Knoxville's Own Demolition Derby

Behind the scenes and on the track with the Hard Knox Roller Girls

Making pretty: Jamie Skull puts on her game face before the bout—a Skeletor-inspired visage intended to strike fear in the hearts of her opponents. Of course, they've got their own war paint on, too.

Photo by Sheena Patrick, Sheena Patrick

Making pretty: Jamie Skull puts on her game face before the bout—a Skeletor-inspired visage intended to strike fear in the hearts of her opponents. Of course, they've got their own war paint on, too.

The perennial darling of alt-weekly non-sports sports coverage, women’s roller derby has, in the past few years, touched every major and semi-major city in this country.

Yes, Maryville, too.

We say novelty sport, of course, because it remains a relatively subcultural niche-market-type deal. Nearly a decade into its 21st-century revival and despite two-plus years of waterskiing-squirrel caliber local news coverage (“These ladies really pack a punch!” etc.) the sport has surprisingly maintained most of its outré edge.

Of course, it has to be that way or it doesn’t really work. Roller derby players put on war paint and wax poetic about bloodying up the other women. Then they go out on the skating rink and do it. Or have it done to them.

Derby’s a combination of parody, athleticism, post-modernism, third-wave feminism, sex, violence, and a maybe put-on attitude pithily summed up in the following statement overheard before a recent match between Knoxville’s Hard Knox Roller Girls and rivals the Soul City Sirens:

"I want to make a bitch cry tonight."

This all goes on, oddly, in the bowels of the bland, institutional Knoxville Convention Center, that place where they do weddings near World’s Fair Park. It’s also Hard Knox Headquarters. Several times a year, these young women don their skates and (very little) padding and try to claw, push, and trip their way to the front of the ever-moving pack. They call their matches “bouts.”

The Hard Knox derby girls, women, whatever-they-want-to-be calleds have been attempting to make bitches from across the southeast cry since 2006. That’s about four or five years after derby clubs began popping up in Southern California and the East Coast, signalling the renewal of a sport that’s been around since the ’20s, then was briefly popular in the ’70s before fading into obscurity as pro wrestling was making a comeback. These things are cyclical.

Hard Knox were the first ones here and they remain the most popular and well-known, despite recent competition from a less-formal group in Maryville called the Smoky Mountain Derby Rogues.

Roller derby can be filled with vicious, sometimes brutal, violence. A derby bout is, in essence, about pushing people out of the way to make room for yourself and your teammates. This often leads to punching, kicking, tripping, and falling onto the hard floor of the rink. Protection is kneepads, elbow pads, and a helmet. That’s all.

Do a Web image search on “roller derby injuries” to see. It’s kind of gross. We’ll spare you here, but it goes way beyond the innocuous annoyance of rink rash. Sometimes surgery is required. Insurance is likely expensive since this falls into the full-contact, high-risk category. Luckily, though, the sample policy for USA Roller Sports—the organizing association that provides the Hard Knox Roller Girls’ insurance—covers severed hands, gouged-out eyes, and knocked-out teeth. Deductible per tooth: $250.

Playing By The Rules

Positions: There are two teams on the rink for each bout. Each team consists of five players: One jammer, three blockers, and one pivot.

  • Jammer: The “scoring” position. The jammer starts out each period in a bout at the very back of the pack. It is her job to move up to the front. She gets one point for each opposing player she passes.
  • Blockers: These players assist their own team’s jammer by blocking the opposing team’s.
  • Pivot: This player starts out at the front. She is the ultimate blocker, the last line of defense between an opposing team’s jammer and the front of the pack.

Gameplay: Each roller derby bout is made up of three 20-minute periods. Each period can consist of many “jams.” Jams can end when a jammer makes it all the way through the pack to the front. She can call it off, signalling the beginning of the next jam. Once a jam is called, players have 20 seconds to return to line up. If a player is missing, the team must compete in the next jam without her.

Object: Whichever team has the most points by the end of the bout wins.

© 2009 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 141

shawn writes:

The one thing that I have noticed is you have not done much research on this matter. First off there is rules to this legitimate sport. If interested read them at www.wftda.com for yourself. There is no tripping, biting, scratching, punching, or fighting as you stated. Just like all other sports these kinds of actions will not be tolerated because they are not involved in this sport; it is against the rules. Fighting will get you ejected from the game and possible suspensions.
Second off, I think that this article is misrepresenting everything that the Roller derby community has tried to get away from, the 1970 WWE version of roller derby, which promoted violence, which was a fake entertainment sport, for the solicitation of profit and money from spectators. Furthermore, Flat track roller derby was founded in 2004, Hard Knox roller Girls was started around January 2006, so HKRG is not 4 to 5 years after the California crave as you so put it. Also, the Rogues were former skaters of Hard Knox Roller Girls.
One thing you forgot to mention is the Women of Hard Knox Roller Girls practice over 6 hours a week some leagues and skaters practice more then 12 for endurance, strategies, and techniques.
The techniques they practice are to include but not limit to: How to fall and be hit LEGALLY without being injured, how to get the Jammer through the pack LEGALLY and many more drills; subsequently, like other sports (I.E. Football, Baseball, Basketball, soccer, rugby, and probably any sport you can think of). There are also referees that have to take skills tests, referee test, and submit applications to even referee a sanctioned bout.
In conclusion before you think about slandering a sport and a league in your magazine you should probably do some real research....

delindsey writes:

Has the author ever done a Web search for "ice hockey
injuries" or "football injuries?" I guess the author is
disgusted with those sports too. I've watched at least
thirty roller derby bouts in person in the last three years.
I've seen one punch thrown. On any given Autumn weekend, I
see more more punches thrown watching college and
professional football.

This article is shallow. I suspect the only research done
was "Web searching." It is an insult to the mothers,
teachers, bar tenders, lawyers, and students who pour their
hearts and souls into roller derby. I am from Memphis. As
a fan, I have traveled with our team to Knoxville several
times to watch us compete against the Hard Knox Rollergirls.
I'm embarrassed for Hard Knox. These ladies, which I have
personally met, deserve better than this. It appears that
the author has never personally met any of them. Next time
try getting an interview, you writer, pencil-pusher,
whatever-you-want-to-be-called.

delindsey writes:

Seriously, what is "behind the scenes" about this article, as the tag-line suggests? It couldn't be more superficial if you tried.

faeriegyrl7 writes:

First, as a volunteer of the Hard Knox Roller Girls, I was excited to hear that we would be featured in the Metro Pulse, however, I was horrified when I read the piece. I want to give these ladies the shout out that they deserve. They are hard working, talented, and caring individuals. The HKRG is a family. When one is down they all show up to help out. Now with that being said, they do give their heart and soul to derby for the practices, 6+ hours a week, and to the bouts, which consume two full days of prep in order to make it happen. Let's not forget the volunteer hours that they must have in order to be eligible to play. Selling tickets, making public appearances, flyering, WFTDA business, league officers,and doing interviews are just some examples of things that have to be done in order to make this league a success. Each bout has a community outreach aspect,as the league is non-profit,taking donations and creating awareness about that group. The Young Williams Animal Shelter is the featured group for this weekend's bout.

"This is not your mother's Roller Derby." That is a popular saying in this sport. The only things that we share with the derby of the 70's is skates and the name. Leagues go through quite the application process to be accepted into the Women's Flat Track Derby Association. This is our sanctioning body, complete with rules, skills testing, annual convention, referee training and testing, and recognition. This is a legit sport with legit athletes and legit rules and penalties.

These ladies deserve better than this article and I hope that the Metro Pulse realizes that NO research was done in preparation of this article. I hope that they insist that the author give the Hard Knox girls the recognition that they truly deserve.

To the HKRG, love you girls and can't wait until this weekend.

MachineGunKelly writes:

As I see the comments listed above have covered much of what I would have said as well....my only add is:
"Knowledge is Power"....therefor, you are obviously weak, as your article proves.
Ever heard of R-E-S-E-A-R-C-H??? Good luck gainging respect as a...journalist, is it...? Is that what your call yourself these days??

~Machine Gun Kelly

instantkarmen writes:

HKRG deserve much better than this! The roller derby of today has worked so hard to break free of the "wrestling on skates" stereotype. Wrong information like this only makes us work harder to prove it wrong. But I'm sure it'll give the HKRG a little more fuel for their already aggressive hits. Take this to the track ladies!

By the way, we also wear mouth guards to avoid all those knocked-out teeth.

ladyproblems writes:

There is nothing "behind the scenes" about this article. It's not even well researched. Charles, have you ever been to a bout? Have you ever talked to a derby girl?

I'm a recruit with Memphis Roller Derby. I joined a few months ago because I wanted to try something different, to get in shape, and to make friends with some amazing women.

Derby is not a bloodbath. Yes, women can get hurt, but the coaches and players are respectful and try their best not to get anyone sent to the hospital. Derby is a legitimate sport with rules and national affiliation.

Would you write the same type of article about a "violent" men's sport like rugby? Or are you just threatened by the fact that derby girls are women who refuse to keep quiet and be good little girls?

Lena_Deadtrick writes:

Wow.

I couldn't imagine that anyone could write another article with as much lack of information, research, i mean even experience. You can go to a bout any time, and if you went, you would be at a loss if you had read this article first.

Were you even aware that there is a rules-set created by WFTDA? Did you know that they've revised it on numerous occasion? Oh yeah, the rules are in existence and actually created a SPORT that not only boasts STRATEGY but also ATHLETISIM. They call for LEGAL hits vs ILLEGAL hits, just like any "tough man sport", they call for padding to protect the skaters to include: helment, mouth guard, wrist guards, knee pads, and elbow pads. But, if anyone has ever set foot in a sporting goods or skate shop you would be aware of the plethora of available protective gear that you are more than welcome to wear when competing.

The WOMEN (yes we call ourselves WOMEN) who are involved in roller derby LEAGUES (yes we call them leagues) work so hard to build their leagues, FUND it, and produce every single event that is associated with their league. No other sport is as D-I-Y as Roller Derby. The WOMEN behind the leagues are lawyers, teachers, bartenders, mothers etc, we're not just flaky, angsty, wrestlers on skates.

Maybe before picking up your pen to begin your next article, you should at least talk to ONE derby girl. Ask her about HER SPORT. Because, when it comes to roller derby girls, I would not expect my pen to protect me against a strong women wearing protective gear.

My name is Lena Deadtrick and I am a PROUD Memphis Roller Derby member. And I believe Hard Konx is OWED AN APOLOGY.

Viper writes:

I am going to give about the same amount of effort in response that you gave in writing this article.

Were you in a crunch or late on a deadline? Or is your writing typically this bad and ill-informed?

the_chick_norris writes:

Major jeers on this article Metro Pulse.

Seems there are some that want to see the revival of roller derby to be akin to locusts. Dig a little deeper & you will not find a fleeting nature in these women, myself being one of them. I have little to add to the insightful comments already posted, but I will say that derby makes the world go around for a lot of us - KEEP ROLLIN GIRLS!

BigDaddyVoodoo writes:

I would love to see this author write an article on baseball.

"Some guys run around with sticks at an event called a "game" and throw a ball as hard as they can to hurt the player standing up front. You should run a search for 'baseball groin pulls' to see what I mean"

This isn't an article, it's an inflammatory internet post that belongs in a poorly moderated comment section.

Roller derby is a sport like any other. What makes it a community event is that it is an amazing local institution incredibly run by strong, passionate women. The author is merely perpetuating a time honored journalistic precedent of dismissing women because that have wandered to far from the norm.

sam writes:

I know of many people who have waited for this piece, excited that after several years our own alternative news source was finally looking at our sport and doing an article. Hard Knox has worked so hard to get where the league is today, eager to join the hundreds of leagues that also work hard to make this sport recognized as a sport. We are excited every time we think someone is helping us get one step closer to the recognition and respect that roller derby and the women (and some men as volunteers) deserve.

Alas this was not the piece to do it. I'm insulted as a fan of roller derby and as a man in love with so many women and their sport.

Novelty? Non-sport sport? Mr. Maldonado, shame on you. Would you write a restaurant review without actually dining at the restaurant? Did your research only involve You Tube? Do you even care that you've done such a disservice to so many people?

I was excited to show my children the pictures of their mother and so many strong and amazing women that I'm proud they and I have the honor to know, but I won't be reading the words to them.

So thanks for the novelty of your non-journalism journalism.

cassandrachiles writes:

I skate in the Memphis Roller Derby, and this has to be one of the most poorly written articles I have read in a long time. Firstly, if you are going to write about anything perhaps you should get your facts straight. This is not some "free for all" where women go out dressed like hookers and beat each other up. Second, there are a huge set of rules, and regulations to this sport. You write "This often leads to punching, kicking, tripping", well it doesn't. Any of these three things would put you in the penalty box or throw you out of the game. Your attempt to demean something you didn't even bother to properly research only hows off your lack of professional skill. It would be almost the equivalent of writing an article about baseball and saying "well they have all these bats, they must beat the tar out of each other with them" Third, you state about derby's history "then was briefly popular in the ’70s fading into obscurity as pro wrestling was making a comeback" this is also totally inaccurate. Roller Derby was so popular in the 70's three motion pictures were based on it, one starring Raquel Welch. (not to mention pro wrestling's comeback happened in the early 80's, not in the 70's) There were also several national television shows based on roller derby in the 80's and 90's... remember "Rollergames"? Finally the thing that sickens me the most about this article is it's totally judgmental attitude about a sport the author obviously has prejudged and never really cared for in the first place. (I wonder if he even talked to a single person involved in it) What you deem as some sort of violence for the masses is in reality a huge family of hard working women who give countless hours for the love of the sport. It's a privilege to skate with these women week after week. And if you still don't think it's a sport, lets see you strap on a par of skates and beat someone around the track like Suzy Hotrod, Irene Business, or Akilles Wheel.

evaningstar writes:

As a member of a derby team I am shocked and offended at the utter disrespect of the sport layed out here in this article. As a "journalist?" one would expect more in depth research on a topic before spouting off with such jibberish. I am just glad that I did not read this after an intense two hour practice when I was soaked with sweat and utterly fatiqued beyond imagination, it may have called for a road trip. The women of this sport work very hard the get their bodies in shape, learn the rules of the organization and compete in bouts. There is a wonderful comradere amongst all that participate. The author of this ridulously poorly written article should visit www.wftda.com and do some reading and find out what this magnificent sport is all about and maybe simply do a few interviews with some find derby girls. And did he say "bit**es". I don't think he earned that right. He can say it in the article but they wont let me say it in my comment. "Nice"

Donstoppable writes:

Really!?! No, really!! Well it is a postmodern sport, you're correct on that part
but that's about it. I've refereed over 40 bouts and I've seen 1 punch and
never a bite, it's hard to bite someone with a mouthguard in your mouth.

Why does it have to be a novelty sport or it doesn't' really work? What does a
sport have to do to be considered legitimate in your opinion? These are real
athletes that do serious training, it's not your local softball league where
practice consists of playing in games (no offense softballers), these women
(that's what I call them) practice multiple times a week and I dare you to try to
keep up with them for even half a practice. And if you do give it a try I
recommend having a puke bucket ready for when they push you beyond your
limits.

Folks, don't blame Mr. Maldonado too much, alas this is just an average
example of modern journalism with it's budget cuts and lack of feet on the
street, where fact checking amounts to a google search and interviews are
overhearing a fan outside the venue.

jill writes:

this huge part of my life,what i (and so many others) have poured my heart and soul into and worked my wheels off for in these last 3 and 1/2 years has just been belittled and whittled down in a one page article.
you got it very, very, wrong chuck and i am personally offended

J_B_Otch writes:

Is the editor on vacation this week????

Nobody bothers to check facts over there before an article gets posted???

Or..... did this "journalist" miss school the day his Freshman Composition class covered the difference between 'Objective' and 'Subjective' writing.

I want to echo all the previous comments that have already been posted about incorrect facts and the subjective, judgemental and downright slanderous comments this "WannaBe-Journalist" has made about these Truly Phenomenal Women.

I have had the good fortune to have personally shared the oval track with some of the HardKnox ladies. After reading your piece of work, I already know that you didn't take the time to really speak to any of them before writing. If you had, your article would have reflected the the intelligence, fearlessness, passion, dedication, loyalty and sheer strength of will that these women possess.

Charles Maldonado....
I believe that you are a disgrace to your craft....
AND.....
You OWE these WOMEN a very public APOLOGY.

J.B.Otch
LCRG

Cuboose writes:

Being a fan and ref of roller derby, I couldn't sit back and let such a horrible story slide by. If the author had spent half the time researching flat track roller derby that the ladies spend practicing in a week, it would have been an excellent story. I hope you take the time to go to the bout this weekend and see what it's all about. A follow up story would surely be in order.

gwenlock writes:

You mention no word about how roller derby is a HIGHLY COMPETITIVE sport that is SANCTIONED and REGULATED and that has a NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP every year. Ya know, just like a "REAL" sport. Guess what, roller derby is a real sport. There are currently 68 WFTDA leagues (Women's Flat Track Derby Association) from all across the country. WFTDA Nationals will be held in Philly on Nov. 6-8. People like you are why I want to change my derby name to my real name.

Dick_Pounder writes:

"alt-weekly non-sports sports"

Really? I challenge you to try and keep up with these athletes during a practice or bout.

It is articles and atitudes like this that make it hard for all of us that are doing our best to promote Roller Derby as sport. Those of involved have done more research and put more work into Roller Derby than you have for this article obviously.

It may not be a sport for everyone but to write an article like this is just ignorant.

redbonnymogan writes:

this article is more evidence that people do not learn about a topic before they go ranting about it. and for roller derby it seems to be a common theme. (see the passage for roller derby at ehow.com, ridiculous!)
but i digress. i have been skating for little rock for a year and it is the BEST thing i have ever done in my life. sports and athletics have always left a bad taste in my mouth due to piss poor attidudes and hypocritical coaches. for many years i wrote off sports and exercise all together. but when i joined the roller derby team all that changed. i have never been more healthy, nor more confident in my life and roller derby allowed me to become this person.
what people don't realize is roller derby is a sport for everyone. it is engaging, fun to watch, tactical, aggressive, and afterward everyone goes to the bar for a pint and some camaraderie.
i have skated with the knoxville girls and am rather irritated that the author of this article had the balls to pick on them. they work hard, use the space that they have available, and their fans LOVE them.
if metropulse wants to show its literary legitamacy i suggest writing a REAL article about roller derby, getting some REAL interviews with players, refs, and coaches, and maybe going to a bout. in other words, actually doing some journalism research.

Baroness_Von_Shiksa writes:

I am ever grateful that the overwhelming view of the comments is that you, sir, are either a lazy "reporter" or simply a troll. You obviously do not have any facts straight and I feel very, very sorry for the hard working WOMEN of your town's derby. They did not deserve this.

You must live a very small life indeed to feel a need to peddle this tripe. Perhaps you are still reeling from some derby-related trauma? Maybe turned down or dumped by a strong woman wearing skates?

That's the only explanation I can think of for such writing. That, or a head injury with subsequent delirium caused by concussion.

From a doctor, professor and PROUD DERBY GIRL!

Agent_99 writes:

"Derby’s a combination of parody, athleticism, post-
modernism, third-wave feminism, sex, violence, and a maybe
put-on attitude"

How insulting. I've played this sport for over 3 years.
Beginning in Memphis as part of the original
founders/organizers and a skater. We built a business from
scratch, with grassroots efforts and at the same time
trained to be athletes to play the sport, as do all the
leagues around the WORLD. It's not about feminism, sex, or
violence.

It's about women & men, coming together to bring a fresh,
new sport to their city, and have fun doing it. Memphis has
embraced roller derby as a sport, with the positive support
of city officials & local media. You've disgraced the hard
working staff of Hard Knox, they deserve a sincere apology
(after you study more about what you are reporting)

It's truly a shame your article is so misleading. I'm glad
so many people have schooled you on the true sport of roller
derby.

Agent_99
Beach Brawl Sk8r Dolls (Ft. Walton Beach, FL)
formerly Memphis Roller Derby (Memphis, TN)

SlapYou87 writes:

I find it absolutely impossible to wrap my head around this kind of stupidity and ignorance. This is by far the worst article I have ever read. I honestly believe that a five year old could have written a better article. You SERIOUSLY should research things before you write about them. I am a Referee for a Roller Derby League and I have NEVER seen one of the girls from my team throw a punch at someone. I have never seen one of them claw, push, or trip another girl on purpose. Accidents happen and sometimes there is unintentional tripping, but they are penalized. They don’t just skate around doing whatever they feel like on the track. You make it sound like derby girls need anger management and that’s not the case at all. They might seem aggressive on the track, but off the track, they are some of the sweetest girls I’ve ever met.

If it was me and I had written something this terrible (which I would NEVER do) I would seriously consider a different career. Maybe something along the lines of “Welcome to McDonalds, may I take your order…would you like to super size that”?

OneKeeper writes:

Did somebody lift this article from a grade-school newspaper, or is this guy actually serious? What a condescending pile of garbage.

Having several friends who participate in roller derby in Memphis, I assure you that these gals are real athletes, they take it very seriously, and few other "weekend-warrior" sports have more passion for what they do. Those who participate really seem to enjoy it, and they take the injuries in stride, just like all of us do who still like to participate in ANY sports as adults. It's an absolute blast to watch from the stands as well.

Somebody needs to invite this guy to put down his fruity umbrella drink, come down out of his snobby sky box, talk to some of the ladies who skate, and maybe take a few laps around the track with the ladies. He may find it harder to look down his nose at roller derby if that happened...then again, after writing this fifth grade book report, he might get his nose turned sideways in the process.

faeriegyrl7 writes:

By the way, might want to check on those deductible numbers...........deductibles with USARS can range from $2500 to $7500. The amount that you quoted is a maximum benefit for dental. This is just one of many examples of how much research was put forth for this article.

bloodyelle writes:

Such attitudes from "journalists" like you are deleterious to our sport, a REAL, actual SPORT. The only thing roller derby athletes FIGHT these days are the stereotypes perpetuated by articles like this.

Secondly, get the history of roller derby in general correct. While there was a huge revival (yes, REVIVAL meaning renewed interest in) in the 1970s, roller derby originally was invented during the Great Depression by Leo Setzer. Please pay homage where homage is due. And while you are at it, Shawn is correct by stating the latest revival of roller derby in its current flat track form began in 2004 in Austin, Texas. Hard Knox is not, as you state, 10 years behind.

A formal apology to the women of Hard Knox Roller Girls is much owed. These women you're demeaning are my friends, sisters from across the state. They're some hard working women with a passion for the sport of roller derby who put their blood, sweat, and tears into a volunteer organization (that's right, we don't get paid for this) and should not have to endure such outright b.s. like this article you're trying to pass off as "journalism".

I demand another article from this journal formally apologizing and telling the truth about derby and what a wonderful, empowering, revolutionary sport this is and how the women behind it are intelligent, strong, and athletic.

Sincerely,
Bloody Elle
Memphis Roller Derby

Reef writes:

"You OWE these WOMEN a very public APOLOGY."
and these WOMEN owe you a public deductible kick in the nuts.

You should be ashamed to call yourself a Knoxville writer.

mayhem writes:

I have been a part of the Hard Knox Roller Girls from the beginning. We all have put so much into promoting Roller Derby as legitimate sport. We're not paid to play. We do every bit of leg work ourselves. We don't choreograph our bouts like WWE. We're average women, with average lives, average jobs, and a love for a sport that so many people do not even give a chance. We're mothers, lawyers, nurses, cops, business owners, mechanical engineers, and more. We play to have fun, not to maim an opposing player. There is no severed hands, no gouged-out eye balls, and no fighting. There are rules and regulations to keep everyone as safe as possible. Yes, there are risks to playing such a high impact sport. The same risks football players or rugby players take.

Hard Knox was just accepted into the WFTDA, a national organization that promotes and fosters the sport of women’s flat track derby by facilitating the development of athletic ability, sportswomanship, and goodwill. If you had even looked up their website, you would have maybe gotten a few things to talk about instead of pulling BS out of your BUM. You could have come to a bout, interviewed some of the Hard Knox Roller Girls, then you MIGHT be able to call this a "Behind the Scenes" article. You probably don't even know any of their names, how many bouts there are scheduled for this year, who they are playing next, who they've played in the past.... you know, the informative things that would make this article worth a damn. I'm not a writer and never will I claim to have perfect grammer or know how to spell everything, but I could have at least put the 2-3 hours of research in that could have made a huge difference.

krispy writes:

"Non-sport sports coverage"? "Novelty sport"? What do these terms even mean? I'll tell you-- it means that roller derby and its athletes have a hard time getting respect from the media and this article is a great example of that.

Mr. Maldonado, no women that I know want to be called b*tches. I do not believe that someone who calls them self a professional journalist should use that term in an article either. Then again, a professional journalist would have actually researched their subject before writing about it.

Bottom line, to say that I'm insulted by this “article” or “feature story”, whatever you wanna call it is an understatement. (Look, I can use quotations, too!) An opinion piece might be the more appropriate term. As a roller derby athlete, I can tell you that we work our butts off, both on the track and off, to make our leagues successful.

lindsaybeeson writes:

Web editing note:

I inadvertently left out a quote that appears in the print edition of this feature. You will now see it above, after the phrase "overheard before a recent match ...":

"I want to make a b!tch cry tonight."

Apologies for the omission,
Lindsay Beeson (Senior Designer / Web Lady)

annawrecksya writes:

Dear Mr. Maldonado,

At practice, we emphasize not only to give criticism on poor form, but to also demonstrate how to do it well. Here are some links to GOOD derby journalism (articles and videos) from well respected news sources:

BOSTON GLOBE
"Four on the Floor"--outlines the backgrounds of some skaters, none of them are tattoo artists.
http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/artic...

NEW YORK TIMES
"You Just Can’t Keep the Girls From Jamming"
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/01/mag...

"The Dude of Roller Derby and His Vision"
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/18/spo...

CHICAGO TRIBUNE
"Rollers chase glory--and revenge"
http://www.chicagotribune.com/service...

ESPN
"Roller Derby Revival" (Nominated for an Emmy this year)
http://sports.espn.go.com/broadband/v...

NEWSWEEK
"Girls on Wheels"
http://www.newsweek.com/id/40211?bcpi...#?l=1785302026&t=1507768968

These journalists clearly did a lot of research. They actually have attended bouts and interviewed skaters. If you have ever attended a game played under WFTDA rules in the past year, you would not have seen a punch, kick, or bite, and if you did, that skater would be expelled from the game, and possibly suspended from future games, per our gross misconduct rules. The most common ruleset used for flat track play is the WFTDA rules which you can read here: http://rules.wftda.com/officialrulesw.... You would also know that there is more than just helmets, elbow, and knee pads. We are also required to wear wrist & mouth guards. Some skaters elect to wear padded shorts to protect their hips, tailbone pads, shin guards, flack jackets, turtle shell bras, sports flak vests, etc.

Roller derby is a full contact sport, but full contact does not equate to "vicious, brutal violence". I'm not sure why you are vilifying it. I think you need to actually go to some bouts.

www.bostonderbydames.com

lindsaybeeson writes:

It sounds like you guys are used to being misunderstood. But the conversation you've started here leads me to ask some questions.

If it's not about violence, why the war paint? (We have a video of a commercial for the derby ... which puts an emphasis on falls: http://www.metropulse.com/videos/deta...)

If it's not using sex, why the panty/fishnet ensembles?

If it's *nothing* to do with feminism, where are there men on the rink?

I'm not saying the derby *is* all of these things, but it's easy to perceive those associations. Please educate me on how it's not any of those things.

And in defense of journalism (which, in my experience, can be a widely misunderstood field itself), I don't see anywhere in Charles' write-up (which accompanied the photo-essay package in print), that he disrespects the hard work that goes into making the derby matches happen.

I posted this just as a reader, by the way. So if you've got anything to say about it, direct it to me, and not MP.

Thanks for taking the time to read,
Lindsay

JusticeFGM writes:

Lindsay: I'll leave your first two questions to people with more time on their hands, but here's the answer to your third one: http://mensderbycoalition.com/

miss.murder.13#205742 writes:

I am the Coach of the Hard Knox Rollergirls. I tried to post my thoughts earlier. But, somehow they are not here. Originally I was told by your photographer, Sheena, that this would be a photo essay. Had that been the case, this story would have been grand. Sheena's pictures alone told a far better story than Mr. Maldonado's poor attempt at a "behind the scenes" story. To use the terminology and degrading phrases to describe my team is nothing less than a direct slap in the face. These WOMEN play and work harder to participate in a SPORT for no pay and now, thanks to your lacking knowledge, no respect. I invite you, Charles , to participate in just one official Hard Knox practice. Since, I feel this probably will never happen, I also invite you to sit bench side and observe a Coach and TEAM participate in a real sport. You will see that there is nothing staged nor choreographed. You will definitely see quick thinking, amazing stamina, and brilliant strategies. You sometimes also see teams that continue to play with the same heart and effort even if they fall 100 points behind in a game. I hope your misinformed article has not frightened away potential family fans. Your descriptions were inaccurate and not very family-friendly. We love our young fans. They are actually one of the reasons for the face paint. I have signed more autographs for children than anyone else. Fortunately, I will have a couple of hours to give the public true facts about Hard Knox and the sport of Roller Derby. I will be interviewed on a local radio station tomorrow morning. You should tune in.You might learn something.

lindsaybeeson writes:

@JusticeFGM

Thanks for the info.

I'll also say, what'd be so wrong if it's got something to do with feminism? I admit to getting a little special tingle at the idea of going and "making a b!tch cry" as one of the derby ladies said. It talks to some lion-roar part of me that I would definitely name Feminism.

mayhem writes:

Lindsey, come to a bout. We would love to have you. We dress up and put
on war paint to be individuals, to have fun. I may wear a skirt and fishnets
one bout and long shorts to the next. What we wear does not define the
sport. It's the sweat and tears and yes, sometimes blood that we put into it.

delindsey writes:

@Lindsey

What about painted faces is violent? I've been to plenty of
children's birthday parties. Never once have I been
attacked by a kid with a painted face.

I think a lot of female athletes in a wide range of sports
are sexy but that neither adds to nor takes away from their
athletic talent. My wife thinks baseball players are hot.

Does football promote masculinism? (not sure if that's a
word)

LCDominator writes:

What are you guys talking about? This is a great article!

For instance, I've personally suffered from 3 severed hands since I've started playing.

Wow...just wow. I used to think the normal "worker by day, derby girl by night" form of journalism was bad...but then I've never read an article from a "journalist" (term used loosely) that didn't know if we liked to call ourselves "women."

I mean, personally, I like to be referred to as a "whatever-they-like-to-be-calleds", but how did he know?

I don't think the "journalist" even did web research, since then he would probably have seen and read what derby is actually about, at least a little. My running theory is that he got really drunk and had fun with free-association.

hugs and kisses
Lois Carmen Dominator
Boston (yes, we have pseudo sports up here too!)

the_chick_norris writes:

I wouldn't discount the feminism aspect one bit. I think you (Lindsay) are the first person in this thread to directly say that it has "nothing" to do with feminism. I could be mistaken though (i just did a quick find in my browser).

No matter the word count, this has been a fascinating discussion (one sided as it may be) on the strong feelings that derby skaters & refs from Memphis to Boston to Florida have for our sport. Our sport, although it has a long & sordid past, is new and thriving & hard to define in it's outward appearance. I myself don't wear fishnets or skirts, and although I love the face paint, those that kabuki it up are few and far between. No one on my team does it.

People want to label things, it makes life easier to deal with. Good luck putting a clean & easy label on roller derby, it's participants, or it's fans. Time will tell how the sport is viewed, not this article. Our voices & actions will make the difference.

Please come check out the bout this Saturday & judge for yourself! You might just catch derby fever :)

Chick Norris
Little City Roller Girls
Johnson City, TN

miss.murder.13#205742 writes:

Dear Lindsay, I cannot answer your questions for everyone. But, I will give you my opinions. The video you have shows body checks used as strategies during the game. One of the first things new skaters are taught is how to fall in the safest manner possible. These body checks or hits are extremely similar to what one might see in hockey. They are no more violent than that or a tackle in football. Not all players wear fishnets. And, I can also tell you that the ones that do are usually wearing another pair of tights and pantyhose and double pairs of socks. The fishnets are just some women's choice. Most players are more concerned about protecting their skin than showing it. Lastly, there are many teams who wear no sort of make up. Everyone on my team has different reasons for wearing it. As for me, believe it or not, I wear my make-up like that almost all the time, about the only time I do not is when I am working as a personal trainer. Lastly, I would like to offer you a free ticket to our bout on Saturday. You can then make your own decisions. I would be happy to answer any further questions.

Blue writes:

I am embarrassed for you as a writer and a person.
Your lack of care for our sport and our league shines through your writing.
This article has changed my mind about your paper as a whole. Because it shows the lack of care you have for your customers.
The mere fact that people from other cities and leagues are getting on your site and becoming a member just to post how foolish you are, is a statement in itself. A very strong statement about you and your company as a whole.
The chain broke between your writing and the printing department and that shows a lack of organization.
This is a huge disappointment to me and the rest of the Hard Knox Roller Girls who have fought hard to show Knoxville that Roller Derby is a valid sport running along side of any major sport with major rules in place (this does not include Wrestling as we all know that is fake).
I can only hope that you and your company learn from this outrageous mistake you have made in the name of Flat Track Roller Derby as well as The Hard Knox Roller Girls.
Black-N-Blue of the Hard Knox Roller Girls.

lindsaybeeson writes:

Thanks for the answers, miss.murder.13.

I will say that I'd call hockey and football pretty violent sports; I don't think roller derby was characterized here as being any *more* violent.

I'm glad you guys are helping broaden our understanding of where you're coming from; I wish you could do so without completely denigrating my co-worker, but that's the topic of another conversation, the focus of which would be how journalists are mischaracterized, underestimated and stereotyped based on what often seems to be a narrow understanding of what it means to work in media.

I may come out to the derby; if I thought I had balls enough, I'd think about joining a team ...

annawrecksya writes:

I can't answer why some girls wear war paint, or panty/fishnet ensembles with something better than, "because they feel like it." My team, for the most part, doesn't wear pants. There's no better reason behind it than the one I just mentioned, and that its good for staying cool because as athletes we sweat a lot (and our gear bags smell nasty). Would you say volleyball players bikinis are about sex?

We play a womens sport, just because we want it to be girls. Would you ask a men's football team if their choice to exclude women was because they are misogynists? (okay, maybe.) Its important to note that just because men aren't on the track, doesn't mean they aren't still heavily involved in most womens leagues. They are referees and workers just like any other skater that helps keep each league a well oiled machine.

And, there are mens teams, but there are much fewer. There's something like 250+ women's leagues in the country, and just a sprinkling of mens leagues. Many of the skaters on mens teams are referees for women's leagues. Go here for more information on mens derby: http://www.mensderbycoalition.com I don't have any links to co-ed teams or leagues but I know that they exist. www.derbynewsnetwork.com does a great job on covering every bout they can--female, male, kids, adults, flat track, banked track.

What was offensive and disrespectful was summing up everything HKRD (and every roller derby league) does and calling it a "non-sport" and "novelty sport". Saying that it has to be on the outer edge or it won't work. Saying it is "filled with vicious, sometimes brutal, violence," is misleading. Violence, I think, is defined by the intent to cause harm or injure. That's not what we do.

I can tell you that there were only two girls with "war paint" in your photo essay. Likewise, not ever girl had fishnets and nopants on. Its VERY common for journalists to come in and see one girl with a tattoo, another with ripped tights (that probably JUST ripped while skating that day), and hear "welcome to the jungle" play over the PA and lump all skaters into some alternative subculture. Thats really not the case, we are extremely diverse.

What separates the good derby journalism from the bad, is going the extra step. MOST writers come in see what we do, and don't get it. They have the same confusion you did, but rather than just making a bunch of assumptions, they sit down with skaters to get the real scoop. Maybe they'll attend a practice or a bout set up day. If Mr Maldonado had done his research, all of your questions would have been answered in the article.

I'm wordy, but I hope this helped.

www.bostonderbydames.com

carterwillett writes:

If you're going to write something, and some short-sighted editor puts you into a position of journalistic authority, you should know something about your subject, and apparently you don't. I will not reiterate what others in this forum have already eloquently stated; that yours is a childish knee-jerk reaction to limited exposure to the sport of Women's Flat Track Roller Derby.
To compare what present Derby Girls (and calling them "whatever-they-want-to-be-called" shows the lack of respect you have for all women; just what do YOU want to be called? other than what the Girls are calling you right now) to the show-sport of the last century is missing the boat entirely. These women are not actors, they are not wrestlers, and they are not being paid. They are mothers, sisters, and working women with a passion for contact sport. They sacrifice valuable family and work time to participate, and it COSTS them money. They have the training that only their peers and experience can provide, and yes, they do hit each other and fall to the floor. Occasionally there are more serious injuries. I don't read anything from you about the viciousness of street hockey or soccer, but those sports are pretty much dominated by men. Is your argument due to misogynistic leanings? Do you think that women should be relagated to the kitchen, grocery store, or bedroom? It takes strong, determined, smart women to know how to persevere at this sport, and that type might not suit you. Get out from under your over-protective momma's apron and see the world. Learn to observe without prejudice, especially when it comes to women.
I have been a male WFTDA referee for long enough to know that when the whistle blows, what happens on the track is all business, and there is very little animosity. Sure, grudges happen, and penalties occur. But any specific bout is officiated by a minimun of seven referees, and there are usually more. The Girls know that safety is paramount, and that penalties are a part of the game. Yes, so is intimidation; show me a sport where it isn't.
And another experience that might help you adjust your limited scope; go to any afterparty following a bout. The girls get together to trade notes, compare bruises (oh my God, I hear you say. NOT BRUISES! HOW UNLADYLIKE!), and complement each other on track technique. Many girls from opposing teams are best friends off the track. Put them on opposing teams, and let the bout begin. They'll show you the true meaning of competition and collaboration.
I wouldn't trade my experience with Derby Girls for anything. But then I appreciate the beauty of strong, determined, forthright women.
Maybe someday you will too.
Then again...

Brotha Trouble
Referee
Central Arkansas Roller Derby
And Proud Of It

lindsaybeeson writes:

Again, thank you annawrecksya.

Let me take the time to note something that doesn't translate well online: this feature was intended as a photo essay, which is how it appeared in print.

On our website, clearly, the words seem to be the focus. This isn't the case, and I'm afraid this was our best option for presenting the content on metropulse.com.

Perhaps its shifted emphasis online has made it seem to carry more weight than it was intended to.

May I also point out something that truly seems to contradict what you're saying about violence? The names attached to these comments often call on very violent imagery:

annawrecksya
miss.murder.13
mayhem
the_chick_norris
MachineGunKelly
bloodyelle
Dick_Pounder
SlapYou_87
LCDominator

I believe you when you say you don't intend roller derby to be a violent sport, but the face that's put on the game with these names truly is one of violence.

Now, this is an *interesting* contradiction, and one that likely would have gotten more emphasis had Charles been asked to write a feature story. Perhaps knowing that he was asked to write content to accompany a photo essay will help provide more insight into the coverage you see above.

faeriegyrl7 writes:

@Lindsay

If you take away the negative feeling that is displayed in these posts you will find the common theme here:

1. Derby is a real sport, not meant to maim, kill, hurt, or damage anybody or anything. It is just as real as football, soccer, or rugby, minus the pay.

2. Girls do get hurt, but regardless of how, they come together and help each other mend and return to derby if possible. See this link if you don't believe in heart and the love of the sport and for fellow roller girls... http://www.helptequila.com/

3. Derby takes lots of time and dedication not only at bouts, and practices, but each and every day.

4. Violence is not tolerated at any time by any team.

5. Bouts are family friendly. No worse than prime time TV here.

6. Feminism may be at play here, but I think the better term is STRONG and DEDICATED women.

Lindsay, I do recommend that you attend a bout to see what we are talking about. A lot of times during bouts, the girls are pumped up and may talk some smack, but when the whistle blows at the end of the bout, they are all friends again.

krispy writes:

In response to Lindsay’s questions above:

Roller derby is not about violence or sex, however we do know what sells to the public and unfortunately it’s sex & violence. Since we tend to have a hard time getting the public and media to respect us, we have to try and grab people’s attention somehow.

As for the feminism thing, do some research and see that men’s roller derby leagues are quickly springing up across the country. Also, men are coaches and referees in the women’s leagues.

I know your opinion is that Mr. Maldonado shows no disrespect for our hard work in putting together our bouts & leagues, but I have to disagree. The entire article comes across disrespectful to the sport of roller derby and since most of us have built our leagues from the ground up, yes, this is disrespectful to our hard work. We have been trying to chase away the reputation roller derby has for being fake and trashy for several years now and this article certainly does not help us do that. Mr. Maldonado misstates facts about the sport and then he refers to roller derby as a “novelty”, a “parody” and a “non-sport”. Anyone involved in roller derby is left with the impression he barely researched this (and Wikipedia does not count as research) and treated the entire assignment like a joke. I persoanlly feel disrespected and from the looks of all the comments, so do a lot of other people.

lindsaybeeson writes:

If this conversation continues, which I hope it does because it's interesting to hear from such a huge segment of such a niche crowd of readers, *please* let's not go down this road:

"I don't read anything from you about the viciousness of street hockey or soccer, but those sports are pretty much dominated by men. Is your argument due to misogynistic leanings? Do you think that women should be relagated to the kitchen, grocery store, or bedroom?"

1. Hockey and soccer have been written about and talked about broadcast on ESPN for years. BORING! *That's* why we're not writing about them.

2. I'm not sure where the hell the misogyny angle is coming from, but let me stop *that* claim from gaining any steam. I can spot bigots from a mile a way (and I get on the other side of the street when I do), and Charles M., my friend, is no bigot.

cassandrachiles writes:

"On our website, clearly, the words seem to be the focus." .... um the last time I checked the point of someone who makes a living as a writer was to use these things called "words". And I think using the excuse that it's on-line, or was intended to be part of a photo essay is a thin excuse. A journalist is "is a person who practices journalism, the gathering and dissemination of information about current events, trends, issues, and people while striving for viewpoints that aren't biased." I think anyone can see the article is biased beyond any measure.
"Perhaps knowing that he was asked to write content to accompany a photo essay will help provide more insight into the coverage you see above." you know it's not our job as a reader to try to figure out what content or angle of truth you choose to use in your journalism. Your entire paper owes Knoxville roller girls and it's fans a huge apology.

Oh an your comment about the names... my name is cassandra, and last time I checked I'm not the princess of troy.

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