We need to have a talk.
Recently someone asked me why I decided to join this sport. It’s because of the camaraderie I saw within the team that extended to the opposing team. These two teams were talking, dancing, and high fiving each other when they weren’t fiercely competing on the track. That blew my mind. It felt like not only the team was a family, but they were welcoming and loving of their opponents.
Lately, a lot of feelings have been bubbling to the surface and I need to say something.
“Don’t be a dick” is something I say a lot when I’m teaching a brand new drill or a drill in which one partner needs to dial it down.
Let’s be honest though, we need to apply this phrase to the community as a whole. I am pretty deep into roller derby. I am a coach, a skater, a trainer, and my partner is a referee. I have played, coached, and spectated various levels of roller derby in the past 4 years.
I have experienced uncalled behavior on the track. I have been pushing a wall and had the opposing brace look me in the eyes while repeatedly shouting, “Fuck her up! Fuck her up!”
I have experienced uncalled behavior while coaching. I have had an opposing coach shout about uncalled penalties and when I met their gaze, they screamed, “Yeah, I fucking said it.” You know what I did? I smiled. Then they broke their clipboard in a fit of rage. I am passionate about my team and fair treatment, but I know that type of behavior gets us nowhere.
I have experienced uncalled behavior directed at the team I am coaching. Just this season they have been accused of cheating, stacking the roster, and bringing biased referees. This is a problem on so many levels, the biggest I take issue with is that it is diminishing all of the hard work each athlete has put in to improve their game this season. While I don’t feel I NEED to defend them, I am frustrated with these accusations. I will say that their roster has had minimal turnover since I have begun training them. Not only that, but the only skaters who have been added to the team are newer and have worked their ass off to just make it through try outs and earn a spot on the team. Their hard work and dedication is the reason for their rapid improvements, nothing else.
I have watched my partner experience uncalled behavior as a referee. Name calling, lewd gestures, and lots and lots of shouting. You name it, it’s likely he’s experience some sort of rude behavior.
I’m not a saint, myself. I have shouted penalties at the referees as a coach. I have rolled my eyes at a referee when I disagreed with a call. I’ve even said, “How?!” while sprinting to the box. I have frustratingly repeated a referee call at a skater who is engaging with me while out of play. I once uttered, “What the fuck?” after being thrown off the track due to an intense high block.
I’m not writing this to complain. I am writing this as a call to action.
We have to do better. We have to BE BETTER.
We do this sport for fun. We actually pay out of pocket to do it! We spend countless hours and a good amount of money every month just to participate.
Yes, we are competitive. Yes, this is an aggressive sport. BUT– There is a clear difference between playing aggressive and just being an asshole. This sport is also very much a mental game. I do think there are appropriate ways to get to the opposing team, and inappropriate. I have experienced skaters saying, “We’ve got her. She’s tired. Good.” and well it felt awful, I didn’t feel even close to the way I did while someone barked, “Fuck her up!” at me. Play mind games if you so choose, but don’t be a dick.
Our volunteers are just that… volunteers. Our referees don’t get much from this sport. Sometimes I struggle with how they can possibly find enjoyment in their jobs, but I am so thankful they show up and do the work to keep us safe. There’s no reason to stop in the middle of the track and shout at them. They are (in my experience) very open to questions and feedback. You can definitely ask why you received a penalty after serving it. To your coach OR the referee! I understand in the heat of the moment, or after, that you may disagree with a call… but when has shouting at a referee every gotten you your way? I have yet to see a volunteer retract a call simply because a skater disagreed and had a tantrum about it. We have to be better.
Our Non-Skating Officials don’t even get the enjoyment of skating while they volunteer! They are dedicating their time to make sure the game, scrimmage, or practice runs as smoothly as possible. We shouldn’t be talking down to, arguing with, or mistreating these humans. Make it a habit to thank them. You wouldn’t be able to do this sport if they didn’t show up, and a lot of times it is very hard to find people to fill their role.
Choose to be better. Practice your mental game for the situations that trigger uncalled behavior. Ask your friends to keep you in check. Hold yourself and your team accountable. We are human and we make mistakes. That is fine and everyone in this sport is pretty understanding of that. We are less so understanding of the same mistakes happening again and again which are spreading toxicity. Be better in practice. Be better in scrimmage. Be better in games.
I love you, Roller Derby. I want us to have a long relationship, but it has to be healthy.