Criticism and bad press definitely sucks. I know, I get it plenty and it most certainly can sting at times; but one thing that I’ve started to notice that is painfully clear about roller derby, and the derby community, is that neither takes criticism very well and both HATE bad press. If somebody has something “bad” to say about the sport, or if somebody writes about un-sportsperson like behaviors or actions, then they’re a gossiper. They’re the villain, the jerk. Not the people who were misusing league funds, not the host league who mistreated and/or were indifferent toward their guests at a derby event, not the committee that was making major decisions without consent of the board and/or rest of the league, the person who said something about it has done wrong for talking about it so openly.
The vast majority of discussion on this sport wants to put roller derby in a “positive light”, which I can understand, but there comes a certain point when one has to ask themselves if that positive light is dishonest. I understand that internal issues are rectified in-house (sometimes, that is…), yet I also feel that by hiding those situations, keeping hush about them, we are robbing each other of the chance to learn from one another.
In all honesty, the silence toward many of these topics has caused a great deal of inner conflict for me. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve been warned about voicing my opposition toward something a major organization has done. How I’ve been told that “they are doing the best they can” and that I should “cut them some slack” (ie. Stop talking about it). It’s also mind-blowing how many times I’ve been told NOT to talk publicly about something negative that a league, team, skater, official or coach has done because that would be “unprofessional” of me and “against the spirit of roller derby”. It’s incredibly frustrating as in many cases this silence washes people and their leagues of all accountability. “Don’t talk about that, it’s unprofessional!” Then the issue just kind of gets silently pushed aside and repeated by others again and again all over the place.
This censorship toward sensitive topics that many within the sport seems to purport is, in my opinion, very damaging. Everyone wants to see, read and write about derby love. Derby saved my soul. Look at derby getting good press in [insert mainstream magazine or news source]! Yet I rarely, if ever, see public discussion or articles on the very real negative side to this sport as well. Things like extremely heated league splits (and the reasons for them as told by those involved), policies being ignored or misused/abused, board/committee members abusing power (and how to handle that situation if it arises), disappearing league funds (and what to do if you notice it), participants bullied out of involvement for saying or doing something in opposition to the “inner circle” (it’s there in your league too!), teams denying their own paying members roster spots in favor of more experienced guest skaters who may increase their chances of winning (and how that practice can be addressed), leagues black listing officials, officials black listing leagues, leagues black listing each other with no notice or explanation of why, and so on and so forth. It happens, literally, everywhere, ESPECIALLY in areas without the presence of the WFTDA or any established association. In fact, more often than not while I am attending an after party or social gathering with derby folk at the grassroots level (and higher, it’s not exclusive to one level), these are the things that are whispered at tables in the corner of the room. These are the things that are talked about outside in the smokers area. These are the conversations you hear coming from the bathroom.
Yet, it seems to stop there out of fear of offending. If this was any other widespread sport, as many people want it to be, blogs and other forms of media (be it local or larger) would be openly reporting on these cases yet many, myself included, turn a blind eye… and as of late I have felt that I am doing a great disservice to myself, and others, because of this. I’m not saying that we vilify each other, far from it. I merely wish to better understand where we have come from and where we are going through sharing our experience, be it “good” or “bad”. Like, what caused the league splits in Prince Albert, Moose Jaw and Regina? What effect did that happen on the relationships of members? What effect did that have on either league’s success in the community? What can we all learn from those situations? This approach can be applied to any number of issues.
I don’t know, I guess I’m still struggling with what Derby Frontier means to me and what I want to accomplish with it. Do I ignore the “bad” news of roller derby because it is too “sensitive” to some? Do I stop trying to raise awareness of and incite discussion on issues that I feel are important to discuss (such as bullying, gender policies, etc.)? Do I revert back to “derby love”, “derby saved my soul” and only writing on the positive aspects of this community? Do I continue to censor specific details from my posts to avoid angering people? Or, and maybe I’m crazy here, do I attempt to break that mold and engage in discussion of sensitive issues with hope that it leads to healthy changes? Furthermore, if I DO take the chance to write about more sensitive subjects, how can I perhaps do so in a more delicate, even uplifting way?
I think I want to take a stab at some Investigative Roller Derby journalism in the near future. Start with something small, maybe a league split, where I ask questions of both sides and ask questions of the readers as well.
Time to challenge the status quo!
UPDATE 1: Removed some details and reworded the situations described in paragraphs six and seven.
UPDATE 2: Both paragraphs completely removed.
UPDATE 3: Posted a follow up article.