Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How To Care, But Not Too Much

“Y'all, let's just play some derby. And then afterwards, we can all hug!” -Brody Slaughterhouse 

Is winning the most important part of derby? What happens when it becomes the top priority?

Guilty, by the way. Yes, me. Totally, one hundred percent guilty. I am one of those aggressive, full out, smack talkin', ride-or-die roller derby girls that embarrasses her mother. I have thrown my helmet, yelled at refs, growled at my competition. Sometimes, when I lead practice I wear a t-shirt (that I made) that says: “Nut up or Shut Up” (technically, it says “Zut up or Shut up” because I ran out of “N” letters). 

I really, really like to win. Sometimes, I lay awake at night dreaming of what it must have felt like to win the derby world cup. I also wonder how that skater from New Zealand, responsible for the one point they scored against Team America, must have felt (I hope she goes to bed at night knowing she is a hero to all us underdogs). 

Before a bout, I have to actively turn off my bull dog attitude. I have to physically and mentally prepare for a bout by changing who I naturally am. I have to do this, because I am a captain. I also have to do this because my attitude tends to go over the line of “caring” to “caring too much”, and I wasn't a very good teammate to be around when things weren't going our way. 

The words of wisdom at the beginning of this post were brought to you by my teammate Brody Slaughterhouse, spoken when we were losing our fourth bout in a row by over sixty points. Our home team, the Elm St. Nightmares, went from 0/4 to being the team to beat over the course of one season. I am immensely proud of my team, but I take no credit for the change in our dynamic that lead us to our first victory. All the hard work of creating a positive atmosphere on our bench is my teammates doing, as is evidenced by Brody's words. 

I will never not care, that is impossible. But, I no longer play angry, or blame others for a loss, or only enjoy a bout because the score was in our favor. To me, a true athlete is humble, always learning, and doesn't have to yell to express passion*-you can see it by their actions on the track.

Not sure how to go from caring too much to just flat our caring? Here is what I have picked up over the last three years of being teammates with a wide range of women:

  1. If you expect other people to do things the way you would do them, you will constantly be disappointed. (Thank you, Ann What?!)
  2. Learn to lose nobly, or stop playing sports.
  3. Nobody cares that someone elbowed you. Shut up about it.
  4. Playing roller derby mad is a free pass to the penalty box. If you play mad, or hit someone for revenge, you are not playing very well and you look like a jerk.
  5. Keep getting the same penalty? Whose fault is that, really? 
  6. Humble yourself to the rules of the game. You know less than the refs. 
  7. A hit is not personal. You learned this the first day. So, stop taking hits personally.
  8. That girl you are yapping about who backed blocked you? She is your derby sister, possibly even a good friend. Stop talking about your friend. 
  9. Don't be that skater that yells ref calls. Just don't be. 
  10. Women don't thrive on criticism, but we can take it. Know where the line is, and do not cross it.
  11. If you have given a teammate advice, and she did not take it well, stop giving that teammate advice. 
  12. The only person in charge of your actions is yourself. This is an extreme amount of power for one person to have. Use it. 
  13. Stop waiting for help. Grown women know how to help themselves. Help yourself. 
  14. Learn to take a hit like a woman, and learn to hit like a woman. 
  15. GET BACK UP.  

So, these words are simple. So very simple. But for some reason, they took me two and half years to follow. Join me, in my quest to be a better skater and person. Because basically, that is the same thing.

In love and derby,

Miller Lightnin' 

*When people make comments about women athletes and say negative, insulting words about them or call their behavior unsportsmanlike, I think that is sexist. Men are allowed so much room to act like animals when playing sports, so I think the same courtesy should be extended to women. Caring about winning is not limited to the male gender. I also think that people see aggression as negative in women because it goes against gender norms. We are already breaking gender norms playing sports, so when we aren't all cutesy and sweet about it we are only confirming that you can't keep us in a box forever and we really are shifting the paradigm of who is IN CHARGE. So, although I think that there is a line between “caring” and “caring too much”, I think the line is subjective and completely open to interpretation. I also would like to re-iterate that roller derby is one of the best and boldest feminist statements a woman can make. BE LOUD AND PROUD. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Play Like A Girl- A Treatise on Female Athletics

“Look at that, workin’ for free. You gotta admire that.” -Hank Hill

Each camping trip my family took in my youth was planned around the Carolina Tar Heel's basketball team's schedule; or, more accurately, the men's team. My parents drank cheap beer and yelled at the screen, clearly aware of secret plays and the name and background of each pro-ball hopeful. But we never, ever watched women's ball. Or any women's sports for that matter.

I have been to several pro-football games. (Don't get too jealous, they were Carolina Panther games.) I have seen the Charlotte Bobcats, cheered on the Carolina Hurricanes, and I've even yelled from the nose bleed section of a Greensboro Gators game. As a kid, my favorite pastime was going to see the Greensboro Bats. It was the one night when I could run around with a few bucks in my pocket and buy any treat I wanted, as long as I took my little brother. Now, as an adult, my friends and I regularly meet up at Greensboro Grasshoppers games. One of my favorite sporting events ever was a race at Bristol, where I managed to carry in two cases of Budweiser, thus gaining the friendship of every race fan in passing distance. But for all the hundreds of sporting events to which I have borne witness, the only female sporting events I have attended have been my own.

Pat Moss, rally car driver and awesome lady
When I was growing up, I dabbled in soccer. My most clear and vivid childhood moment, the moment that made me know the world was full of surprises, was a movie-worthy state championship that my preppy, undisciplined, 0/10 record of a soccer team won. My team, the Soccer Rockers, got to the state championship by sheer luck. All the games had been rained out and we just happened to win the coin toss that determined who advanced from our region to the finals. This made our team the lowest ranked, by a huge margin, going up against girls who actually wanted to play college soccer. (We were 12 years old, by the way, but some of these girls already knew they were going for soccer scholarships.) On the day of the first game, we all piled into our two coaches vans. Only a few parents came along, as we were sure to lose and the games were out of town. You know the rest. We won the first game, then we tied the second. The reason why we tied the second game was because I scored my first (and only) goal. The third game we played against the highest ranking team in the state. We beat them by one point. By the third game, not only were all of our parents in the audience, all of our teachers were too. And our siblings, neighbors, and classmates. We got to be heroes, Rudys, Rockys... just for that one day. This soccer championship was a turning point in my life. It took an additional 15 years for me to embrace it, but this was the moment I became an athlete.
Lisa Leslie of the WNBA
There is something so honorable and heroic about training and competing in sports. Maybe I feel this way because I am an athlete, and we all crave purpose in our lives. Or maybe I feel this way because it’s one of the only places where people of different skin colors, religions, sexualities, and traditions can play as one; equals on the track, or court, or field. Maybe that childhood victory has stuck with me. (I know it did, and it will forever.) But to become well-versed in a sport, you must discipline yourself and train for years, possibly not even seeing appreciable results from one birthday to the next. You must work with other people, and be told what to do by other people. You must be humble, and loyal, and you must listen to other people's voices and bodies. To be someone's teammate is a bond. Together you work for a common goal, much like the quest in every great fantasy novel. So, why does the world* act like only men accomplish and excel at such a noble feat? Why are even the most feminist of men often blind to how wrongly women athletes are dismissed? When did we decide that being an athlete worth watching means being a man, and that it’s worth a ridiculous (and, I think, dishonorable) amount of money? Why don't you go to female sporting events, or watch them, or support them?

All of this ranting leads me to my final point:

The most honorable of athletes play for the love of the game, not a paycheck. Women athletes may be overlooked by most of the world, and treated as less than by their fellow male athletes, but this only makes us stronger and more noble. Because we truly do it for ourselves.

Venus and Serena, of course
 To all of my fellow female athletes: I salute you. And to my fellow roller derby sisters, see you on the flat track. I look forward to beating you, or losing to you by the sweat of my teeth, like any strong woman would. We, and our fellow women athletes in all different sports, are part of something so much bigger than ourselves. We are paving the way for all the girls that come after us, making the world a place where they to can achieve their dreams, whether their dreams involve sports or something else we’re told women can’t be as good at as men. Being a female athlete is a bold, feminist statement--a platform to set fire to all the injustices in the entire world.

In love and derby (and equality),

Miller Lightnin'

*If you feel as though my point is invalid, please do your research. Compare the number of male Olympic sports versus women's. Then also read the Olympic gender policy (it is horrifying). Look at the “Sports Movie” options on your Netflix queue, or pick up a copy of Sports Illustrated. How many women can you find? (Swimsuit issue doesn’t count and in fact backs up my point.) When you say you are “watching the game”, does it go without saying you are watching a men's game? Does your city have a professional women's baseball team? Compare the salary of a pro softball player to a pro baseball player. Look up Title 9, then go on a college campus and observe how absolutely none of the schools in North Carolina abide by the Civil Rights amendment. None of them. Ask yourself, how much does a pro-football player make? Can you think of anything a woman could do to make that amount of money in sport? How many female race car drivers can you name? Now, how many can you name that are not forced to use their sexuality to get a sponsor? Sigh. If you still think that women and men have equality in sports, I beg you to prove it to me.