Women's History Month

Why roller derby has become a beacon for female empowerment

Roller derby is a sport dominated by women, while men create many of the rules in much of the sporting universe.

Members of the Dominion Derby Girls roller derby team
Scripps News
SMS

One of the sports that benefited most from the pandemic was roller skating.

Retailers like Moxi reported seeing profits rise as much as 1000%, with people having to wait on back orders for as long as three months, as people looked to get outside.

One of the side effects were more people finding interest in the sport of roller derby.

"People are like 'you're always so happy' and I'm like 'I'm probably always so happy and smiling because I get to come and hit people multiple times a week,'" said Khristal Nathaniel, a skater for the Dominion Derby Girls in Virginia Beach.

At its core, roller derby is a contact sport on skates for points. Founded in the 1930's but popularized in the 50's, it pits two teams of five skaters against each other. Each team has a "jammer" that wears a helmet with a star on it. Their goal is to pass the blockers on the other team. For each blocker the jammer passes, that skater's team earns a point, and outside of hits delivered below the elbow or knee, most nearly everything is allowed.

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"It's like a relay race with obstacles," said Nathaniel.

But what started as a way for players like Nathaniel to release aggression through the Dominion Derby Girls has turned into a way for others like Katie Greeley to find community.

"I learned that there is so much strength within ourselves on the individual level that we don't know is there until we find a place that tells us that it's definitely there and for me that was roller derby," said Greeley.

In much of the sporting universe, men create many of the rules, but in roller derby they do not. Instead, it is dominated by women who make the teams, drive the revenue, and they do it with a boldness they feel flips the script on what society says it means to be feminine.

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Brittney Griner said she's exhausted from having to go overseas to play basketball.

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"It's just a really enriching environment being here," said Artemis Eero, who identifies as trans, and is a newer addition to the Dominion Derby Girls. "This is one of those places where I don't feel uncomfortable being myself. Outside of here I might feel nervous- like oh, can someone tell I was this gender at birth and here it doesn't matter."

During the day, these skaters are teachers, musicians, and computer programmers among other successful professions, but once the skates lace up, they are family.

For Greeley, whose 'derby name' is "Racey Lacey", the Derby Girls are why she kept her family in Virginia Beach after she and her husband relocated due to the military.

"I don't have a large family," she said. "There's not a lot of family ties that take me back to what people would consider my hometown, but the bonds that I've made here are- we just call each other our chosen family."

In a world where many strive for acceptance, these skaters have already found it — and if you've got something to say about it, they suggest you keep it to yourself.