My interview provided me with the opportunity to discuss roller derby with a woman who has been playing for four years. We discussed various aspects of the game and touched upon what sparked her interest in the sport and her progression through it in her four years of participation. This was to help me build an understanding of the sport while discovering her motivation for playing. Moreover, I sought to understand what continues to draw her and other women out to play as well. I wanted to gain insight into the feelings and thought process surrounding roller derby so I could later analyze the information and seek links with new social movement theory. What stood out from the interview was the participants acknowledgement of identity and the alternative nature of the sport. The participant pointed out that being able to choose an alternative identity is something that draws women to the sport. For instance, they are able to choose a unique name and style of uniform, pointing to a non-conformist nature within roller derby. The ability to transform into a derby girl is meaningful as women from a cross-section of socio-economic and educational backgrounds can play. According to the interviewee, they can shed their day identity to become a roller derby queen by night. This is both a means of empowerment and freedom of choice and seems to be a defining characteristic of roller derby culture.
A further important aspect that stood out from the interview data was the system of support that the roller derby team provided the interviewee. For this participant, the team became a female support system during a tumultuous time in her life. Although unexpected, this seems to be a unique aspect of the game as relationships extend outside of the realm of roller derby.
In terms of culture, the participant alluded to the idea that roller derby is something innate within a person. She indicated that there is something within people that makes them want to participate in an aggressive, female only sport like roller derby. She highlighted the fact that roller derby is not for everyone, both to participate in and watch. This raises questions in terms of a movement that is not created but is natural. Thus, perhaps roller derby stems from an innate sense of culture within certain women.
Finally, an interesting element within the interview was the participants belief that roller derby would become a mainstream Olympic sport. As an activity that has resisted corporate sponsorship and has maintained a do-it-yourself ethos, this is an interesting suggestion. Moreover, roller derby has been characterized by individualism and uniqueness within a team setting. This raises the question of whether roller derby becoming an Olympic sport will change the way the game and the whole international movement is shaped. Considering the information gathered through this interview process, I will examine the possibilities of drawing connections with further survey and observation data collected.
The survey data revealed that the women ranged in age from 23 to 42 years of age with a median age of 32. The group lacked racial diversity as thirteen of the fifteen identified as Caucasian and two did not respond. The group varied in socio-economic status however a majority of those surveyed had middle management positions. In addition, the women varied in terms of education with one not finishing high school, eight with college diplomas, three with a bachelors degree, one masters, one PhD candidate and one accredited PhD. All the participants surveyed identified as the female gender and of those that participated, five had children. Five of the women were married, seven were single, one engaged, one partnership and one separated. In addition, thirteen had piercings and ten had tattoos.
Of the fifteen women surveyed, when asked about what motivated interest in the sport many cited the athletic challenges within a new sporting paradigm. Others made reference to seeing roller derby in the media when they were younger, while others had friends who played who encouraged them to join.
When asked how the women chose their roller derby names, the data provided highlighted several different responses. A common theme in several answers was the need for something fierce and tough. Other participants however, chose names based on parodies, nicknames or favourite bands. One respondent chose her name for a cousin who was affected by cystic fibrosis.
When questioned about the correlation between roller derby and gender, five respondents said roller derby did not affect their gender in any way. Four participants highlighted how roller derby is empowering for them although did not elaborate on how it empowered them. One of these women did, however, refer to the increase in self-confidence as a result of feeling empowered after participating in roller derby. Two of the women discussed how they are often stereotyped as being a lesbian and wanted to challenge this assumption.
One participant gave a very thorough answer addressing how the sport was initially marketed as “Hot Girls Hitting Other Hot Girls in Fishnets”. She stressed the recent shift away from advertising roller derby as an entertainment event to a focus on derby as a sporting event. This was a means to become a more positive role model to those who attend bouts. Particularly, she stated that there are many young girls who look up to them, often seeking autographs after bouts. Thus, this respondent said that in a society that is highly sexualized and focused on body image it was important to develop a sport that represented all women, regardless of size or shape.
When questioned about how roller derby affects the players outside of the sport, many responded with feelings of increased confidence, physical fitness and energy. One respondent discussed the increased sociability with other women who play derby. Another stated derby was a means to deal with regular life stress. Of the women who completed the survey, eight did not participate in outside community organizations. The remaining six were active in other sports teams, community groups for their children and volunteer organizations.
Observation provided an important element in this preliminary research project in terms of contexualizing the study population. The roller derby bout was held at the Western Fair Agriplex, located in the East end of London, Ontario. Various entertainment complexes, like a hockey arena and Casino, surround this area. Moreover, this part of London is often characterized as a lower socio-economic and high crime area of the city. The bout was held in an open warehouse with nine sets of bleachers surrounding a circular flat track. Both teams had separate benches with an announcer and scoreboard located at the corner of the track on the same side as the two teams.
At the inside entrance of the Agriplex several vendors were set up selling roller derby merchandise. The women who ran these vendors seemed to be involved in the roller derby bout taking place. A variety of items were sold including funky leggings, purses, baby onesies and candy. There was also a vendor set up supporting the Make-A-Wish foundation through monetary donations.
The demographics of the crowd revealed that most people who attend the bouts tend to come in groups, potentially family units or friends. There were approximately 50 children in attendance who looked to be age 12 and under. Almost one hundred per cent of the crowd appeared to be Caucasian from approximately age 25 to 60+. A majority of the spectators were dressed in casual attire, for example jeans and t-shirts. In addition, several had signs to show support for a specific player, for example, one sign read “Sad Panda will make you cry”.
At the beginning of the bout, each team took it in turn to circle the track while the announcer shouted each player’s derby name. During the bout, the interaction between the players appeared to be encouraging and supportive. The players on the bench shouted reassurance and advice to their teammates on the track. Moreover, several showed support through gestures and contact, for example high-fives and touching hands or the lower back of a teammate. As each bout finished, both teams would circle the track and shake hands with both the opposing team and audience members who came down to participate in this end of game activity.
The uniforms of all three teams varied as each had unique colours and logos. Many women wore fishnets and knee high socks. The creative element of the sport allowed the women to choose between sleeveless tops or regular t-shirts. Some wore shorts while others had skirts. Moreover, many of the players decorated their helmets while several others donned face paint. In addition, many of the women had visible tattoos.
 These are stereotypes that affect the East end of London and I did not collect data to verify whether they are sound or not.
 Sad Panda is the derby name of one of the players in the Forest City Derby Girl league