Written by Kevin Dennison
Albeism, for those who may be unfamiliar with the term, is discrimination against people with disabilities. This discrimination can take many forms including denial of accessibility to services, housing, jobs or participation in recreation, denial of inclusion, disparaging remarks, etc. Be it done “off the cuff” or not, ableism is NOT okay.
Members of my own family, as well as good friends, have struggled with various disabilities throughout their life. All of them are strong people who do not allow this aspect of themselves to negatively affect them or keep them from their goals. However, ableism does happen and in those instances the affects of those discriminatory actions, especially when they are institutionalized, have absolutely affected their well being. As such, I cannot remain quiet about what has transpired under the watch of the New Zealand Roller Derby Association (NZRDA).
Any attempt to minimize, or defend ableism, or any kind of discrimination is, in my opinion, unacceptable. That is what the NZRDA has done with their recent statement about allegations of discrimination toward Marcia Taylor, aka Meat Train, from Team New Zealand Roller Derby’s Head Coach, Stacey Roper, aka Pieces of Hate. In their statement, the NZRDA does not ever directly address Stacey Roper’s discriminatory statements, instead opting to completely ignore her ableist remarks in favor of defending and justifying her role as Head Coach. In fact, not only does the NZRDA ignore Roper’s discriminatory remarks and actions in their statement, they also do not reprimand her for it; and THAT says more about the NZRDA than anything else. They have chosen to defend one coach over protecting the well being of their skaters and the international image of their team. This is reflected through their statement itself when they say of Roper’s roster selection process: “…we support her decision. In concluding we found that standing down Hate at this pivotal stage would be detrimental to the final 20 squad. Hate was voted into this position from the New Zealand Roller Derby Community. Therefore she deserves respect in terms of her commitment and dedication to an unpaid NZ Head Coach position.”
In response to all of this, a member of the New Zealand roller derby community has begun a petition calling for the immediate dismissal of Stacey Roper as Head Coach of Team NZ on change.org. As of today at 12:55 PM (CST), the petition has so far received 120 signatures.
Have I signed the petition? Absolutely. It’s 2014 and if there is one thing that has become abundantly clear throughout athletics across the world, it’s that people are no longer going to accept these sort of issues. In 2013, Donald Sterling was fined and banned for life from the NBA after recordings were released of him making a number of very offensive comments about people of color. Also in 2013, Rob Parker was fired from ESPN for his racist and prejudiced remarks toward a number of athletes. Some google searching will show you countless other instances of individuals in various roles for different sporting organizations who have been suspended, fined or fired for discriminatory and/or prejudiced behaviors.
Am I saying that Roper should be fined and banned from derby for life? No, that’s not what I’m saying. However, I do feel she should be “fired”, that Team NZ deserves a coach who doesn’t make those involved feel that they have been disparaged and that Marcia Taylor deserves a real, sincere, public apology from the NZRDA. I strongly feel that a message NEEDS to be sent that there are consequences to discrimination of any kind and at this juncture the NZRDA are the ones who need to do it. Be it racism, sexism, homphobia, transphobia, whatever, these behaviors and practices are not acceptable and not welcome in ANY sporting environment, roller derby included.
Like with any other sporting organization, I believe that the NZRDA has a responsibility to protect and support their membership, to foster the growth of a cohesive community, to keep an open and transparent line of communication and to lead by positive example. So far, they have stumbled and struggled on all of these fronts in regards to the handling of this situation, which has undoubtedly created an extremely tense environment within the New Zealand roller derby community. That’s not to say that I think the NZRDA are completely beyond redemption, however, the longer they remain silent and the longer they take to openly address the public discourse, the more irreparable the damage will become.
In the end I, unfortunately, don’t think that the NZRDA is going to dismiss Roper. Their actions thus far show that they are very keen on keeping Roper in her role as Head Coach of Team New Zealand Roller Derby, and there is a very real probability that she will remain Head Coach through to the World Cup. The NZRDA’s actions of deleting everyone’s comments on their social media pages, moving their defensive statement of Roper and the selection process over to their official page where people can only “like” or “share” it, and their general silence on all social media platforms give the impression that they are just ducking their heads, closing their eyes and hoping all of this will just blow over.
I’d love for them to prove me wrong, though.
Of course, I also feel it is important to say that the skaters themselves on Team New Zealand deserve to be treated with respect at the World Cup regardless of whether or not they show up with Roper. The athletes are NOT the ones to be punished or berated here. I can only imagine the sacrifices they have made in pouring their hearts and souls into preparing for the tournament. Good luck at Blood & Thunder, all!