Why roller derby is far more sport than football
By Troy Lyle
Most anyone who knows me would say I’m a sports nut, a junkie for all things requiring skill or physical prowess. A real freak for competition.
That is until recently. For more than a month now I’ve been reexamining my relationship with sports. It’s no coincidence that my once beloved Washington Redskins stink. Exhibit A–the six TD shellacking laid out in week 10 by Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles.
The smack down by our division rival hurt, but even more painful was the news leaked shortly before the game. After the drama filled debacle resulting from Skins QB Donovan McNabb’s benching in the final two minutes against pigskin “powerhouse” Detroit, the Redskins decided to save face and reignite the team by signing McNabb to a five year, $78 million contract hours before Monday night’s kick off.
And how did McNugget respond to the new contract? Nothing close to his six pro bowls, 32,873 yards and 216 TDs he accumulated during 11 years in Philly. Not even close–he went 17 for 31, threw for 295 yards and 2 TDs, with 3 interceptions. Compare that to Michael Vick, who is being paid slightly more than $6 million for the 2009-10 seasons. Vick went ape shit, completing 20 of 28 passes for 333 yards and 4 TDs. Just for shits and giggles he added another 80 yards on the ground and another 2 rushing TDs.
I’m not bitter. Even though I have reason to be. If anything the ebb and flow of such a pock marked season has me refocused, reinvigorated and revamped. For the first time in my life I fully realize the absurdity of modern sports–the ludicrousness of paying someone $20 million to simply run, jump or pass; the preposterousness in glorifying self centered, prima donnas; the futility of expecting uneducated idiots to be role models.
But beyond the above realization, what hurts the most is sports have always represented the ultimate escape act, the perfect mindless activity to lose myself in. But alas my ideological awakening has overtaken my desire to suck back six packs in front of a 52” plasma TV.
Now that I’ve seen the light I find myself at a turning point. Do I abandon sports altogether? Or do I continue to watch but with a keener eye?
The reality here is sports aren’t the problem. It’s society’s glorification of athletes. It’s disproportionate pay. It’s 24 hour media coverage. It’s a whole host of things far too convoluted to approach here.
There are no easy answers. But there are ways to enjoy sports and maintain some sensibility. A perfect example–the Rollergirls of Central Kentucky (ROCK).
To me these women represent what sports should be. Like any other athlete they train for hours on end throughout the week. They skate to build strength and endurance. They practice scoring strategies and techniques. They encourage team work. They sweat. They ache. They win and they lose. All for the love of the sport.
And for those of you who say roller derby isn’t a real sport, come to a bout. You’ll see how all the preparation and training throughout the week comes full circle in the form of mega whips and bone crushing hits that rival anything on Sunday afternoon.
Beyond the break neck action and hard, hits it’s roller derby’s “smallness” that makes it the ideal in sport. Let me explain.
For one, roller derby is still in its infancy. The sport is self promoted and personally funded. The same women who seek to bash each other to death during a bout pay for their own practice time, all their equipment, their travel and their promotion.
Compare that to big time sports like NCAA basketball or the NFL. These athletes are catered to like royalty. They receive travel stipends, hotel rooms, free meals and various other perks far too numerous to list here.
These indulgences have created professional athletes who are vastly over paid and completely spoiled. It has led to uneducated, prima donna idiots: men and women who think they are privileged and who perceive themselves as entitled. You’ll never see this in roller derby. These athletes skate for the love of the game, not the personal (and financial) accolades.
Beyond being personally funded and self promoted, roller derby remains community oriented. And it’s this community orientation that allows the sport to still be approachable. These women work where we work. They eat where we eat. They are among us. There’s nothing more gratifying for me as a fan than to see little girls walking up to Ellie Slay, Rainbow Smite or Kitty O’Doom to ask for an autograph. And what do Slay, Smite and O’Doom do? They open their arms in a huge hug, snap countless photos and take more time than any professional athlete ever would to show their appreciation.
And it doesn’t stop there. These women get together after a bout and share a beer and a meal with fans as well as the opposing team. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat at Buster’s in amazement, watching two women who minutes earlier were trying to crush each other on the track, now sit side by side and share a Pabst, a bowl of gumbo and a laugh. Everyone, and I mean everyone, opens their homes to fans and fellow skaters alike. They help pay for each other’s travel, gear and even doctors bills when times get tough. There’s a common understanding among everyone that “we are all in this together.”
Compare the above roller derby experience to their professional counterparts who play in tax funded, colossal arenas, where the athletes are so far away that fans need binoculars; who enter and leave the venue via secure underground tunnels; who ride in limos to and from their swanky homes in guarded, fenced neighborhoods; who’d rather slide down a 100 foot razor blade into a barrel of alcohol than have to spend 15 minutes with a fan.
I could go on and on about why roller derby is more sport than any professional offering and how you’d vastly enjoy a derby bout over any Redskins game, but you need to see it for yourself. And it’s not just roller derby building sport and camaraderie in our community. There’s intramural soccer, Latino baseball leagues, disc golf, bike polo and a hoard of other fabulous offerings right in our backyard.
So get out there and enjoy. You won’t be sorry you did. And you just might be pleasantly surprised just how much more “sport” some sports can be.