I was in Denver to see the roller derby championships. It was the first time I had ever seen the sport played and was blown away. Roller derby is hard to describe if you’ve never seen it, but basically just try to picture a group of feisty female athletes, many of them in hot pants, long socks, and with tattoos, racing around a rink on roller skates. Then picture limbs flying and bodies crashing to the ground as they ram each other over with their hips and bums. Here’s a link with some highlights from a game last year that gives you an idea: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTu8WFAgNfE&feature=related
Two teams of five play against each other. Unlike most games, they play offense and defense at the same time. Each one has a fastest player called a “jammer.” It’s the jammer’s job to get around the rink as quickly as possible. Every time they pass a player from the opposing team, called a “blocker,” they earn a point — but those four “blockers” use all sorts of clever and nasty tactics to prevent them.
Roller Derby was invented by an American called Leo Seltzer back in the 1930s. I met his son Jerry in Denver and he told me a bit about the sport. He said it started as just a race on roller skates. But at a certain point the slower skaters got fed up of being passed by the faster ones and started blocking their path. That’s when it became a contact sport. I love whoever started doing that, a real bully tactic. Roller Derby used to be huge in America, with celebrity players, aired on television, the whole works. But it peaked in the 1960s and by the end of the ‘70s had fizzled out. Then, 10 years ago, a group of women in Austin made some changes to the game and started it up again, turning it from a sport for both men and women to one mainly for women. Since then it has started ballooning – they say it’s one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S.
The championship game was great and slightly nuts. During races, there was noisy dance music pumping, which made the game feel a bit more like a party than a competitive sport. Then there’s the fans, majority-female, dressed in the same kind of garb that a lot of the players wear — hot pants and long socks — shouting out team slogans like, for the Texas team, “KILL KILL KILL.” The players, with derby names such as “Suzy Hotrod” and “Miss American Thighs,” break out dance moves during play and I even saw two girls from opposing teams give each other a hug during one bout.
Later, we went to the after party at a huge bar in Denver and the roller derby women just completely dominated the place: breaking out robust moves on the dance floor, knocking back the tequilas, laughing, shouting, and whooping their way through the night. One woman got down to her bra and underwear for the evening.
If this is what happens when women create a sport all for themselves, I’m all for it.