Sunday, February 3, 2013

They See Me Rollin'... They Hatin'

      Chances are, if you've been involved with a derby league, you've had this displeasure of running into your share of "haters" - people that, for some reason or another, or for apparently no reason at all, take a dislike to you, your teammates or your entire league. The documentary Hell on Wheels details the origins of the modern incarnation of roller derby in Texas (and if you haven't seen it, you can watch it here). When skaters left Bad Girl, Good Woman Productions and formed Texas Rollergirls, there were more than a few hurt feelings, which culminated in an incident documented in the film involving BGGW skaters showing up drunk and "kind of rowdy" at TXRG's inaugural bout wearing t-shirts that said "Accept No Substitute" and yelling "fuck this illegal shit." This is likely the first incident of hatred between roller derby leagues, and it's the most extreme example I know of.
     What the incident between TXRG and BGGW demonstrates is that interleague battles and league schisms are just as much a part of our sport as fishnets and knee socks. From the very beginning, there have been unpleasant altercations between leagues. I live in a city with FOUR women's flat track roller derby leagues, and, unfortunately, as far as I know, three of the leagues were formed in much the same manner as TXRG - by skaters who left another league.
     In cities such as my own where there are multiple leagues there is competition for skaters, especially talented ones, money, practice space, sponsors, fans - the list goes on. Essentially, all leagues deliver the same thing: roller derby. It may with a different ruleset, a different training mentality or with different opportunities for advancement and gameplay, but it's still roller derby. Coke and Pepsi have waged advertising wars for years, somehow trying to convince people that there are vast differences between the two soft drinks when really, the difference is negligible. So it would be natural for leagues to compete for their share of the roller derby market. But somehow... it's not as simple as the soft drink war. Somewhere, it got personal.
     A lot of people excuse "derby drama" by saying that "oh well, this is what happens when a bunch of women get together." This is something I wholly reject. By this logic, organizations run entirely by men or with a mix of both men and women would run smoothly, which isn't the case. Look at the world's governments as an example. It's not helpful to think that drama ensues because leagues are largely run by women for women. It's a crutch. It doesn't force us to look at the larger roots of these petty altercations, and why the same patterns of league splits and nastiness occur over and over again. My theory is that haters and derby drama is part of our origins, as I've described above. Older skaters mentor the new ones, and just like you might have acquired bad skating habits, it's easy to pass your bad attitude habits onto someone else. If you bad mouth another girl from another league in front of a newer skater, chances are that newer skater will assume that this is the way to behave and she will adopt that attitude as well.
     So how do we fix it? How do we break this cycle? How do we get to the point where derby IS like the utopic sisterhood that we all imagine it to be? It starts with setting a good example. If you're a visible member of your league or a member of the administration, hold yourself to high standards. Don't gossip about other leagues, and don't make petty comments. Make serious and genuine attempts to heal relations between your league and its haters. This could be as simple as saying hi to someone at a bout, or inviting her to an open scrimmage or a practice. You'd be surprised how far a simple gesture can go. Even if she doesn't come, she'll know that she's welcome and she might tell others this too. Like so many other things that I've already talked about in this blog, it's important that healing relations comes from the top. If you have serious concerns about the members of your league, put it in your policies that you have zero tolerance for any negative action towards another league, and if someone violates that rule, treat them harshly. I think that it's safe to assume that most people are going to act the right way if you just give them a head's up about what the expectations are. (Remember how we talked about hand holding?)
     I'll offer one twist on my recommendations: listen to your haters. What is the gossip around your league? Think critically about what people are saying. They might offer some helpful insights as to why skaters are staying away. Maybe your league has a reputation for being unorganized or unfair, or maybe there's some confusion about what ruleset you use. Maybe you've got some of your own bad apples who have been starting fights. Use this negative feedback to direct your own public relations efforts and to look inward for solutions. Sometimes, haters are going to be saying silly things that you can't do anything about, but it's important to at least make the effort to change people's perceptions.
     I'll close this post with some thoughts about the person in the world who probably has the most haters: Justin Bieber. At the time of writing this, he has almost 34 million Twitter followers. That is almost the population of the country I live in. Even though there were people who thoroughly enjoyed the scene in CSI where his character got shot to death, at the end of the day, there are still a country's worth of people hanging on his every word. The kid has his own duct tape, for goodness' sake! Your league may have its share of haters, but are you going to let that stop you from doing the best you can and maybe getting your league its own duct tape? No. Keep up what you're doing, because chances are you're doing the right things for your members. Let the haters talk themselves out. As the saying goes, "haters gonna hate, skaters gonna skate."

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