What’s in a name?


I saw Derby Baby again last night with Brandy and the wonderful women of Golden State Roller Derby in Livermore CA.  A small group of determined women who epitomize DIY Derby, and their spouses, boyfriends, parents, children whom you feel are such an important part of Derby’s support system.  You think that putting on skates, rolling around and waving at the crowd is what this game is all about?  Talk to any Derby girl to find out.

Illustration by saine from stock.xchng.com.

Pia Mess was there; talk about your beautiful talented athlete!  And a wonderful lady from Santa Cruz Derby who was also in the film.  We all had go at least 40 miles to get there; I had come 80 miles from Sonoma.

Then the film.  The audience cheered and laughed and knew it was their story.  I wish there had been more non-Derby people there so they could understand what this “thing” is all about.  The good thing about the Sonoma Film Festival showing was that out of the 300 people there (sold out in advance; ah my home town!), over 240 were subscribers to the Festival and believe it or not, they stayed to the end.

The film shows, but does not preach. Robin Bond and Dave Wruck are such good filmmakers, and they get their views across without being obvious.  And the camera work is spectacular, from the helmet shots to the overheads to one view that blew me away, looking between two five gallon water bottles onto the track.  But it is the subject that carries the story.  No matter whether in Ireland, or Sacramento or in Chicago or Denver or Las Vegas or Charlotte or Toronto, you feel these are the same people,  just with different faces.  Their views and stories tell you all you need to know.  And in true DIY style, they did this film with their own money and time.

There were two things in the film that also grabbed me because of my experiences.  One is Craig Bailey from Charlotte’s concern that this game cannot get on the sport pages because the writers tell him that the names, tattoos, the “costumes”, etc mean it can’t be a real sport because it “don’t look like one”.

First of all, Craig, the future of the sport does not depend on the acceptance of sports writers, although they would like to think so.  My father advertised on the entertainment page so the press yelled “see, he says it is not a sport!”.  The reason he placed the ads where he did was because the audience was predominately women and at that time they did not read the sports page.  Should you place ads on a page that isn’t effective to impress writers who are predetermined not to like you?

The public will decide ultimately whether to support you, so you reach them through all of your PR, outreach, community service and giving them the best product you can! (Need I say no slow Derby?)  You think you only need their approval….wrong, the fans will ultimately decide your fate.

We handled it differently.  When Art Rosenbaum (a truly wonderful writer) from the San Francisco Chronicle told me that not only didn’t he think Roller Derby belonged on the sport page, but he was limited in his space, and he had to take care of all the other sports down to high school track.

So at our games I had it announced that many of our fans (I guess I counted myself as many) who lived in different areas were upset because they didn’t get the nightly scores and we suggested they call their local sports editors.  Before long our scores and often a short synopsis of the game (which our announcers called in after the games to the sports departments) were appearing in all the Bay Area papers…..do they really care about their high judgment?  No, they want to satisfy their readers.

And we had the most powerful thing going for us:  a live telecast every Sunday night and a repeat every Saturday morning.  And this is something you can do: we got one of our local radio stations to do a “Roller Derby report” for 5 minutes three times a week.  And of course we gave the scores, talked about the stars (you all better start addressing that soon; people come to see Suzy Hotrod, Pia Mess, Val Capone, Anamtrix, etc, and I know all about the jealousy of “stars”, but until you build them up, you are going to get a lot of one-timers at your games), and promoted all the upcoming events and our community services we were engaged in.

Image by enjoymath from stock.xchng.com.

Unfortunately (for them), the newspapers are losing their impact:  television, radio, Sirius, social media, etc. are what you should go after, as well as other sections of the paper.  The people in Derby are not doing what they are doing to impress sportswriters, but are doing what they love and just want to survive and grow.

Now the other point that some expressed in Derby Baby was about the names.  Is it the Derby names that are keeping the game from wider acceptance.  My feelings? If you are doing something that is bringing more people into your arena (except slow Derby…..ok, I will shut up), you have every right (obviously as a league) to keep doing what you are doing.  When a TV network comes to you and says we want to televise your games and pay you a lot of money, but you have to use your real names, THAT is the time to decide.

One very strong suggestion:  as you know I can get a bit raunchy on my facebook page, but not too much and I have adult readers.  By your use of scatological or downright pornographic names you are affecting what adults who bring their children see.  I know The Windy City Rollers and other leagues do not allow it.  By the way, I will fight to the death to keep my official Derby name:  “The Commissioner”

I thought you might not notice this:  I am in Derby Baby at least five times, but who is counting?

7 comments on “What’s in a name?

  1. Hi Jerry-

    I remember the Roller Derby report from my youth- I listened every night! Methinks it was on KSAY in San Francisco at 6:05pm. To a pre-teen who had just discovered the Derby and wanted to know all about it, the nightly report was like heaven. I would get so angry when the redshirts would defeat the Bombers- just typing this brought back some great memories…

  2. I think the leagues do an excellent job of getting fans into the venues. It’s the slow derby (among other things) that keeps them from coming back. I do think the derby names are holding back this sport to a certain point, especially when the names are PG-13 bordering on R rated. With rollersports being considered by the IOC for 2020, we really need to clean up our own act. If rollersports and specifically the derby discipline gets on the IOC’s map, obviously, there will be an upswing in awareness of the sport, especially as other national federations try to get teams in order. I feel that whichever amateur association (WFTDA, MADE, OSDA, etc.) is going to prevail is going to be the one who first abandons skate names in favor of real names (which are required by the IOC) or “realish” names (for protection of privacy).

  3. Pingback: What’s in a name? | Thehotflashseattle's Blog

  4. Truth be told, however, there is no specific roller derby girl “type.” Players have often been stereotyped as tattooed tough chicks who’ve perfected Sid Vicious’ upper-lip curl while donning fishnets, spandex or knee-high socks (case in point: the 2009 roller derby film, Whip It, starring Ellen Page). But what players do have in common is the willingness to train hard and play hard — a requirement for any athlete in a contact sport. And on Monday night, everyone on the track—whether they’re new or seasoned skaters, inked arms or not—is putting 110 percent into every rolling stride.

  5. There is a skater in Scandinavia who skates at home as “Fist Fucker.” In Sweden, I suppose, this sort of thing is ok. However, she’s not dumb. When she comes to the UK to skate, or went to Canada for the World Cup, she skated as “Fistie.”

    Nothing wrong there, and if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t get it. When there’s a difference in mores, this is a good way to deal with it. Perhaps the pornographic names need to stay a private joke between skaters, and the public names stay PG-13.

  6. I’ve been enjoying Roller Derby Examiners. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Roller-Derby-Examiners/166012643431561?ref=stream
    Just like Derby itself, a DIY approach to the newsfeed.

    Roller Derby today is like Punk Rock. Started from scratch. Answers to none. Content on the fringe. Catering to it’s odd niche`. As soon as it goes mainstream, it will lose it’s appeal to many. But not as many who will come to love it. The mainstream integration is inevitable. It’s just a matter of time. Then we can say “I knew you when..!” And we will share it as it comes full circle.

    I like the Roller Derby of today because it’s attainable by anyone who wants to put in the effort to get there. I worry mainstreaming derby will turn it into a sport only attainable by what an outsider determines as camera ready players. I want derby with old, fat broads like me. Makes it way more interesting. And I’ll play those pretty, rich sponsored teams any day with my dirty, asphalt worn gear and legitimate, self made league.

  7. Some of the derby names I considered taking DID get pretty “adult.” None of them were dehumanisingly awful, but the fact that I’ve got kids and I frequently show up at their school in derby gear with my helmet made me think twice about having an un-family friendly moniker. (As did the idea of bouting and having my kids screaming out swear words.)

    I like the names aspect; it’s some harmless fun, and for a lot of women, it’s permission to “be someone else.”

    I don’t want us to worry about impressing sportswriters, either. One of the things I LOVE about derby is that it got where it did without any of that, and that the “newer” derby is unashamedly not mainstream. (Yet we still have our fans. I think a lot of people go initially for the novelty, then realise that it’s an actual sport and that the community is awesome and get into it.) I love that you *might* be tattooed and have unnatural-coloured hair and an alternative style or that you might look like the girl next door and you’re just as welcome if you want to join in and are prepared to put in the hard yards.

    Maybe there needs to be a bit of give on the side of the public, too.

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