I’m going to preface this with a couple of statements. I understand that this is a very touchy topic in the derby world. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t any room for some examination or discussion about it. This is MY OPINION only. I respect the fact that there is an enormous number of people who will have differing and conflicting opinions on this subject.
Roller Derby has primarily been a sport that has been associated with entertainment rather than professionalism and athleticism. When I was young, I saw Roller Derby on T.V. alongside Professional Wrestling on Saturday mornings after the cartoons were over. That was the derby of the 1970’s. The re-birth of the sport in the last ten years has been different.
The sport now has a set of rules. The bouts aren’t “fixed” as to who will win or lose. The “over the top” violence has been replaced by a focus on safety gear and hits that are restricted away from the head and back, knees and below. One of the components of Roller Derby that has stood the test of time ( so far ) are the Derby Names. Similar to those of Professional Wrestlers, Roller Derby Skaters, Refs and Officials have been encouraged to create a “colorful” persona to go alongside this exciting sport.
I can’t say exactly when the Derby names began. I did a quick YouTube search on Roller Derby and found a bout from 1967 that featured a skater named “Killer” Kasmersky. My point being that this has been going on in Roller Derby for a very long time.
Fast foward to the modern era of Flat Track Roller Derby and we still see Derby Names are still the norm. I love the skater names. They are often clever alterations of common words or phrases that frequently carry some level of humor (adult humor or otherwise ) to them. These names are often very personal to the skater and may indicate something about that skater, their personality, or something that they like or admire. The main reason I like them is because they’re FUN. It’s fun to know someone by a nickname.
The reason I’m writing this article is due to the success of modern Roller Derby. Roller Derby is no longer being promoted as the violent spectacle it used to be. It is now being viewed and promoted as a “Professional Sport”.
The word professional implies “no nonsense”. It’s true. Modern Roller Derby is athletic, strategic and hard-hitting (like football, not Pro Wrestling).
World wide competitions are springing up and these new rolling athletes are looking to be viewed as professionals.
How do you take a sport like Roller Derby and make it professional? Well, there are a number of aspects of Roller Derby that are unconventional, those characteristics are the first to be identified for correction. Specific to this article, Derby Names have been identified as one of the things that “has to go”. A good friend of mine said to me that they would not feel comfortable representing their country on a national team using their “Derby Name”. Across a number of leagues in North America ( and likely elsewhere )… Derby Names are being replaced by the skaters actual legal name.
Proponents of this practice reflect on Professional Wrestling as a sport that uses “stage names” for its athletes. Professional Wrestling isn’t considered a legitimate sport…it’s just entertainment.
Prior to writing this article, I though about other sports that are professional in nature yet still feature athletes that have “nicknames”.
Let me name a few to set an example.
- Boxing: “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler,
- Basketball: “Magic” Johnson
- Football: “Mean” Joe Greene
- Golf: Greg “The Great White Shark” Norman
I could go on. All of these athletes were professionals in their sport. All of these athletes were highly visible personalities and all of these athletes had a nickname that they were known by.
So, why does Derby have to lose the names to be considered “professional”?
Is it because Roller Derby is now in the beginning stages of applying to become an Olympic Sport? There’s no way that an athlete in the Olympics could possibly represent themselves, their country or their sport while using a nickname could they? Could they?
How about Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards… British Olympic Ski Jumper ?
Roller Derby skater names are FUN. They are also clever ways of adding some personality to the athlete. I don’t believe that Roller Derby has to eliminate Derby Names to be viewed as “professional”. I’ve demonstrated a small number of examples of the opposite. You CAN be professional and be known by a nickname at the same time.
I want to keep skating with “Ronnie B. Rotten” and reffing with “Kevlar”. I mean, I’m still skating with Ron Gall and reffing with Kevin Dennison… but the nicknames just seem like more fun to me.
Thanks for listening…
Doug “Road Rash” Peters.