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July 04, 2013

Roller Derby Isn’t Just for Ladies Anymore


Roller derby might be one of the only sports dominated by women to the point where almost all its athletes are female. (We don’t really count figure skating as a sport.) But derby is now opening up.

Yahoo ran a video today highlighting the appearance of several men’s leagues for roller derby throughout Canada. Toronto has a men’s roller derby league, and the Men’s Roller Derby Association says there are other leagues in places as varied as Phoenix, Montreal and London, England. Australia has mixed-gender teams.

Based on the interviews in the Yahoo clip, it sounds like the guys are into roller derby (they call it merby) for the same reason it appeals to women: it’s a supportive community, it attracts a diverse group of people with a variety of skill levels and it’s a ton of fun. Pretty easy to see the appeal of that, especially for guys who may be turned off by the competitiveness of some team sports or the individual focus of other fitness trends like CrossFit.

But some worry that the entrance of men into a sport that has been so powerful for so many women could cause problems. There’s the issue of bouts between men and women — would women be at a disadvantage on mixed teams, playing with men who will usually be larger than them?

One blogger pointed out that men have been a big part of derby for some time, as announcers and coaches, and interviewed derby league ref Bear Grylled on the issue:

As roller derby’s popularity sweeps the world and more people get snared into its net, it’s only natural that women and men, boys and girls will grow up with it, grow into it, grow out of it, but mostly equally participate in it as individuals and as a family. I like the idea that the worldwide derby family welcomes everyone no matter what their gender or ability is, and families can participate in the sport together.

He makes a good point: if derby is appealing in part because it’s so welcoming to so many different people, shouldn’t men be included too? Personally, I think it’s exciting that a sport so strongly associated with women holds appeal to some men, and the idea of mixed derby teams is pretty cool. But I also don’t play derby, so I don’t know much about the logistics of having men and women play together, or about how having male players will affect derby culture.

What’s your take — do merby players hurt or help roller derby as a sport?