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Roller Derby Is Inclusive...Except When It's Not

I love roller derby. Getting involved in this amazing community has truly been a life-changer for me. I just have so much love for this incredible sport. Yet there is something that I need to say about roller derby which is something that I could do without and hope to change; for a sport that prides itself on its inclusivity and openness, we still use some language that is exclusive and even hurtful for some folks. The good news is that they have some simple fixes that require a minimal amount of commitment.

Bloxie taking action on the track.

Photo credit by Richard Lafortune.

The first example is the signage for the trackside seating a mere 10 feet from the action – close enough that you may even become part of it if a player is smashed off the track and slides into the audience. This seating area is sometimes referred to as ‘suicide seating’, suggesting that if you choose to sit in close proximity to the action, you must have some sort of death-wish. I am certain that this was only meant to be a serious-but-playful warning, reminding the audience that the hits are real and intense, so look out if you want to get close. Yet it suggests it’s ok to use suicide as a part of a cute joke or mislabels it as some sort of risk-taking behaviour. But suicide is real, it is serious, and it affects many people in our community. It upsets people to see it used and if we can avoid that by using other words (simply, trackside seating or perhaps even the “splash zone”), why wouldn’t we?

The other more prolific example that I hear more often is ‘fresh meat’, used to describe those who are just starting the sport. We have ‘fresh meat’ practices, ‘fresh meat’ training, you can purchase your ‘fresh meat’ gear package, and so on. When anyone asks about how to get started, I cringe when I describe that skaters start by attending our ‘fresh meat’ program before they are ready to skate on a team. Why? Because it sounds a whole lot like hazing. Now, I can assure you that nothing we do is actually hazing – we take care of our new skaters by ensuring they are safe, feel welcome, and understand the sport. We follow standardized training programs to ensure they learn everything they need to know safely and effectively. We don’t force them to do anything they aren’t comfortable with, we don’t belittle or humiliate them, we don’t make them wear anything other than the required safety gear – I know it’s not hazing, but would others outside the sport? ‘Fresh meat’ makes us sound sketchy. Thankfully, there is another easy solution: call them ‘new skaters’. That’s it. We already use ‘seasoned skater’ to refer to folks who have passed their minimum skill requirements, so those just starting can be ‘new skaters’. Attend the ‘new skater’ info sessions, ‘new skater’ training, and buy a ‘new skater’ gear package. Simple. But also inclusive, which is exactly what we want this sport to be.

I encourage you to make these simple changes in your league or in your vocabulary to ensure everyone feels welcome and included as that’s how we make roller derby grow. Because I love roller derby and I want everyone else to love it too!

Bloxie Hart is a ‘seasoned skater’, trainer and coach with Anchor City Rollers. In her non-derby life, she trains folks on suicide-intervention skills, educates university students on hazing (ie: how not to do it), and studies language/discourse and its effects on communities.

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