“I glanced around for a face of familiarity, a universal head nod to ease my nerves a bit and no one that looked like me was there.”
Growing up in the inner city of Detroit blessed me with skate lessons courtesy of my preschool program and $1.00 summer skate jams during summer break. After a fifteen year hiatus of being on skates routinely, here I was, sitting curbside at Great Skate Roller Rink in Arizona. It was 2009, a nice spring day I amongst ladies in Mohawks, heavily tattooed, and ripped fishnets ready to try out for banked track roller derby. I remember chuckling on the inside at the thought of my naivety thinking I am extremely out of place.
I didn’t research modern-day roller derby at all. When I overheard my colleague mention roller derby auditions, my mind automatically went to the televised matches in the 1970’s where the sport mimicked wrestling on skates. Combined with the nostalgia of my childhood love of skating I wanted to be involved. The thought of being able to legally knock people down while doing the activity that was a part of my entire adolescence, combined with the workout benefits, overjoyed me. I glanced around for a face of familiarity, a universal head nod to ease my nerves a bit and no one that looked like me was there.
I was handed a number six and asked to take a photo with it. I instantly thought it was a good omen being that my nickname is Sixx. Without time to have a second thought, candidates 1-10 had to suit up and enter the rink. The tryouts began. Out of the 100 people auditioning, I was 1 out of 25 in the new Fresh Meat Class for 1 of the seven banked track roller derby teams in the world. A guy mentions to me that if I officially get drafted to a team and skate, I would become the first African American banked track player in Arizona. Known for the cleaver pseudonyms that skaters play under, I casually deliberate if my name should be ‘Rosa Parks’ or ‘Rosa Sparks.’ I call my friends to spread the good news, and I was formally introduced to the world of doing “White People Ish.”
Did you know?
Darelene Anderson broke the color barrier for Roller Derby in 1958. Other notable African American players: Blaque Jac, Death by Chocolate, Rollomite, Beyonslay, Quadzilla and Mercy are some notable African American players. If you wish to see a black player, you can book your game tickets for a team of a major city. Minor city teams are less likely to have minority players due to the lower percentage population in such areas
Roller derby is an adrenaline-fueled, full contact sport played on quad roller skates. A team consists of 14 players comprised with strategic teamwork, physical and mental agility. Each game (bout) is 60-minutes of play divided into four, 15-minute quarters with a halftime. During a bout, each team designates a lineup of five players. There is a single point scoring skater (“jammer”) whose objective is to lap as many opposing skaters as they can. Points are scored after the jammer makes it through the pack the initial pass and laps members of the opposing team. The remaining skaters on both team (“blockers”) work offensively to aide their jammer by clearing a path by impeding or stopping the opposing Jammer from scoring points. Players use body contact, commands, positioning and other strategies to get points. There are illegal blocks and play violations the referees call penalties on requiring violators to serve time in the penalty box. The scoring mini matchups are intense as they are timed at one minute.
Emerging back into the spotlight in the past 20 years, Roller Derby is considered the fastest growing sport in the world. Returning as a true sport of athleticism and authenticity, the over the top showmanship and staged theatrics are a thing of the past. Bouts are real. The hits, falls, frills and breaks are real. The passion and bravado in this adrenaline pumped sport with players that tough-as-nails on the track and compassionate teachers, assertive lawyers and business professionals by day is empowering. Not only is it an amazing form of entertainment, but it’s also women empowerment with tenacity, it’s physical strength and resilience with sex appeal, it’s beauty and sisterhood. It’s a place where lifelong friendships are forged. Roller Derby is inclusive- the sport provides an open door for all races, religion, socioeconomic backgrounds, height, sexual orientation, age or weight.
Support your local Roller Derby League
According to World Roller Derby Map, there are nearly 2000 roller derby leagues spread across 53 countries, and 100,000 women play the sport regularly, as do many men. The United States, the birthplace of roller derby, has the most roller derby leagues; its biggest roller derby state is Wyoming, with 24 leagues per million people, followed by Alaska (20.3 leagues per million people), North Dakota (10.8 leagues per million people), and Vermont (9.6 leagues per million people). Texas, where the modern sport originated, and California, which was one of the first states to import it, twenty-ninth and thirtieth, with 2.5 and 2.3 leagues per million people respectively.
However, the United States is not where roller derby is most popular. There are 848 leagues for its population of 322 million or 2.6 leagues per million people. But New Zealand has 29 roller derby leagues for its population of fewer than 5 million— 6.3 leagues for every million people. By this measure, roller derby is more popular in New Zealand than in any other nation in the world, followed by Australia (4.9 leagues per million people), and Canada (4.6 leagues per million people.) The U.S. comes seventh behind Finland, Iceland, and Sweden and many other countries play too.
Roller Derby has a long list of remarkable teams. However, in scrolling league rosters there’s no secret that there are very few players of color. It’s sad, but it’s true. Roller skating is not a hobby exclusive for Europeans, how did the sport become dominated by white women? The barrier of racism was broken down in the field of sports by legends such as Jackie Robinson pioneering racial equality in the world of baseball. This was done 12 years before any civil rights activist sat down to win rights for people of color.
Roller Derby is anything but racist. In fact, it was the only sport that allowed women to become athletes for a long period of time. There are no restrictions for anyone even if they suffer from certain disabilities. There’s always the question of where is the African American representation in the leagues globally? It isn’t the game that restricts black people from joining the team. Instead, there are a few other reasons. One of the main reasons why you won’t find a lot of Black people on a Roller Derby team is due to the marketing. People can only take part in an opportunity if they know it exists for them. The poor marketing to minorities keeps a lot of minorities from taking a chance in the sport due to the lack of exposure.
Also, Economic barriers are real. As a pay to play sport, roller derby requires a financial investment right from the start. Gear, equipment and league dues make it hard for some minorities to play. Black Roller Girls and Shades of Skate provide safe online spaces to promote and connect roller derby and quad skaters of color. Quite a few recruits or players often struggle with identity and try to create a safe space for themselves making it a lonely sport; their time is short lived. To promote multiculturalism, it would be advantageous to widen the audience in an attempt to reflect the communities in which we live, skate corporations seek minorities to become sponsored skaters, and most importantly if you are interested in playing roller derby-DO IT!