Roller derby is a sport like no other. It's a multinational, female-fueled, grassroots phenomena that operates almost completely underground. The roots are what makes roller derby so special, and so misunderstood.
What does it mean to be a grassroots organization?
A grassroots movement is driven by a community's core beliefs and their group goals. The term implies that the creation of the movement and the group supporting it are natural and spontaneous (springing up out of Texas, for instance, and across the Nation), highlighting the differences between this and a movement that is orchestrated by traditional power structures (professional sports). Grassroots movements are often at the local level, as many volunteers in the community give their time to support the local party (TRG), which can lead to helping the national party (WFTDA).
So there you have it. A grassroots organization is about volunteers (derby girls, refs, etc.) banding together for a common outcome (International competition in the sport of roller derby). While being a derby girl (a volunteer) will likely benefit you in several ways, take a moment to think about where roller derby came from and what your contribution means to the League and the other girls you skate with. Sometimes it's easy to forget that not everything is all about you. With that in mind, here are a few phrases often overheard at derby that are inappropriate for members of a grassroots organization (aka: roller derby).
I just want to skate
Well, girl, don’t we all? Nobody who puts on skates and taxes their bodies the way derby girls do doesn't want to skate. Sadly, the Derbyverse isn't a world where girls just show up in groups and make derby happen. Well, in many beautiful ways it is, but derby doesn't just happen... not without a lot of other nonsense, like paperwork, emails, financial transactions, meetings, org charts, calendars, etc. Lots of girls don’t want to do any of this crap, because it sucks. And it does suck. The only thing that sucks more, however, is girls who ignore the grunt work with a flippant statement of “I just want to skate.”
According to Frisky Sour of the Rose City Rollers, the difficulty behind roller derby isn't so much the physical challenge as the inconvenient reality that, “the skaters who train to play are also doing the bulk of the work to run a league." She likens roller derby to “…playing speed chess while someone is throwing bricks at you, everyone has to clean up the bricks after the game, and you had to read through 27 emails about what kind of bricks to buy.”
Some girls are just lazy and don’t want to do any grunt work. Other girls just want to avoid the drama that comes with taking sides in important league votes, for example. Say there’s a disagreement between Skater A and Skater B about venue arrangements. It inevitably comes to a vote amongst the League. Generally speaking, at least three or four girls simply refuse or forget to vote because they don’t want to take a side. They don't care who wins, they “just want to skate.”
Well, don’t you think Skater A or Skater B just wants to skate? Don’t you think the League posting a vote just wants to skate? In fact, without the efforts or drama of Skater A, Skater B, and the League no one would skate. No one. So, whenever a skater turns a blind eye or refuses to take part in the less savory parts of League business because they don’t want to make an effort or an enemy and they say, “I just want to skate,” what they are really saying is, “I don’t want to work hard and I don’t care about this League; I just want to show up and skate.” The girls doing all the work in the background, they’re the ones who really want to skate.
My family comes first
This isn’t a bad thing to say because it’s true, and it should be true. When this phrase is used as a reason to get special treatment or to avoid League penalties (such as not making a roster because of poor attendance), then it's bullshit. Throughout life we have all made a series of decisions, some good, some bad. Some chose to get married, some chose to have children, some chose high stress careers… any choice can ultimately interfere with derby and that is why you must choose derby, over and over again.
No one ever promised it would be easy to be a derby girl. No one promised it would fit into your schedule. It’s important that you don’t leave your newborn locked in the closet while you come to practice. It's good for you and good for the newborn. That doesn't mean, however, that you not coming to practice, is good for the League.
The League can’t make decisions based on what's good for you, because you are not the League. If everyone can always miss practice because they have to stay home with their baby, then there is no League. Is it fair that someone without a child has an easier time making eligibility? Maybe, maybe not. There are, however, plenty of new moms making it to every practice and plenty of single women who can’t seem to drag themselves there.
It doesn't make you a bad person if you can’t fit a rigorous derby schedule into your life. It does make you a bad person if you blame anyone other than yourself for this reality. There can be a middle ground. If you can’t meet a demanding travel team schedule because of your job or child, it’s okay to communicate this to the League. Maybe you can attend a reduced number of practices as a B or C team skater and after a few months you can find a way to fit more derby into your schedule. It's not okay to request an exemption from travel team practice so you can keep your spot on the travel team while not training with the League. It's not fair to the League.
Roller derby is about priorities. Whatever life you’ve built for yourself, if you want derby to be a part of it, you will have to build a place for derby. If you just can’t do it (and you may have very good reasons) then back out gracefully. It’s not the League’s fault that your life choices have led you to this place. It's not the League's responsibility to make derby easier for you.