Sandi Mustang Johnson…..she set off a Derby explosive


About 4 years back I started expressing some feelings about how the game was becoming not fan friendly.

And the head of an organization came down on me in quite a strong manner; and I don’t want to relive the experience which was widely misinterpreted, but I just said what the hell, let’s get on with it.

Of course I have strong feelings about Derby; the game was created by my father; I shepherded it through its most popular period and was so happy to see the revival in 2003, so if this is what everybody wants, so let it be.

Then yesterday Sandi posted on her home page a 500 word or so statement of her feelings, why she has left the game after 10 years, and that set off a firestorm that I never expected. There have been over 100 shares, thousands of views, and so many great comments. I urge you right now to go to her page and read it or to my page where she kindly let me repost it or to any of the others who have also done the same.

I don’t even want to try to compress what she said, because she did it so wonderfully and with such feeling. Why have crowds for her home league (Knoxville) decreased so much? Why wherever she went to skate she was seeing empty buildings? what can be done to reverse it. And then the comments have piled in….please read them.

I have expressed concerns over the current ruleset not being fan friendly, and this was stated over and over by those out there, but with the caveat hey we skaters like the game, leave us alone! And it is apparent that there is no once simple fix to whatever the problem is.

If you are skating for yourself and friends and family, then just don’t worry about charging admission and possibly boring the audience, but if you want to charge admission, then you must admit that you are an entertainment, which is difficult…….but don’t construe that to mean not a real competition…..look how successful TXRD and the LA Derby Dolls are.

And if you don’t get money from the games and merchandise and concessions, then obviously you have to get it from your players and not be able to sustain travel expenses or other perks.

And so much more came out: too many leagues in limited areas; not enough attention paid to game presentation and being fan friendly; each game is often meaningless because it is played for “rankings” rather than competition; smaller leagues are ignored; the travel teams become so important that other skaters feel like they are not getting their money’s worth and on and on. And skaters want to skate and not play a stop action game. not my words.

Everyone wants to own Roller Derby……that concept ended 40 years ago. Wouldn’t it be great if there could be a super conference of the heads of the different rulesets, educated observers like WindyMan and others and just work out a concept of a game for the skaters and fans that is entertaining, and address all the other issues.

Baron Wolman is one of the greatest photographers for entertainment and sporting events that we have ever seen (his stuff is in Hard Rock cafes, museums, and galleries throughout the world). And he has seen Roller Derby in its various forms for 40 years expressed a comment: if the game could become professional again, and get national coverage, it would so help the amateur teams and create interest and they would flourish.

Of course I agree with that, but with the present situation and decreasing attendance in most areas, no one is interested right now.

Can we broaden this whole discussion and do something about it? Selfishly, not too sure how much time I have left.

39 comments on “Sandi Mustang Johnson…..she set off a Derby explosive

  1. IMO WFTDA is a ridiculous organization full of, mainly, egotistical assholes who want their heads to be even bigger. It’s unfortunate that derby is dominated by their ruleset. They’re only interested in furthering their own agenda of derby domination, not the agenda of ALL skaters and fans. I think I pretty much hate everything about them. Everything.

    • Yes. I started out a fan of derby as do many people. Unfortunately, my experience with Bay Area Derby Girls and WFTDA was horrible. No fan of roller derby should ever have to go through what I went through. Maybe someday it will be safe to share my experience. It is unfortunate, that people who dominate Bay Area Derby Girls and WFTDA are done so by some very nasty mean people. I really hope as the sport grows so do it’s ethics around sportsmanship, honor and how to treat fans.

    • To clarify: I communicate the concepts that makes gameplay competitive. Truly, purely competitive. When you have (truly) competitive roller derby, you have entertaining roller derby.

      If you think the roller derby you play is competitive, why do a seemingly large number of people—skaters included—disagree with you?

  2. Wow, Jerry. Thank you. I’m still spinning from the reaction from my post. Leaving my team has been hard. Speaking out on something so taboo was a little scary. (I was a WFTDA rep until a few days before that post.) Go big or go home. I guess I did both. Thanks for supporting me.

  3. I know what it took for you to say what you did…..the ultimate irony is you did it for the good of the game…..which is what we really all want. Of course another irony, Knoxville has the Seltzer Cup and is one of the great leagues and deserves a better fate.

  4. Just a friendly invitation. Anyone disenfranchised and looking to reinvigorate themselves in derby, is welcome to come try MADE. I’ve been playing MADE for 8 years (first 2 were WFTDA) and still love it each and every day…learn something new each and every day. And all the about 150+ games I’ve played in have been incredibly fun and competitive. We’re all super nice over hear. Just sayin….there’s more than 1 way.

  5. Anonymous and others, let me make something clear….this is not to attack or offend any league….we have too much bitterness and divisiveness…..BAD girls are my first local league and they are so great as are their games….they do it right. Out of all of this I just hope the public likes whatever the game becomes…..that is it.

  6. I actually figured out just how selfish and nasty the Roller Derby world can be after I switched leagues. A lot of catty bull and high school drama; I’ve seen it from other leagues as well. So sad that this empowerment of women has so many women who drag each other down and create an image of trash.

  7. I left derby to play hockey and have never been happier. IMO: WFTDA Derby is egotistical by design, it requires too much time, its over officiated, the rules are way too complex for the skaters to follow (much less the fans.) Most leagues are ran by leaders who have no leadership/business training, our sponsors felt used and under appreciated, as a skater I felt nickeled and dimed to death for some event I had to go to or new uniform I had to buy, all games required a paying audience. Hockey has none of those things. We play for the joy of playing. We only have 2 Refs/1 NSO/game. I can belong to two leagues in the same city if I wanted to, the coaches have to pass certain certifications. My league head meets with the other league heads for a meeting once a year to hash out a reasonable regional schedule, there’s no animosity. Last year I went to regional playoffs and my team WON in my division. I didn’t need a paying audience to feel good about my sport during any of my season games, playoffs, or championships. In fact when asked, none of my hockey friends would actually pay the $20 it costs to see our local derby bout. Its way too much with very little in return.

    • Em I am sure if you had been exposed to MADE in your area you would have stuck with derby. This is the model we have. No cattiness, no b.s., we’re coed so the stupid girl drama is practically non existent. no over ruling, you’re allowed to play any ruleset without judgment.

      • Indeed Miamoe!! I love, love love, MADE. I wish we had it in my state in the Midwest but sadly its only WFTDA and MRDA flat track in this area of the world.

  8. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone, because I think we all share a responsibility in what is happening. Granted, some of it was GOING TO HAPPEN! Oversaturation, in certain markets is just an example.

    But we’re in the process of retrofitting the game. Going backward to try to figure out the groundwork that was never properly put together, by leagues or governing bodies, to start with. Most of it as a business foundation. AND, run like a sport’s business. It would only make sense to have someone involved that has run a minor league a sport before.

    I KNOW how difficult the game is to understand at times…I have to explain it! When you have situations that take more than a sentence or two, it’s too confusing.

  9. I love to listen to all genres of music. One thing I’ve noticed is all the old good songs from my childhood are coming back. Most are chopped up and thrown in some rap song. My kids are amazed when they catch me singing the words. They always ask “how do you know the words? “. I said. “I knew this song when it was cool 30 years ago.”
    My son yesterday showed me some platform shoes that were for sale on the internet. He is a student at NYU and very up on Fashion and the arts. He said “these are in this fall Mom” . I smiled and said. “Those were in when I was in middle school and High School”. I then said ” go look in your Grandmothers closet she has some amazing platforms”.
    There are many old school things that went out of style. I guess Old School Derby bowed out after it’s long run. Over the years it has been revived in different forms, some worked…for awhile. None, so far where as amazing as the original.
    I grew up jumping up and down in front of my Black and white TV screaming at the tv as I watched this amazing old school Roller Derby.
    I was Blessed to skate old school derby style in the 80’s; skating fast, big hits, no gear, just flying on the Bank track. A lot of people who came to see us found it so entertaining. Yes, we entertained, but we were also great athletes with great endurance as were all derby skaters that preceded us that we learned from.
    I can only hope that like Music and clothes styles… That the Seltzer Derby style will come back Full circle. I’m a couple weeks short of 51, I’d love to skate that style one more time before I have to retire. Now that would be amazing.
    Many people say “out with the old in with the new”. I’m ok with that if it’s working…if it’s not than I say ” let’s go full circle and get back to the good part!”

    So with that said I say… Or I better yet …I sing…. “I like …Banked Tracks and I cannot LIE, them younger skaters can’t Deny….when these old ladies wheels are in motion, she be flying like a jet ski on the ocean…out of control big hits on the go!!

    That’s my 2 cents “…..peace, Mouse

  10. After the comment the MADE supporter said about their organization, “it’s coed so there’s no catty girl drama”, I would never play under such a sexist, childish organization. (Btw- I’ve played 6 years with 3 different leagues, and a nice mix of coed play in that time.) drama is in every league, so I don’t think that helps. It just sounds like you’re an asshole ‘bro’.

      • I definitely recommend having EXCELLENT health insurance if you are playing MADE. Since the officiating is non-existent and it is VERY low-level play (I can guarantee that half the people on any MADE league are incapable of doing a pushup, let alone skating), you can expect to get injured. Trade WFTDA/MRDA typical injuries of broken ankles and legs to spinal injuries and you have a pretty good idea of what MADE is all about. About as fun to watch as speed skating and the rules make no sense. It is all confusing for a spectator.

  11. Visage, what the hell are you talking about??? We have extensive refereeing program. And the level of Play…are you insane. I have played with most of Team USA and have been playing for 10 years.

    Our play is EXTREMELY SAFE — I haven’t had an injury (knock on wood) in MADE in 10 years.

    Are you f*kin nuts — not being able to do a pushup? We play Banked Track, most WFTDA people that come to our practices can’t keep up with our pacelines. Did you see Shove City take on the mostly Your Mom team last season with only 7 players?

    You have NO IDEA what you are talking about…but the word Propagandist comes to mind.

    • And spinal type injuries??? I don’t know of a single spinal injury of any kind in MADE. Not one. Stop trying to start lies.

  12. Visage,

    I play MADE and did 50 push-ups this morning. I am a larger female, but I have better endurance than several WFTDA skaters in my area. I work out 5 days a week and skate for 6 hours a week, so to say that we are low level skaters and incapable of skating is an insult.

    I’ve played WFTDA for 3 years before switching to MADE. I prefer MADE. The rules are very easy to follow once you have a little instruction and their referee program is very structured and training oriented. I’ve had more support trying to learn how to ref a MADE game then ever have a WFTDA game.

    I’ve also noticed significantly less wear and tear and injuries to myself since switching to MADE.

    Perhaps before you start comparing one game to another you’ll try playing both games first.

  13. @Visage-I have played WFTDA (Charm City for several years) and MADE (Chesapeake and my current league which is just getting started, Hazard County Hellions) roller derby. MADE skaters are definitely NOT lower caliber athletes and if you think the rules are confusing than you’ve probably never read the rules. They are 5 pages long. How many pages are WFTDA’s currently? How many pages will they be by the end of this season or the beginning of the next? MADE is easy to understand. IMHO the reason the injuries tend to be more traumatic in WFTDA is due to all of the stopping that takes place on the track. In MADE skaters must continuously move in derby direction. If you slam into someone who is also moving the impact is not going to be as jarring or damaging as slamming into someone who is stopped on the track. Honestly, I’m tired of hearing all of the WFTDA vs. MADE controversy. We just had a mixed scrimmage event and even though we played under MADE rules (hey, we had to pick a rule set and our refs were familiar with MADE and it was easier for everyone to pick up on), our event was open to anyone that wanted to play. Personally, I find the pigeon-holing to be frustrating and, call me an idealist or whatever you want, I just want everyone to be able to find happiness in this sport, get along and be one big, happy derby family with no animosity between organizations.

    Derby Love,
    Hedda Chopper

  14. Agamemnon, unlike you I’m not trying to start a rule set dispute. However, I must dispute nearly every statement you just made.

    You should have good health insurance regardless of what style of Derby you play. Whether you’re standing still hitting someone, or skating fast hitting someone, you’re still hitting someone. To try and factualize that MADE requires better coverage isn’t even a valid opinion. Or perhaps you were trying to make a comparison to knitting or some other hobby that’s considered “extreme” in your part of town. But in either case, that’s B.S. and you know it.

    Moving on…

    Stating that MADE reffing is non-existent is another non-factual statement. I think most leagues around the country hurt, at one point or another, to recruit and train enough referees for every bout. You’re turning a generic statement into a biased flame. At this point, anyone who initially bought into your… stuff… should have awoken, and hopefully felt a bit ashamed and stupid for doing so.

    But in case there are some still hanging on. I have 120 skaters, at least 60 can do 1 push up…. actually 120 can do 1 push up. I’m guessing, and it’s a guess, and 100 could do at least 10 push ups. So I’m not sure what you backed your guarantee with, but I’m here to collect. I’d take your intellect, but you’ve give it up already, so your pride will do. I can use it to wash my dog’s… icky parts.

    The rules that are so confusing and not fun to watch are for some reason what USARS has been adopting with their rule set for the past 2+ years. This final little tidbit tells me one of two things. You either haven’t bothered to read the rules, or engage in learning any other rule set so you could have a productive discussion about them, or, and I’m voting for this one; You do not possess the reading comprehension skills that are required to understand any rule set that’s more complicated that checkers.

    Maybe I missed something, but the conversation should be around how to grow the sport of Roller Derby. If half the people spent half the effort growing the sport as a whole as they do badmouthing the other rule sets, we’d be a lot further along as a sport.

    I’m not going to hold back (and yes I did previously), it’s people like you, with your stupid little agendas that are the problem. Why don’t you the sport a favor and go take up some other hobby? I’d rather you and anyone with your mindset not be around mine.

  15. What’s the matter Visg, run out of restraining orders or new teams to fund the handfull of elite ones?

    Don’t knock other styles until you try them. WFTDA is NOT the governing body or roller derby no matter what your self proclaimed delusions say.

    There are other styles and bodies … If you’re (to mean others, not the cool-aide drinking Vis) interested in becoming more than a fund-the-elite sheep, check them out.

  16. A few things, I’d like to comment on. The first is that some people that play made do get hurt, but to be frank I watched a man tear his shoulder playing slow pitch corporate softball. Things happen, if I was worried about getting hurt all the time, I wouldn’t play a contact sport.

    The second, some made skaters aren’t that great, but that is because they are just learning the sport or frankly sports in general. Hell three years ago, I couldn’t skate 10 feet without falling. Also, we have some really spectacular talent that was developed in our leagues (just on the guys side Ed McMayhem, RocksHarder, General Tso Fine, and I Don’t Care Bear [who is now a MRDA skater]).

    The third thing, fitness wise, your right it does varies. But I would say, if you want to talk fitness go talk to TNT Deville from Empire State, Midge Night Monster on Penn Jersey, or GingerShred from South Jersey (you could grate cheese on her abs). I’d say those girls can hang with the best of them in the gym.

    Last, and most important thing, we all love this sport. If you like MADE, that is awesome. If you like MRDA, that is awesome! Chopper got it right, lets show all our fellow skaters some love!

    Also, if anyone has a questions about made please feel free to ask!

    **Please any spelling or grammar mistakes, I typed this on a quick break at work!**

  17. I think the point made above is valid……the purpose of this post and that of Sandi is if there is a problem, how do you all hope to help solve it, not a contest of which game is better…….of course, I would like to see a merging of all the rules to provide a game that is best for the players and spectators, but I would also like to see global warming end tomorrow…….and I think, as noted, the rule set is not the only problem.

  18. Hi there Visage!

    My skater name is Abs of Flab, #12oz., skater, part-owner, coach, certified head MADE ref, and one of the league reps for for Empire State Roller Derby in NY with MADE. My real name is Dr. John Yelle, and I can be found on FaceBook under “John Absofflab Yelle”. I tell you this because a wise person once said to me that if you’re going to say anything, stand behind what you say. If you, or anyone else would like to tear me a new one for what’s to follow, I’m an easy guy to find … have at it. Also please note that what I say below is my opinion, and I don’t speak on behalf of my league or MADE

    An equally wise person once told me that you should never try to make yourself look good by making someone else look bad, as that was the strategy of the small-minded. Well, based on what you’ve written …. You’re pretty damn small-minded. By all means, if you disagree feel free to reach out to me directly and let me know.

    Purdy’ much everything you say is untrue. If you have any facts to back up anything you say please let me know. I could sit here and babble on point-by-point, but from what I know you’re pretty much just making stuff up to try and make yourself and your allegiance look better. Again, please feel free to give some examples or facts if you have any, and I’d be happy to look into them.

    Now, that said, to me the real sad part of the road you’re going down is that you’re trying to make your own preference look good by spewing lies about other’s preferences. So, to counter what you’re saying, here’s what I think of the WFTFDA / MRDA people I’ve dealt with over the years….

    I love em’ … all of them.

    I’ve had the pleasure of skating with and against MRDA skaters over the years in various styles / games / tournaments, and they are great guys. I’ve played with and against the guys of Penn Jersey’s Hooligans for years now, and wish them nothing but success as they expand their horizons into the MRDA world in addition to the MADE world.

    I have the pleasure of skating MADE with several members of my league that also skate on WFTDA teams. We encourage them to do so and continue to do so. We’re not “us or them”, and neither is MADE. We love derby – period.

    I have had the pleasure of working with high-level WFTDA skaters, and enjoyed seeing them in action. The woman of Team Rouge (look em’ up) are some of the most amazing woman I have ever met in my life. After an event I had the pleasure of being involved with them in, I told several of them that if my daughter (age 8-ish) grew up to be like them then I’ve done a good job being a Dad.

    I’ve had the pleasure of working with a couple of WFTDA-affiliated teams on some cross-rules charitable events, and have loved the experience. In fact, earlier this year I had the amazing opportunity to work with a WFTDA-affiliated team to raise funds for a close friend of mine dying from a terminal disease far before his time. We worked together as “derby”, not WFTDA, not MADE, not whatever, and we did an amazing job for a family in need. I’m proud to say I consider every one of them my friend, and several of whom I’ve become really good friends with. What I owe them I can’t express and can never repay, but we worked together as a derby community, and our working together was a great example of what we can really be.

    Be they MRDA, WFTDA, or MADE I sincerely want all of us to do good. If someone sends up a post about things she or he isn’t happy about in a particular style, and someone else posts up something about alternatives, there’s no need for us to get into tearing each other down. If you want to go down that road I suppose that’s your right, but I’d ask you at least tell the truth instead of lies. As for me, I’m gonna’ continue to skate the style I love, support the teams that skate this style, and continue to support and encourage those who prefer to skate other styles.

    Derby love baby….
    Flabby

  19. I think TXRD survives because the league has an exciting brand of derby and have a close relationship with their fans. They also work hard at pleasing the fans. This happens not only at bouts but at league functions in the local area. They do charity events, the 2 league drafts every year, the season kickoff party, and open skate nights at their warehouse. They’re athletic, fun, and love their fans.

    • Every skater is entitled to their opinion regarding different rulesets. I’ve played and coached MADE for roughly five years but am able to recognize the pros and cons of other rulesets. At the end of the day, the ruleset doesn’t matter – it’s my teammates and drive to play the sport that keeps me lacing up my skates. We need to find a way to work together without negative criticism because we’re all fighting for the same battle – more recognition of roller derby as a sport that is not attached to stereotypes.

    • Gene, I think there’s one other reason why TXRD is so successful-the TV show Rollergirls. It made them pretty much the most recognized league for quite a while

  20. EVERY rules set/ORG has its pros and cons.
    And in the 6+ years I’ve been associated with Roller Derby (a Usars member league using WFTDA 3.1 at first, before there even WAS a USARS Rules Set, to WFTDA rules set -Non-member league; etc.) I’ve seen each of them (Rogue, MADE, USARS, WFTDA, Non-WFTDA Member Using WFTDA, ) try and tout why theirs was the best and the others were the worst.

    Most vocally you see MADE (even in this thread, right off the bat MADE said “Hey come skate MADE we don’t have Drama and we’re better!!!!) attacking WFTDA. Now, the WFTDA IS the Great White Whale of Roller Derby at the moment. Are they perfect? Hell no, IMO they are overly bloated and aren’t really a major benefit unless you are a top 20 DIV 1 league, or top 20 DIV 2 league. Even then participating in the tournaments at those levels is a logistical and expensive nightmare. We all agree that ‘something’ needs to be done. But, what?

    Do we recognize and accept that as we’ve grown to become the fastest growing team sport internationally, that we’ve overgrown our DIY/Local League mentality? That “Skater owned, Skater Operated” won’t fit the business model for much longer? Eventually it will have to get to the point of professional sports, a rich business owner hiring professional skaters, to play in a recognized “League”.

    And what happens then?

    Then the magic disappears. You no longer have a say in how the game is run, you no longer have local rivalries, the cost of seeing Bonnie Thunders and Switchblade Susie go up to $40-$150 per game, because even the big leagues have to rent out the arenas they play in for the season.

    The local leagues stop being ‘entertainment’ and just become amateur sports, with at most a $5 entry fee to watch. However, the problem with that (which has been brought up by several people, why don’t we just treat it as …..) Is good luck finding a venue that will let you play Roller Derby and not charge an arm and a leg for the practice & local bouts. Plus you still have to raise funds to cover the cost of hotels/food/travel to away games.

    Maybe I’m lucky, I haven’t really noticed any major ‘drop’ in attendance in the NW Florida area. Reffing/Announcing/Coaching bouts from Mobile AL, to Tallahassee FL and all towns with derby in between, I see the same amount of fans as I have for the past 6 years. What I see that limits the attendance in my area is venue size. My wife’s league went from a municipal gymnasium that could (if we were lucky) seat 200 fans, to a small Event Hall at the local Fairgrounds where we can seat 400-500 in bleachers. Several times over last season and this season we actually had people standing room, lined against the walls to see Roller Derby. Slow packs and all.

    Part of the problem is the Rules sure.. but so far we haven’t found a better more impactful and strategic solution (30 sec penalties definitely helped); but you also have to ‘Give them a show” and that is where I think derby has shied away from. We used to have F U N. You Know.. Silly names, facepaint, boutfits, Announcers to ran up and down the aisles, cheer/jeerleaders…

    Now, its “A sport” “a business” and we are too worried about being fun.

  21. Roland, I was directly addressing each item EM said was the reason she got out of roller derby. And saying that I have not witnessed those things FROM MY PERSPECTIVE. Get off your high horse.

    And thanks Abs for demonstrating the openness and inclusivity that we try to demonstrate.

    And Gene couldn’t agree more about TXRD — those are admirable and impressive peeps that forge their own way.

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