The Question of Self and Communal Censorship Across the Roller Derby Blogosphere

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.


Kevlar 2 Written by Kevin “Kevlar” Dennison

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29 comments

  1. Kevlar…..I agree with what you are saying. I have some questions about your two instances. First off where did you get your source from? Seems very one sided? Are there other forces at work here? Did you check with your source or is it just hear say? Did you get the other side of theses two instances? These are some pretty bold accusations that you are writing about and if both sides are not covered it will cause the damages that you are writing about (the negative side of Derby) All im saying is that just because we hear something doesnt make it truth. To find the the truth we must dig deeper and do our due diligence.

    1. Hello Anonymous,

      I knew I was treading thin water with mentioning those two situations, which I heard about from several sources, and perhaps should not have been as detailed as I was. Believe me when I say that I was flushed and shaking when I posted it and I do recognize the consequences of it.

      I kept out the names and affiliations for a reason but I knew that it would incite a mixed reaction amongst those who could discern what I was speaking about. That being said, I most certainly posted rashly and will re-approach those two paragraphs.

  2. Maybe before you start writing about what’s going on in other leagues as if you’re the be all and end all to derby, find out what’s happening. If you want to ask questions and write about issues that are arising in leagues then you need to get the full facts and the whole story as a proper journalist would. Feel free to contact anyone in any league if u need information on an article to wrote about. And considering your “source” for this article and the examples you gave, your source is not very credible. Try to be present on the derby scene instead of just writing about it from behind your wall.

    1. Hello Anonymous,

      You do bring up a great point though about being more diligent with contacting a league for comment as well. This is part of the discussion that has been happening on the Facebook page this afternoon as well.

      Thank you for the constructive feedback!

  3. I have facts from the bar owner himself. Stating exactly what happened. He said he would write the letter stating the league did not get kicked out at all. Yet the person telling you the information did. However he would not put that persons name in the Letter.
    Thank you for gathering all your information.

  4. I personally feel that yes leagues need to address and resolve their issues…you cant ignore them. But i dont feel like airing dirty laundry is classy or constructive. It usuallyy causes more tension…and also its how things are brought up and dealt with. That one person who complains about being bullied out of an “inner circle” maybe be the one causing shit within a league….just saying. If your going to asks questions about a league and investigate you better be sure to get everyones story or it could be very destructive.

  5. It’s not easy writing about touchy subjects, especially in a s/he said s/he said type situation. One thing to be said about you Kevlar is that you’ve got the balls to put your name beside your writing and not just “Anonymous”

  6. This whole write up is deplorable, non-factual and hypocritical. Completely laughable!! Give your head a shake!!

  7. You want something worthy to write about? Try writing an article about how hard it is for leagues to stay a float and operating in the big cities, I am sure you could acquire some credible resources not ones which are just hearsay such as those in your recent article.

  8. It appears that most of the commenters focused only on the two incidents, and didn’t really absorb the ideas in the first five paragraphs. That is a perfect illustration of what you are trying to explain about not wanting anything derby in a negative light. I didn’t read the pre-edit column so I don’t know what identifying details there were, but there are none now. Only those familiar with the incident will know who is being referenced.
    Are derby denizens concerned that our sport will end up being reported on like a political race with reporters looking for nothing but dirt? Perhaps, but I don’t think that would really happen, since there is a very small market and our celebrities are only celebrities in a minor key. No one outside of derby knows who they are.
    I do think, however, that reporting both sides of a story involving a league split, or a misappropriation of funds, or things of that ilk would be beneficial to newer leagues or even established ones before they find themselves in a similar situation.
    As long as it didn’t turn into a gossip coluimn.
    There will always be derby drama because derby is populated with passionate people from all walks of life, and not everyone sees eye to eye. But perhaps we can focus on the sport if we are not re-inventing the wheel on a regular basis. That may be what honest reporting can do to help.

    1. Hello Shovel!

      The original post contained semi-detailed examples of two situations that did not name any individuals, did not name any locations and did not name any organizations. However, I had presented them in a gossipy manner, which was wrong of me. So, it has since been removed as I see how that was upsetting to and potentially damaging for those involved.

      Thank you for the perspective and opinion on what you read!

    2. Yes, the comments here are a perfect illustration of what the blog is addressing! It’s very difficult to discuss anything when people take a portion of the discussion and run it off track. Sure, you can always find problems with how something is presented/written, but that doesn’t mean the ideas should be dismissed.

  9. Oh boy. I don’t even know what to say about this. There is no question there is an ugly side to Roller Derby. There is in any large organization period. But this is some muddy water as far as I’m concerned. I am not a professional athlete, none of us are, and as such, I don’t know that the comparison can be made between us and professional athletes and “mainstream” media. Investigative roller derby journalism? To what purpose and to what end? What good will come out of every league and every player basking in fear of their dirty laundry being aired to the public. There are two sides to every story. Yes, horrible things have happened and affected people in this sport. But you are talking about very real people here, with very real feelings. What will be the fallout in terms of how those situations you presented will affect those who were involved, on both sides? Never mind the social fact that people perceive things in different ways and often perception is based on those thoughts and emotions that trigger actions. And thoughts and emotions may be distorted, on both sides. This is not objective material here. And I feel this is extremely irresponsible tabloid type reporting. And I am saying this from a neutral position as I was not involved in any way in the “situations” upon which you chose to describe. These are issues for leagues and those individuals to solve. Privately. They are not situations/issues for the rest of us to read about. This article perpetuates more gossip and hurt feelings. It does nothing by way of “resolving” issues by raising awareness from which we can learn. As for league splits, who cares?! These splits happened long ago. And for most of us skating today, we weren’t involved in those splits. Most of the “split” leagues you mentioned have gone to great lengths to mend broken relationships and work collaboratively on the track. Again, what good is going to come of dredging up old resentments, hurt feelings and disagreements, in public? What happened to cause the leagues to split is the business of those members involved and it’s up to those members to look for resolution both within themselves and outside of themselves in whatever manner they are most comfortable with, in private. As for bullying, again, this is up to the leagues to address in private. Should there be policies in place to discourage destructive behaviour? ABSOLUTELY. Should everyone who has ever made a mistake, or hurt someone they shouldn’t have or participated in gossip and bullying be held publicly accountable? I should hope not. Human beings are not infallible. We all make mistakes. We all have said or done things we regret and wish we could take back. Does this negate responsibility? Absolutely not. And the governing body/board/league should be looking at each situation individually and holding people accountable by giving appropriate consequences. In private. We all have a responsibility to be better ambassadors to our sport. Airing dirty laundry and appointing oneself an investigator of derby drama does not an ambassador make.

  10. As a spectator that was present for most of the evening, your source is full of it. I myself have seen and heard several inconsistencies from your source and have heard from the junior skaters own mouth that there was no bullying. I have no idea what your source has to gain by bad mouthing a league and dragging a child into it. Perhaps your source has hard feelings because of their own dealings with the league!? I cannot speculate what would cause an adult to act like an immature classless imbecile and I have no idea what you thought you would gain by posting this garbage.

    1. Hello Concerned Parent,

      The two descriptions in question were actually from a few sources, not just one, but you are right that using said instance as an example, in the way I originally had, was insensitive. Thank you for sharing your account of the situation as well!

  11. Alright, I’m going to be REALLY blunt and to the point here, because I’ve been told repeatedly that the comments section here is an open forum for unfiltered views and only moderated/approved to prevent spam… So here it goes:

    For starters, the general premise of this article shows that the author is almost definitely coming from one or more of two positions here:
    1) He has never been involved in any sporting (outside of school) after the age of about 7.
    2) He personally feels victimised by something that while involved with a derby league.
    Based on this article, I’m guessing both may be true. I’d even bet the second one is at least partially because Kevlar himself is a semi-“blacklisted ref” for many leagues; but not because of some hidden vendetta, but because of his over-all attitude and reffing skills that are generally considered mediocre on a good day, and somewhere between ‘poor’ and ‘atrocious’ on average in the last year and a half.

    Back to the topic-at-hand: Having played sports my whole life, I can safely say that what you’re complaining about happens in almost every league and every sport. If it’s not the players, it’s the parents. If it’s not the parents, it’s the administrators. Etc.

    From there, I want to address the examples you used; as it has turned this “what should I do?” article in to a thinly veiled total tabloid garbage piece!
    Honestly, even the redacted version of this article still leaves the ‘coach’ example extremely obvious to anyone actually involved in Sask derby. This can only really be one person, and one of two leagues; plus anyone who listens to the standard dwrby chatter has probably heard almost the exact opposite story. This is a major reason why people are talking about Derby Frontier as being “Kevlar’s Soapbox”, “The ‘LBGTAEIOU and sometimes Y’ newsletter that’s pretending to be a derby blog” or “Pointless trite”.

    Finally, I think it’s BS that some of the commenters are being ridiculed by others for maintaining their anonymity. These people are making valid points, and that they want to remain anonymous (likely for fear or retaliation) should not be held against them. I have no problem posting this as myself, and am doing so to show that it has nothing to do with anonymous comments.

    Bruce J. Wilde
    (Bruce Payne)

  12. Mission Accomplished Kevlar. As is your right, you brought up issues that were perhaps unpopular, taboo. Thank you for having the balls to do so. You bring up excellent points, and backed it up with a couple of examples. People may say its dirty laundry, but come on people! Fess up, the instances that were brought up were being discussed in hush whispers and vindictive conversations in at least three provinces (that I’m aware of).
    As far as those saying the information was one sided, moot point. Take it all with a grain of salt. Kevlar, you clearly stated that information was gathered from numerous sources. And let’s be honest, no individual or group is going to admit the extent of their douchebaggery in the incidents; neither party is as innocent as they wish to be perceived as. The attacking words are obviously from those who want to deny their poor choices and hide behind lies and claim the role of victim. This crap goes on in any organization, and there’s no reason it needs to be denied. Perhaps discussion will help to find a path of solution.
    And, insignificant to this post, but one more thing I have to comment on, Bruce… ” Kevlar himself is a semi-”blacklisted ref” for many leagues; but not because of some hidden vendetta, but because of his over-all attitude and reffing skills that are generally considered mediocre on a good day, and somewhere between ‘poor’ and ‘atrocious’ on average  ” WHAT ALTERNATIVE DERBY UNIVERSE ARE YOU LIVING IN?? When Kevlar chose to ref, it was always a relief to other refs, coaches, and players, as he is known and proven to be educated, fair, and reasonable. You, sir, on the other hand are a completely different story. Were you looking in the mirror when you came up with this account? So, to your assessment and dickish words, all i have is “Hey Kettle, you’re black. From pot.”

    1. Befuddled:
      As I had followed-up with on the facebook thread, those statements are not something that I came up with on my own; but statements I’ve heard from other referees and league representatives. I agree that at one point (1.5 years ago plus), it was wonderful to see Kevlar at bouts. However if you don’t continue to develop your skills and knowledge, it will deteriorate and disappear; and the common consensus seems to be that THAT is what happened in the last year and a half.
      As for my own skills, I have yet to have any major complaints (aside from the same complaints that come from the bench coaches during almost ANY bout) and have worked on all the minor ones as they have been brought to my attention. So with that (combined with the fact that there aren’t enough weekends for me to ref all of the bouts that I’m being asked to attend and officiate across Manatoba, North Dakota, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and BC) leads me to think that there likely isn’t an issue with my officiating; but by all means, if you have something you would like me to address, send me a facebook message or something! Again, I have nothing to hide, and am fully willing to back up my statements with evidence and my real name.

      If you want to send that message, you can find me here:
      https://www.facebook.com/BruceJWilde

      1. “Also, I should point out that I have NEVER made a call because of something said by a coach, player, fans, or even another ref…” Hi Bruce, as someone who has never met you personally, I can tell you in all honesty that this is something that really sticks in my mind as something that I have seen you do at a recent A-level game. Right in front of our cheering section, you made a call on a skater, who then proceeded to have a lengthy discussion with you on the track, MID JAM. Her argument must have been convincing, because shortly after it ended, you laughed and said, “Never mind!” and she never left the track for her penalty. Really, though, it’s OK to be humble and to make mistakes! The problem is, it’s hard to learn and grow from them if you never acknowledge that they even exist.

      2. Derbyfan:
        If you’re able to provide me with more information on that situation; I would love to look back on what/when it may have been. Unfortunately, due to injury and scheduling conflict, I have only had the opportunity to ref two A-level games so far this year (MindFox @ Sugar Skulls, and Sugar Skulls @ Redneck Betties); and I don’t recall having any mid-jam conversations with anyone other than officials. I’m not going to outright say that it didn’t happen, but I definitely don’t remember this. With that said, if you’re able to provide me with some more info on the situation I may be able to provide you with some clarification and should almost definitely be able to work on how what I do is perceived in the future.
        The best way to reach me at for that would be by email at RefsPBDC@gmail.com

  13. If we’re going to go here, good.
    Let’s start with the basics…
    “beginning, middle, end”, you have to see it all. Call your own calls, don’t be influenced by skaters, coaches, fans.
    Also, you might want to look up meaning of “directional” & “back block”. Please realize there were also some major rule updates as of March, and even more recently.
    Additionally, i urge you to get a tape measure, set it up in your house for a few days so that you can learn what 10 and 20 feet actually looks like.
    Don’t let the shortage of refs in the sport go to your head. Because you are asked to ref, does not necessarily mean your services are desired. Trust me, its most often an invite extended in desperation. And if you think this isa view of one anonymous person, again, you’re fooling yourself.

    1. Oh, and of utmost importance (which you could have learned by modeling yourself after the likes of Kurtz and Kevlar) when you’re obviously wrong on a call, don’t be too full of yourself to admit it. We all make mistakes, but its attitude that is the stepping stone to being a good official, skater, coach.

      1. So you’re basically just saying that I get everything wrong, and have no examples for me to learn off of? Well thank you for your constructive feedback random person who may or may not even have any experience reffing the sport at all!

        I’m also guessing by the second section your second post, and by your third comment that you don’t actually know me either; as if you did, you would know that I call the game by the book (meaning I MUST see beginning, middle, AND end to make the call), I’m asked to ref in places with a surplus of local referees, and that I am more than willing to admit when I make mistakes. So thanks for your feedback, but since you’ve really given me nothing to go off of; I can’t say that it was even remotely useful.

      2. Also, I should point out that I have NEVER made a call because of something said by a coach, player, fans, or even another ref (with the exception of Misconducts and Insubordinations obviously). The other refs can make their own calls if they see something; and nobody else has the same position on the situation as I do, so what they see is ultimately irrelevant to my calls or no-calls. I do sometimes take a second to verify in my head whether it was a penalty or not before blowing my whistle, so this is why it may seem like I (or any other ref) has been influenced by the shouting of someone else at the bout.

  14. There is not enough popcorn in the world for me to fully enjoy the show on here right now. My thoughts are that we need to focus on what we have done to improve after we make a mistake. Whether we are refs, players, or coaches I’m willing to bet that we have all screwed up and regretted something in derby. Maybe we need to get to a spot where we can highlight what was done to improve those situations. Whether it was a split, bullying, or as in my case, a poor decision made when emotional. Recognising where we screwed up and putting out solutions seems to be a better way to build our leagues. There are some valid points on here but it looks to be derailed very early and causing more grief. Let get back on track with solutions instead of mud slinging.

  15. Wow, guys. You have completely derailed what could have been a very important and necessary conversation and made it about you. This is pretty much why no one wants to talk about serious issues in derby. It’s impossible to have an adult conversation with all the egos in the room.

  16. Thank you for speaking out. These things are the reason I’m no longer associated with roller derby. It was making me completely miserable.

    1. Amen. This whole conversation is ridiculous, but those involved can’t see it. Guess some things never change.

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