Sunday, April 28, 2013

I Am Woman, See Me Skate

As I was writing the previous post, I thought of how it doesn't take much to get a man to a sporting event except if it was a women's league. After typing that, I quickly stopped and thought to myself: Women's MMA is pretty huge, and there's another sport that's actually holding it's own on the underground scene...Roller Derby. And I was like, "Duuuuuude, that's such a fun idea." I absolutely love getting those strokes of genius.

You can do a decent amount of things on skates: "dance," play hockey, do stupid stunts, and deliver food/beverages. You can also do one last thing on roller skates: pretend you're a raging bull. That, or pretend you're in the Ben-Hur chariot race. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what the sport of roller derby is all about. I was first introduced to this hellacious sport one night while watching ESPN Classic and seeing grainy 1970's footage of women literally killing each other while skating around a track. This footage HERE looks incredibly fake and hokey-looking, but it's completely real and hard-hitting.

While it isn't as mainstream as other sports, it has certainly kept its following since those days of shag carpeting. This following is so big that it is under consideration for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games. I could not make this up. We may not have Olympic wrestling, but we could have this. I digress. The sport is rather popular in countries such as Australia, Germany and Sweden, while there is an existing league in which the United States participates along with these other countries. You read that right--you have the ability to look up this league in your own time and make this your next guilty pleasure.

They're cute, aren't they?
When I hear the term "roller derby," I think of three things: women, death, and destruction. Today, as opposed to what you may have seen in the video above, teams look much more themed beyond colors. Some of the team photos I have seen on the Internet have actually reminded me of what you would see in the film Dodgeball. Plus, there also looks like there's a lot more sportsmanship involved. Gee, I would sure hope so with that.

For those who have heard about what Roller Derby is but have no idea how the game is played, here's a Reader's Digest of the basics:

It is an incredibly strategic game where the women on each team have to work together to rack up points and manage time to defeat the opposition. If you see the women above, they have different designs on their helmet, which determines their role in the current game. There is the scoring pawn (or the "jammer" ...yeah) which is the main lady who must lap the opposition to score a point. However, the other team has blockers to prevent this, as well as aid their own jammer to lap the opposition. Each team has a time limit to when each "jam" begins and ends. If you thought you were confused at first, let me throw the idea of penalties in here too. When an infraction is caused during a jam, the accused player will be sent to the penalty box. When said player is a jammer, this team will be unable to score for a time. To keep up with these motions takes a lot of focus and concentration.

Because of the types of strategies and the physical strikes against the opponent, this sport looks completely staged. After watching wrestling for almost my whole life, I could see why. I'm not sure if you realize this--and girls, you can support me on this--but...we're catty, catty people. Women will shove, women will elbow, and women will kick. The fact that all of this is done on skates makes it much more physical and much more--can't believe I'm saying this--fascinating to watch. It's entertaining watching women skate around and throw themselves at each other like human wrecking balls.

As I was watching footage on YouTube, I noticed a huge thing that you might not see incredibly often in other sports. I had seen a lot of physical teamwork in the sense of doing slingshots and the cliched "use my body as a shield" and these nifty-looking evasions in order to score during a jam. While other sports use that kind of teamwork in their own ways (i.e. tricks and passes and team substitution), this stuff may be practiced beforehand and done completely on the fly. During a jam, you have to be able to be in sync with your teammates and be able to think of a good strategy while not giving yourself away completely. There really is no "I" in team--not in this sport. It's fast-paced warfare on roller skates. It may not be the cleanest-looking of sports, but you have to be strong and skilled to get the job done.

In my last post, I had noted that American football had appeal for being physically brutal at times. This is definitely a huge selling point in roller derby. When a woman goes flying to the edge of the track, you can't help but cheer. It might be at the expense of seeing someone get clobbered, but there's an excitement as to what it will take for someone to completely knock someone off-course and keep them from gaining any more momentum. Violence sells, and this certainly has it. While the women may have respect for each other on the track, all is fair in love and war...until you have to go to the penalty box, that is.

For not knowing much about the sport of roller derby until now, I am really fascinated by it. It has started as a statement in the lifelong battle of the sexes into something that is very entertaining and very therapeutic for women who are trying to find their footing in life. For the girls who might not enjoy the life of soccer or basketball or cheerleading, there is this, and this could make them feel more comfortable with who they are. Not everything is sunshine and rainbows, and the high-octane play of roller derby is proof of this. One thing is for certain, the women may be cute, but they can certainly be deadly.

Although I'm not a huge fan of its consideration to be an Olympic sport, and that I highly doubt that it will be included anyway due to the way the IOC sees women's sports to begin with (they cut softball and almost cut field hockey, for goodness' sake), it should be seen as something more serious by other sports groups. It may be too violent for the average viewer--kids might not be able to handle this stuff--but it's exciting to watch, and every game tells a pretty good story of wit, athleticism, and mental skill. I approve of it.

But WAIT, there's more!!
A men's league exists. You read that right too. And you thought I was just going to talk about a sport entirely involving women. C'mon, guys play softball too. You had to have expected this. While it isn't as expansive as the worldwide women's league, it certainly exists and is becoming more popular within the roller derby circles. It has been around almost as long as the more well-known women's derby, but truthfully, it looks a bit awkward. Here's some old men's roller derby for your viewing pleasure.

I would try this if I could. I think I would be awesome at it.