Roller Derby – The History and All-Girl Revival of the Greatest Sport on Wheels – Review

bk-rollerderby200Roller Derby: The History and All-Girl Revival of the Greatest Sport on Wheels

By Catherine Mabe (Speck Press)
By Brian Varney

Since most folks’ knowledge of roller derby as a sport is probably about the same as their level of expertise with the Comets on Fire discography, this book aims to provide a general overview of what is fast becoming a very popular sport, especially among underground sport-hating types. Over the course of its 160 color-photo-splayed pages, Roller Derby provides a brief, breezy history of the sport’s beginnings during the Great Depression, its descent as a result of television, and its rebirth as the sport of choice for the PBR-swilling rock and Goth girls haunting your city’s underground music club. It also charts changes in the gameplay itself, from its early days as a sort of roller-skating endurance test to its current “smash and crash” incarnation.

A good portion of the book, though, is given over to explanations of how the game is played, giving the whole project a bit of an “illustrated rulebook” feel, as if the book were to be a one-stop-shop for newcomers interested in joining a team or learning about the game. As someone who knows little about the sport and has even less interest in learning how to play, this part of the book is of limited interest, but I do find the “Roller derby is America’s real national pastime” attitude that runs pretty consistently throughout the book a bit amusing.

Look, I’m not trying to mock the sport or undermine anyone’s affection for it, but this is a niche sport the same way High on Fire and Doo Rag are niche bands, and just because a person likes roller derby better than baseball or High on Fire better than The White Stripes doesn’t make one better or more genuine than the other. The underground is where the majority of roller derby’s fans reside philosophically, and I’m guessing there would be an outcry followed by abandonment en masse if roller derby coverage were to suddenly appear nightly on SportsCenter, so roller derby fans should enjoy what they’ve got and leave the attitude and grandstanding to the real experts, bitter music fans.