I’ve been watching the events around the Men’s Roller Derby Association World Cup unfold this last week thoughtfully and patiently weighing my feelings and wondering if they were even worth sharing. I have a lot of mixed bag feelings and writing seems to be the easiest way to soothe these feelings so I figure, why the hell not?
For those that aren’t familiar with the story, some skaters and a coach made a rather poor decision in the final game of the MRDWC last week. It has created more than a gentle stirring of the pot. I think a lot of that has to do with how quickly social media allows us to express our emotions and feelings and how something seemingly small at the moment can quickly ignite riotous feelings, especially when the seemingly small thing, in this case writing the number of a teammate on a leg or arm, can create a whirlwind of socially charged feedback.
The teammate in question had removed themselves from play amidst allegations of sexual misconduct, so writing their number in a show of support was a pretty stupid move. I’m not saying these folks can’t support their friend. I am saying that in a public setting, representing Team USA on a global stage, you don’t verbally, visually or in any other way, support someone who is accused of sexual misconduct. You just don’t. It was a dick move. End of story there.
Rightfully so, many of those who have been victims of sexual abuse, rape, or harassment, feel incredibly hurt and in some cases, re-victimized. It has created a public outcry the likes of which I have yet to see in derby. Hopefully something good comes out of it.
Now, I’m glossing over just what a shit show this has all been. Apologies are trickling out. Statements are being made. Sponsorships and reputations have been lost. Teams are boycotting playing with these skaters. Some really deep lines in the sand are being drawn. I don’t have a “side” in this fight. If you want my personal story, please reach out, I’m happy to share with you. If you decide to make a judgment about me and who I must be after reading my words without ever really knowing me, well, that is where we have landed in the days of social media and 140 character bios. We all think we know what’s going on behind the keyboard based on a few choice words and images. That’s a discussion for another day. Without further ado…
To the Skaters of MRDA,
I’m watching you. I have worked with you and have seen very sincere efforts on your part to curb what has been termed “toxic masculinity”. I am grateful for you and all your efforts to do so. I hope you continue to do so. I believe in the power of all of us to do good, better, to be our best. Keep calling yourselves out. Keep calling out your teammates. Keep being funny, polite, intense athletes. Keep your heads high, keep changing and growing. I see and value your efforts. I believe in rewarding the behavior I want to see. I’ll continue to let you know when you are doing awesome and when you are failing miserably. Those of you who chose to wear that particular number on a part of yourselves at World Cup, that is a perfect example of failing miserably. You wanted to support your friend, there were better, less harmful ways to do so. You showed incredibly poor judgment. You hurt people. Own up to it quickly please.
To the teammates who saw this (or any other shitty move) happening and didn’t know how or chose not to speak out against it, please do better next time. If you need help being strong or finding a voice, let your allies around the world help you. You aren’t alone and I recognize that some of you may be just as intensely bullied by these handful of dickwads as the rest of the world currently feels. I see you. You aren’t alone. We can make change happen together.
To the those of you who have made mistakes and sincerely want to change; let’s chat. My internet door is always open. I’m happy to tell you what I see working and what is just more of the same shit, different day. If you make a mistake, own that mistake and seek forgiveness, you’ll get it from me nine times out of ten. Every single one of us has done something we regret or said something we wish we could take back. I see you and I see you working for forgiveness.
Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean you get to keep derby. I’m not sorry about that. If you have crossed a line that cannot be uncrossed, forgiveness, while possible, does not mean you get to have continued access to a potentially vulnerable population. It is time to move on. It is the job of this community to keep each other safe, and sometimes, even when we don’t want to, it means we have to see someone we once liked or respected to the door. Thank you for going quietly. To those of us demanding someone exit, please, please be sure that what you’re asking for is reasonable. I am not suggesting we let predators have free reign, I am simply asking us all to give those who make offense* a chance to learn and change. If they do not, the door is that way.
Now that I’ve said that little bit, a few more thoughts. I’ve seen calls to quit working men’s derby. I just won’t. I will not punish an entire organization because a handful of people are shitheads. I will call out, reprimand, demand change, compliment good behavior, and encourage growth and I will do so with every fiber of my being. I will continue to ref MRDA games. I will continue to work to keep my crews safe and to keep the skaters on the track safe. I will do this even if it means I have to remove my services from certain venues, certain teams, certain skaters. I will not punish an entire group because of the actions of a few but I will not support those who aren’t making efforts to get their houses cleaned. My decision to continue supporting Men’s Roller Derby does not mean I don’t empathize with the victims. It does not mean I condone the actions of the few who’ve dicked things up for the many. You don’t have to like it, but I hope we can talk about why I believe that rewarding the positive changes and behaviors will lead to quicker and more lasting changes than constantly throwing the baby out with the bathwater or slamming outreached hands in doors.
Let’s do better. All of us. We can, I know it.
* please believe that I am not talking about sexual assault when I say “offense”. I’ve just seen too many people to quickly offended by the smallest off-color remark. How will anyone learn or grow if we simply boot them to the curb every time they make a reparable mistake?