Freaking Roller Derby
I started writing about sports because I love talking about sports. I just never get sick of it. I love talking to random, average fans all over the place — at the hair salon, at the supermarket, at the local bar, over coffee. I feel like I can always learn something about a team, a player, or just the nature of what it means to be a fan, by opening myself up to that sort of conversation. Besides, I just get a charge out of it.
But you know what I really am tired of? Random people suggesting that I should write about roller derby. Yeah. Fucking roller derby. Oooh, that’s so edgey. What a super awesome idea! Why didn’t I think of that?
I don’t hate roller derby. Okay, maybe I do a little. But I write about sports, so I’m not sure why people always think that I should be covering roller derby. Yes, roller derby requires athletic ability. And yes participants often sustain bumps and bruises and injuries. But physical toughness and the mere risk of injuries do not a sport make. If that were so, riding in a car with my mother driving would be considered a sport.
No offense to all those alternative chicks into roller derby, all the Zooey Deschanel/Ellen Page wannabes and the Bettie Page worshippers, but roller derby is not a sport. It’s cool and everything, with the cool hair and cool make-up and all that stuff. I’m sure it’s fun, too, and I like fun. Really, I do.
But that’s not the point. The point is that I usually write about people like Sidney Crosby, Darrelle Revis and Maya Moore while roller derby has more in common with, say, Captain Lou Albano, the Iron Shiek and the Lady Gaga. It is performance and costume and atmospherics with athletic ability mixed in. Entertainment first, athletics second.
The attitude is what separates them, by oceans, in fact. While roller derby requires ironic distance, playing team sports requires whatever the precise opposite of ironic distance is. Heck, even just being a fan means that you don’t get to pose in a corner looking cool. Sports are actually the opposite of cool. Sports are stupid and silly; and smart, erudite people will no doubt sneer upon you for caring about them. Traveling around in a Winnebago to follow Alabama football is not smart or savvy or clever. But it’s the heart of sport, American style. And it is decidedly un-cool.
Which is why roller derby is sport for the PBR crowd.
Maybe the years I spent writing for an alternative news weekly got to me — if there was a phenomenon custom ordered for the pages of alternative news, it’s the roller derby revival. It’s just so hip and edgey. Hell, it’s beyond edgey, don’t you see? It’s roller derby, get it? It’s like meta-edgey, a commentary which is beyond even irony on, um, well on something. I’m sure of that.
It’s probably my fault. I’m sure this doesn’t happen to Bill Simmons or Sally Jenkins, but after all, I have opened myself up to this because over the years, I have been so willing to write atypical sports stories — ultra-marathoners, every day streak runners, a Division II football coach and stuff like that. Hell, I once wrote about a guy who went bow and arrow deer hunting in a very urban neighborhood. Not your typical lead sports stories, any of them, I know.
It’s all made worse by the fact that I’ve covered women’s football. I suppose for some people, women doing anything outside of the “normal” activities are all lumped into the same tiny compartment of their brains – roller derby = burlesque = women’s football. What I’ve written about is women playing FOOTBALL. Not WOMEN playing football. If that distinction is at all clear.
But do me a favor. If you meet me in a bar, I promise not to bore you with tales of high school basketball coaches or kayak masters, so long as you don’t suggest that I cover roller derby. I might even buy you a PBR if you’re nice.