell.

    The growth of junior derby and rec derby are helpful as far as sustaining the growth and preventing people from mistaking modern derby for anything other than a legit sport.

  5. Pingback: Tweets that mention The significance of Sports Illustrated « Jerry Seltzer --

  6. Pingback: Sexy Tennis Ads, Roller Derby as a Legitimate Sport, and the World Cup, AKA What’s New in the World of Women’s Professional Sports (Part 3) | Projects and Musings by Rachel Ariel Scott

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