What place do men have in roller derby?

Posted on December 14, 2011 by

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Until recently, roller derby was widely referred to as an “all-female revival” (see this article from 2008 for example). With the emergence of men’s teams in America and mixed teams in Australia, it’s time to acknowledge that roller derby is not all-female. In fact, men have been reffing and coaching since its early days (even in the images included with the “all-female” article you can see men reffing in the background).

In December, Derby Nerd did two articles on men associated with roller derby – one on Cranky Pants and one on Coach Pauly. Cranky Pants is a male announcer for Toronto Roller Derby while Coach Pauly is the head coach of Team Canada. This got me to thinking about men in my league. Currently, we have a bunch of male refs and one male announcer (who co-announces with a woman). I’m still working out how I feel about say, a male coach, or men taking roles on the board. I decided to mull it over with league referee and friend Bear Grylled. And by “mull it over” I mean interrogate him and publish the responses for your viewing pleasure.

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What do you see as men’s role in derby?

I see men’s role in derby as being dictated by the league they join. When I joined our league it was as a skating referee and that’s the end of it. The league is a female bouting league only and that was clearly obvious from day 1. I am not in the field of hitting women, and any physical contact with a woman (other than my wife) is usually a bit uncomfortable for me. If I wanted to ‘hit’ women, I wouldn’t be in the league and I wouldn’t be a referee. If I joined a men’s derby league then that’s another story, in Australia there is a merby league in Melbourne, but Adelaide is a long way from that in my opinion, we have to make the leagues we have here now, work well!

That being said there is a mixed gender league in Adelaide now which actively promotes mixed gender bouting and which obviously would involve contact between a man and a woman. But at the end of the day they are just both skaters with different weaknesses and strengths. A woman is built differently to a man and although a man might (but not in every case) be physically stronger and bigger, a well-placed booty block would floor any burly dude to the floor just as dangerously. We even have a league of underage kids (Lil Adelaide Rollers) where boys jam against girls with no question. But that is clearly defined in the league’s parameters and I presume constitution. As long as it’s clearly defined from the first day there should be no question from a leagues point of view of men in roller derby.

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Picture by Mat Walker

Let’s look at the question from a sport point of view. What is men’s role in the sport— my answer… a positive active one! Just like a woman’s role in the sport! If the sport is to grow and succeed it should allow participation from both genders, in fact it should allow participation of all ages and abilities. That being said there is a role for everyone in roller derby. If you can’t skate there is still a role you can play in supporting as an official off skates. A bout, and a league and the sport will not work without the NSOs or refs or derby skaters. Like a beer with no yeast, it just isn’t a beer without it.

My personal opinion is that given merby and derby, I will chose to watch derby every day as women make the sport look less brutal and more graceful and athletic (well in my opinion anyway!).

Do you agree with Bear’s assessment?

Visit us tomorrow when I will ask Bear whether the emergence of “all-male” teams threatens women’s roller derby.

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Posted in: LimboLand