The Yankees of Roller Derby Pt. II: New Shit Has Come To Light
I was tipped off to something the other night via an insider, which in the time it took me to properly vet it, had already been broken by Hellarad—handled, of course, with all their trademark eloquence and discretion:
“If you haven’t yet heard, it sounds like the Holy Effing Trinity of Atomatrix, Joy Collision and Hockey Honey are on the “move” again – to the douchiest team in all of roller derby, the Oly Rollers!”
Let me see if I can put this a bit more diplomatically. It would appear that, yes, Olympia Washington’s Oly Rollers—a league well-known for being brash and unapologetically cutthroat —in a bid to give them the best chance at dethroning Gotham and reclaiming their WFTDA champion seat recalled Atomatrix and Hockey Honey. Also joining their already stacked roster—comprised in no small part of Rocky ex-patriots Psycho Babble, DeRanged and Ecko—will be AZRD’s Joy Collision, rounding out quite possibly the most formidable league in the history of the sport (at least on paper) and far and away the most decorated. Naturally, to accomplish this they had to sever ties to AZRD and bench a good many skaters on the Oly side who had stepped up to fill out the roster in the wake of Atom and Honey’s departures. As you can imagine, this has the derby world crying foul.
So I suppose a revisiting of my earlier assessment of Oly is in order. The question I addressed then was whether or not Oly were the Yankees of derby? In light of these recent events I think it would be fair to say so, but is that necessarily a bad thing? I suggest that it is not. Rather, it was inevitable someone would be. It matters little who was the first to assume that role, whether it was Oly, Rose City, Windy City. . . even Gotham themselves. Because you see, there is no other reason to play the sport of derby but to strive to win at all cost. Nobody’s being paid to play and everyone gets hurt eventually, it’s just a matter of when your number comes up. So it’s only natural to want to better your odds of success before you retire or your luck runs out. And sometimes, just sometimes, teams aren’t content to let nature take its course. You have to take matters into your own hands. Manifest destiny. We’ve seen a number of different examples of this played out in the intervening years since The Revival. The thing we can’t lose sight of here is that without player salaries roller derby is a completely level playing field. There are no dynasties or monopolies in this environment. They simply cannot exist in this vacuum.
It’s my view that the only parties who truly have just cause to be indignant here are AZRD and those Oly skaters who were forced to take a reduced role. Frankly, of the two, only AZRD has any legitimate gripe because they were the ones who actually got shortchanged. They are sitting on a 7 seed in the West region which now seems uncertain going into tournament season. You hate to see that kind of thing happen, especially to a success story like AZRD, but it’s an unfortunate consequence of all competitive endeavors. There will come a time when you have to size up your opponent and decide what you’re willing to do to win. There are no almost-winners in sports.
Those Oly skaters who find themselves off the all-star roster must understand there is nothing personal in this and that team success trumps personal success. What Oly does is approach the sport of roller derby in a very clinical, detached way which makes few allowances for emotion or individual motive. They are, for all intents and purposes, the very personification of Nietzsche’s concept of the Will To Power. The model that exists in roller derby is a self-sustaining one in that the only way for teams to make money for travel costs, permits and general overhead is through sponsors and the best way to entice sponsors to spend their money on you is with the sweet smell of success. Few teams in roller derby understand this lesson better than the Oly Rollers and we can see them exercising that year after year as they continue to evolve and change shape. So the question that begs answering here is not “Why have they done this?” We already know the answer to that. The real question is “Why hasn’t anyone else?”
When we spoke Tuesday evening when this first came to my attention, Megatron raised the question “Why roll over on your new league like that?” Why did they not announce their intent well in advance so that Arizona and the other teams rounding out the top ten have a chance of shoring up their rosters? I think the main sticking point for people here—as I roundly reject the argument that satellite players and super-teams are no fun to watch as being wholly subjective and totally irrelevant to the conversation—seems to be the timing of the departures. I ask you to consider this for a moment: If you’re a team in a tough region—nay, any region—why would you do your competition any favors? It’s not good strategy to take unnecessary risks, especially when you’re rolling the dice with your playoff aspirations. Of course, the old bugaboo of “sportsmanship” has interjected its presumptuous presence into the conversation and while on its face this move is fundamentally the same as LeBron James leaving the Cavs for greener pastures, it’s still different in one very important factor: without the promise of personal monetary gain, the people who play roller derby engage in it for an entirely different set of motives. We hear so often how many ways roller derby is not like any other sport and yet at the end of the day everyone still uses the same convenient analogies to describe it. It’s not Oly’s perceived unsportsmanlike conduct which needs to change, but instead your definition of what sportsmanship is that must be adjusted to fit the circumstances.
What this really all boils down to is the WFTDA’s somewhat baffling invitation process which determines who makes the post season based on the results of a majority consensus vote. It’s not the most efficient, or even accurate, means of deciding a team’s post season hopes, putting the vote in the hands of your peers who are also your competitors. Yup, absolutely no conflict of interest there. In fact, if this gamble pays off it will almost be fostered and encouraged under the current system. I’ve maintained that the WFTDA is a little too democratic for its own good but the governance structure is set up in such a way that its “rule by committee” style not only renders even the smallest issues complicated but is also virtually resistant to institute a more traditional model of administration, which I believe would eliminate a good many of these types of conflicts.
Over the course of their history the Oly Rollers have been accused of a lot worse, let’s be honest. Transfergate, as it has colloquially become known—while certainly shrewd by most people’s standards—is completely above-board, and contrary to what some might have you believe, that they devalue the spirit of competition, they are reflective of competition. There’s been no small amount of ink spilled on the subject of rule exploitation with an emphasis on what people are not doing. Heaven forbid someone seizes the opportunity to do something in the vein of actually making things happen. This isn’t a loophole that is easy to close. In fact it’s not even a loophole at all, in the technical sense. It’s a circumstance born out of a lack of attention created by the rapidly expanding nature of modern roller derby, and any attempt to create a “fix” for this is going to make the rulebook look that much more lopsided and unwieldy.
Point of fact, if this were any other sport this “controversy” would barely raise a ripple. It’s merely standard operating procedure for a sports franchise in the hunt for post-season glory (or if you’re less fortunate, improving your position for the next season). However, roller derby’s landscape is populated by the haves and the have-nots and the only thing that distinguishes one from the other is who is enterprising, motivated, and competitive and has the ruthlessness to pull the trigger when opportunity presents itself. It is a far better ideal to celebrate ambition rather than placate the meek by handicapping the competition. You might think that by admonishing what was done here—or seeking rule changes or direct sanction of the perpetrators—you’re only punishing the guilty parties, but what you’re really doing is punishing the sport itself by imposing a stagnating environment which gratifies mediocrity. That by reinforcing the status quo you are, in effect, ensuring that roller derby dies of its own inertia. I don’t happen to believe this is the standard we should be striving to set.