Might it be time for a Michigan football to follow the example of Domino’s and reboot with an epic mea culpa?

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I don’t know how many University of Michigan football fans we have in the audience, but I’d be curious to know what those of you who pay face value for tickets thought of yesterday’s short-lived “buy two Coke products and get two free tickets” promotion, which essentially set the value of a U-M ticket below $1.50. I imagine, if I’d paid $75 a piece for tickets, I’d be kind of pissed.

I suspect that, under most circumstances, folks would be relatively forgiving, knowing that U-M is up against the wall, desperately fighting to fill the seats and maintain their four-decade long 100,000+ attendance streak, but, given the current state of affairs in Ann Arbor, my sense is that this might be the straw that broke the camel’s back. It would be one thing if people felt that the team was moving in the right direction, but, as things stand now, I don’t get the sense that folks are willing to give the Athletic Department the benefit of the doubt. The trust, I think, is pretty much gone. And that, it seems to me, is a bigger problem than the product on the field.

As much as many of us would probably like to lay everything at the feet of U-M Athletic Director Dave Brandon, a staunch Republican with ties to Romney and Bain Capital, the truth is, much of it is out of his control. Sports are changing at every level. As awesome as the game day experience might be at the Big House, people are increasingly making the decision to forgo the traffic, the parking fees, and the crowds, and stay at home, where the beer is plentiful, the bathroom lines are shorter, and every play can be seen multiple times in high-defiinition. More importantly, though, university culture is changing. More so now than ever before, the incoming Freshmen at Michigan aren’t kids who grew up here in the state, constantly subjected to grandparents who dress in maize and blue every Saturday and make it a habit of blasting 50 year old recordings of the Michigan marching band prior to every kick-off. Sure, if the team were playing better, as a better class of team were coming to Ann Arbor, the drop-off in attendance might not have been so precipitous, but I think the problem would still be there. While football still matters, it just doesn’t matter like it did in the 1950’s, when there was significantly less competition for our attention. And we need to accept that we can’t just market ourselves out of that problem. We need to change the recipe.

Not to pick on Brandon, but I think what the situation calls for is a big, public mea culpa, not unlike the one issued by Domino’s when Brandon stepped down as their CEO. For those of you who may not remember, the Ann Arbor-based pizza franchise essentially made a public announcement in 2010, stating that they’d been taking their customers for granted, and serving them shitty pizza. They faced their criticism head-on, owned up to their awfulness under Brandon, and said that they intended to win back the trust of the American people. The campaign, which featured teary-eyed Domino’s employees confessing to making inedible pizzas, was painful to watch, and absolutely crazy, but it worked. People respected them for it. And I imagine that it might just work for whomever follows Brandon at U-M.

I don’t know that it would fill the Big House to capacity, but someone, in my opinion, needs to say, “We’re sorry for the talk of drones and fireworks, and the prices we’ve been charging.” Someone needs to say, “Irrespective of whether we win or loose, we need to do a better job of listening to those of you who care deeply for this team and its traditions.” Someone needs to say, “We’re going to start treating you like a members of the family, and not just customers.” And, perhaps most importantly, someone needs to say, “Tickets for students, from this point forward, will be affordable.” If this ship is ever going to be righted, you need to get the undergraduates in the stands, investing in the experience, and laying the groundwork for long-term sustainability… Yes, winning is important, but my sense is that it’s not the main thing. The main thing is getting undergrads onboard, so that the traditions continue, and treating people like true partners. Michigan fans, I suspect, would forgive the occasional loss if they felt that they weren’t being sold a bill of goods.

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Today was a terrible day, but I’m OK with that

It’s after 1:00 AM and I’ve been asked to relocate from my bed to the couch. My terrifyingly loud coughing, it would appear, has finally crossed a line. I should have had the sense to extract myself. When it gets to the point that I need to get out of bed, stand up, and brace myself with both hands, leaning over a dresser, before coughing, I should know that I’m no longer fit for human contact. But I needed to be reminded. And now I find myself curled up on a couch, typing with one hand, and stroking the hair of our deaf, old dog with the other, waiting for sunrise.

Today was a strange day.

I knew, when I woke up, that it was going to be difficult. I’d set in motion a number of things at work that I knew were going to culminate at 1:00, with the arrival of film crew, who would be shooting something to accompany a press release that I’d been working on. I fretted about it all weekend long, worrying about everything that could possibly go wrong. As is often the case, though, what actually happened was something that I couldn’t have predicted.

Arlo’s teacher called about 10 minutes before people were set to start arriving for the shoot. Arlo, she said, wasn’t himself. He was clingy and listless. She’d checked his temperature and it was over 101-degrees. I told her that either Linette or I would come to pick him up, and I began frantically trying to locate Linette. People, by this point, had begun to show up at my office. I began pacing back and forth, pointing people to where I needed for them to be with one hand, while firing off increasingly desperate text messages with the other, franticly trying to find someone who might now where Linette might be. After five minutes, with no luck, I decided that I couldn’t wait any longer. I briefed everyone on what they needed to do in my absence, apologized profusely, and ran out to my car, hoping that Arlo had just picked up a 24-hour bug, and not some virus that would send him to the hospital.

Five minutes later, I’d find myself blocking traffic on Huron Parkway, inside a car that had finally given up. The transmission, I’d later come to find out, had died. As the people stuck behind me leaned on their horns, I called Arlo’s teacher, told her what had happened, and assured her her that I’d find a way to get him picked up before the other kids in the class awoke from nap time. Linette still wasn’t answering her phone, so I called her mother. I got the machine, and started in with the, “If you’re there, please pick up the phone.” Thankfully, she was, and, after a few minutes of trying to make myself understood over the sounds of traffic, she was on her way to get Arlo. (I didn’t want to ask her to do it, as she’s in her mid-70s, and I didn’t want to expose her to Arlo if he had the flu, but I didn’t feel as though I had a choice.) It’s probably also worth noting that I had very little voice at this point, after having spent the last week coughing by lungs out. So I was standing there, on the median, trying to raise my raspy voice above the sound of the cars, as my mother-in-law on the other end struggled with her phone, which had begun feeding back. Thankfully, after some time, we were able to understand one another, and Linette’s mother was on her way, following my directions, which, if history is any guide, we almost certainly wrong. (I have the worst sense of direction of any person I have ever met.) I made sure she had a cell phone with her, though, and I was hopeful that, by the time she’d gotten to Ypsi, I would have been able to figure out where Linette was.

Eventually the tow truck came, and I spent the next ten minutes listening to new country in silence, as I continued to try Linette.


[That’s as far as I got last night, before falling asleep at 3:00 AM. That was the gist of it, though. The tow truck took me to the Honda dealership, where they told me that the transmission, after 13 years, had finally given out. By then, I’d been able to reach Linette, who was able to beat her mother to Arlo’s school. Linette was able to drive me back to work, as Arlo, covered in blankets, slept in the back. He, by the way, is much better today. There was a great deal of sickness last night, though. All in all, I’d say we weathered the storm pretty well. We’re down to one car, but, aside from my persistent cough, we have our health, and that’s all that really matters. Compared to what some friends and family members are going though right now, this is nothing, and I know that. Sure, it was a bad day, and we’ll likely have to go through the stress of finding another car, but, in the whole scheme of things, I’m OK with that. We’ve got two incredible, smart, funny kids, a warm place to sleep, decent jobs, plenty of food, good friends, and our health. As long as we’ve got that, all the flooded basements, smashed cell phone screens, dying cars, and late nights spent scrubbing vomit from blankets don’t matter a one bit.]

Posted in Mark's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Everybody Fashion Day

I don’t know if it’s brilliant or stupid, but, earlier today, when reading about some folks who got dressed up in ridiculous costumes and walked around London’s Fashion Week hoping to be photographed by fashion writers, it occurred to me that it might be fun to just pick a date, and put the word out to folks that, when that day comes, they should take to the streets of Ypsilanti in the most fantastic outfits that they can assemble. The way I’m envisioning it, it wouldn’t be at all coordinated. There wouldn’t be a gathering point, or a set time, or a formal show of any kind. We’d just say, “On this day, go about your life as you would normally, but wear the most fanciful, visionary thing that you can imagine.”

It could be a complete disaster. I realize that. I could dress up in a unitard and cape, head out to do my shopping at Dos Hermanos, and not see a single other person dressed differently than they normally would be. But, what if twenty or thirty people actually did it? What if, you just happened to be passing though Ypsi that day, and everywhere you turned, among the normal people, there was an inexplicably dressed person just doing their thing… a woman in platform shoes and a towering beehive sweeping the sidewalk in front of her house, a man in a fake fur vest and gold hot-pants carrying a grocery bag back from the co-op, a gaggle of sunken-eyed kids dressed in haute couture burlap gowns? Wouldn’t that be incredibly exciting?

I don’t know if it’s feasible, but I like the idea of democratizing fashion. I like the idea of not just selecting a few local people to design clothes for a show, but instead throwing open the doors to everyone, regardless of their training or ability. And I like the idea of turning the whole town into a runway. I think that it would be great to wake up one morning knowing that you might see incredible, inspiring things around every corner. I also like the in-joke nature of it… the fact that a majority of folks on the street would have absolutely no idea what in the hell was going on.

As for how it would work, I haven’t given it a lot of thought yet. I’m thinking that a few local bars and restaurants could host events prior to the big day, where people could come, trade materials, and work collaboratively, if they wanted. Maybe a few people with sewing machines would even volunteer to come out and help people use them. Other than that, I don’t think we’d have to do a whole lot. We’d just have to pick a day in the spring, and put the word out through social media, letting people know that, if they dress incredibly that day, they probably won’t be alone.


[If you think this idea has merit, either “like” this post on Facebook or leave a comment. If enough people express interest, I’ll see what I can do to make it happen.]

Posted in Ideas, Special Projects, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

The inside track on local Roller Derby… brought to you by a member of the Ypsilanti Vigilantes

I had the opportunity a few days ago to chat with Jenny Hansen, the public relations chair for the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes, our hometown roller derby league. She contacted me to let me know that their last bout of the season would be coming up on October 18, at Buhr Park, when the Border City Brawlers and the Windsor A-Salt would be coming over from Canada to take on our Brawlstars and Vigilantes. Well, once we got to talking, and I learned that Hansen skated for the Ypsilanti Vigilantes (under the name Susan B Slamthony), it occurred to me that we should probably just do a formal interview… So, without further ado, here’s our discussion on everything from the Depression era origins of full-contact roller skating to the feminist underpinnings of the modern derby movement.


MARK: Before we get into stuff, I was hoping that you might be able to give me a little background on roller derby. Do you know much about its origins as a sport? Would I be right to assume that it first started becoming popular sometime around World War II?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: You’re correct. A few years before WWII, roller skating races, which had been going on for a while, became full-contact. And that was essentially the beginning of roller derby. Then, after WWII, they started televising the matches. That’s what a lot of people remember – watching co-ed teams flying around banked tracks on black and white TVs. It was one part sport, one part show – much like professional wrestling is now. In the early 2000s, the game evolved to about what we consider “modern” roller derby to be today, which is a women’s only sport that primarily takes place on a flat track. (A few derby leagues still skate on banked tracks, but they’re rare.) In the last few years, men’s derby leagues have begun to spring up as well.

MARK: I wasn’t aware that early roller derby was co-ed. Did men and women play different roles on their teams? And at what point did men exit the sport?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: My understanding is that, when it was co-ed, men and women played on the same teams, and there weren’t different roles assigned by sex. Somewhere in the evolution, though, I believe they’d have a jam of all men, followed by a jam of all women. But I’ve also seen versions where men and women shared the track. I’m not sure when the men exited, but, when the 2000s revival happened, it was explicitly a women’s sport. Even now, we refer to ourselves as “roller derby,” and men’s roller derby as ”men’s roller derby.” So it’s become female by default. Men are definitely getting back in the game now, though, especially in the last two years. There are a couple of men’s leagues in Michigan, and you can find several co-ed scrimmages every year in the area.

MARK: You mention men’s jams, and women’s jams. What, for the uninitiated, is a jam?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Each derby game (also known as a “bout”) is broken into two 30-minute halves. But we don’t skate constantly for 30 minutes at a time. Each period is broken up into multiple jams. Jams can last up to two minutes long, but they can be called off earlier as a strategic move by the jammers (the skaters who score the points for their team). Once a jam starts, additional players can’t enter the track. So basically, before a jam starts, each team fields 4 blockers and 1 jammer on the track. The Jammers can score points for their team by passing the hips of the opposing skaters. Blockers have two goals- prevent the other team’s jammer from getting past them, and help their jammer pass the skaters from the other team.

Brawlstars vs Lansing Derby Vixens photo credit Mega Hurtz(1)MARK: How far does the tradition go back here in Ypsi-Arbor? Have you found evidence of earlier leagues that operated here in the past?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Next season, we’ll be celebrating our fifth year. The Dimes will hit a Nickel! Before the Dimes started skating here, though, the nearest leagues would have been in the Detroit area. The Detroit Derby Girls have been around since 2005. Before that, as far as I know, there wasn’t a league in Michigan. There was a derby league in the 1970s in Chicago, but nothing up here, at least that I know of.

[photo right: Brawlstars vs. Lansing Derby Vixens (photo credit Mega Hurts): Fracture Mechanic engages with Lansing blockers. They try to make her fall down, but that’s just not something she does.]

MARK: OK, I’ve been trying to do a bit of research, and it looks as though, by early 1936, Leo Seltzer, the man credited with inventing the sport, had “Transcontinental Roller Derby” teams competing in Chicago, Miami, Louisville, and Detroit. From the sounds of it, they were essentially endurance races, in which two-person, co-ed teams would go head-to-head against each other over the course of days, logging up to 3,000 miles a team, or the number of miles you’d need to travel across the continent, from New York to Los Angeles… hence the “Transcontinental.”

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Wow, you’re beating me with your derby history! I knew that, in the early years, they were doing that in big markets, but I was unaware that Detroit had a team.

MARK: And, later, there was apparently a team called the Detroit Devils. This would have been after the sport kind of morphed into something akin to professional wrestling, though. If you have a moment, I’d appreciate it if you’d watch this video of the Detroit Devils taking on the Los Angeles Thunderbirds and tell me what you make of it. According to the YouTube comments, it’s from 1964.

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: First off – man that announcer! He sounds like an old-timey baseball announcer. “HOLY NONCHALANT ELBOW!” And clotheslining! And punching! I used to ref for derby and all I can do is mentally call penalties to myself as I watch this. Yikes. Play like this in modern derby would have you expelled from the bout and potentially from future bouts as well.

This is the image that I know a lot of people have in their minds about modern derby, and that kind of makes me sad. We’re rough and tumble. We knock each other down and fight as hard as we can, but we aren’t a blood sport. We’re athletes who want to outplay each other, not just be better at surviving, beating or cheating. Our sport takes strength, agility, and the ability to recover, not just the ability to skate through a concussion.

I also have no idea how this score is working. It seems like they’re getting points when the jammers are on the track alone, or when the jammers are skating through the middle of the pack. And, while I see lots of moves against the jammers, I’m not seeing the blockers engaging each other, which is very strange for modern derby.

MARK: You talk about their moves like you don’t think that this was all scripted. Is your sense that this may have been somewhat real, and that the truly scripted stuff came later?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Ugh, I hope this was scripted, or you’d have had a lot of broken cheek bones. My teammates have broken legs, noses, wrists and ribs playing modern derby… I can’t imagine how many injuries these shenanigans would have caused if they weren’t scripted.

MARK: What do you think accounts for these shifts in how we’ve seen the sport played over the past several decades?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: I think there are both social and economic reasons. First off, derby before 2000 was something that promoters developed – it was a sport run by people looking to sell tickets, not by athletes who were just looking to compete. Having women on the teams was cool, and it was a real crowd-pleaser to see pretty ladies in little outfits. Modern derby, in contrast, is usually skater-owned and operated. Since it’s the athletes pushing it, we aren’t having the silly “villains.” We aren’t engineering spectacles in order to fill seats. And I think some of it is because we want to be taken more seriously. We’re all volunteers. We all have jobs and lives outside of roller derby. But we are devoting 4 to 10 hours a week to practice on our skates, plus the time it takes to keep in physical shape off skates (cross training), and the time and effort it takes to make the league work. With that much dedication, you want to be taken seriously. As a sport, we’re becoming more organized as well. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), of which we are a member, is a sort of an organizing body and resource house for derby. And it wasn’t created until 2004. So, while we had lots of people interested in derby before that, we were still getting our feet wet up until about 2009.

MARK: Before we leave this earlier period altogether, I’ve got another video of the Detroit Devils. This one, I’m guessing, is from the mid 70s.

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Welp. That definitely reminded me of watching WWE. There were some moments on skates when I saw glimmers of derby, but it seemed to be mostly about grandstanding and hitting people’s faces. There wasn’t that much skating! Heck, the last half was just about the manager hitting faces, not the derby players.

Ever heard of the movie Kansas City Bomber? My dad bought it for me after I started playing derby. I tried to tell him that it’s nothing like what we do, but I think he’ll need to see us play in person before he believes me.

MARK: I know that you’re probably always battling this stereotype, so I don’t want to keep talking about the past era, but I do find it fascinating that there’s kind of a thread connecting you to these women who skated before, albeit it for much different reasons, in much different times.

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: I read an interview with one of the “oldtimers”, and she spoke about feeling like modern derby wasn’t much of a sport compared to her old way of playing derby, and that she didn’t respect modern derby players much. I definitely give them credit – if they hadn’t played derby and made it popular, no one would have remembered it, and we wouldn’t have derby now. And, back then, it was a different story when it came to women and athletics. There was no Title 9 – women hadn’t been encouraged into sports the way women my age have been. So, while our sports look really different (at least to an insider like me), I give them so much credit for paving the way for us, and showing people that women could compete against each other, and men, and be just as tough as anyone else.

MARK: Have you ever spoken with any oldtimers personally… women who used to skate back in the early days of the sport?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: One of our trainers, back when I first started with the Dimes, had been a derby girl for years, going way back. Man, could she skate! I also once shared a cab with a guy whose mom had been a derby skater in the 70s.

MARK: Any interesting stories?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Just a lot of advice and warnings – never get up from a fall without making sure that no one is behind you, or you’ll end up with a roller skate in an uncomfortable location.

MARK: So, how many local teams do we have now in southeast Michigan?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Tons! Like I said, we’re members of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. Those are the leagues with alot of organization and focus on the sport. There are five full WFTDA leagues in Michigan; the Dimes, Detroit Derby Girls, Lansing Derby Vixens, Grand Raggidy Roller Girls and Killamazoo Derby Darlins. In addition to that, there are about 25 other teams in Michigan. There’s also a handful of Junior Derby leagues, and one or two men’s leagues.

MARK: I’ve seen a few Derby Dimes bouts, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Ypsilanti Vigilantes. When did you launch? And what was the impetus behind it? Was there just so much interest from skaters that another local team needed to be added under the Derby Dimes umbrella?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: The Vigis are a newer team – but not really. When we first started our league in 2010, we had just enough people for a travel team, the Brawlstars. In 2011, we had more skaters in our league, and were able to create two teams – the Huron River Rollers and the Tree Town Thrashers. We continued that way for a while. When we had our home games, the Rollers would play the Thrashers, and the Brawlsters would play a visiting league. We decided in 2013 to recreate the model, which is what many derby leagues were doing. We maintained our Brawlstars as our A level travel team, created a B level travel team (the Arbor Bruising Company) and created the Vigis as our home team. Since the requirements for the home team are lower (less practice time required before they’re able to bout), the Vigilantes have the largest membership of the three teams, with about double the number of skaters as the other two teams.

MARK: In your opinion, did the Drew Barrymore film Whip It help or hurt the sport? As I recall, having talked with a few of the local derby girls at the time, there was some controversy.

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Good question. There’s a joke in the derby community that roller derby is nothing like Whip It… and that derby is exactly like Whip It. If you’ve never heard of derby before, Whip It can at least open that door for you. In that regard, I think the movie did a good job of publicizing the sport, which is still young, and often in a niche market. But, Whip It showed a very stylized picture of derby – a bank track, skating while blood drips down your face (ewww, can we say biohazard), shoving with the hands, punching, etc. That doesn’t happen in modern derby. Like I said, we skate on a flat track, we have a thick set of rules (74 pages!), and, while we might compete heartily, we are all supportive of each other off the track. Whip It touched on the themes of skater-sisterhood and the support we give to each other, as well as empowering women through athleticism and finding strength you never knew you had. There was plenty that wasn’t idea, though – the stories of skaters trying to sabotage each other to get ahead, the focus on a single skater instead of a team, the lack of diversity in body shapes on the track; but i don’t think the film hurt the sport.

MARK: Speaking of body types, I’d heard through the grapevine that some of our better local skaters weren’t encouraged to participate as extras because the didn’t fit the Hollywood mold, which kind of runs counter to the message of empowerment, right?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: I don’t know much about it. Whip It was filmed before I got into the derby scene, and before the Dimes were formed, so all I know is hearsay and rumor. I can say that, from watching the film, there’s a lack of diversity when it comes to body type, at least compared to the skaters I’ve encountered. One of the things I hear from my teammates is that they love the way that derby is for everyone, regardless of body type. Big girls, little girls, tall, short, whatever. Derby has a place for everyone, and every body type can give you a different sort of advantage. I’ve always had wide hips, and a correspondingly wide posterior, and for a while I didn’t like that about my body. Now, I look at girls with narrow hips and think, “Poor thing, she can’t take up much space on the track with a booty like that.”

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[pictured above: Arbor Bruising Company vs. Lansing Derby Vixens (photo by Mega Hurts): Susan B. Slamthony holds back the opposing jammer, assisted by teammates Upzette and Midnite Vulture while a Lansing blocker bridges and Jadzia Smax tries to break through the Lansing wall up front.]

MARK: So, how’s the league structured? If you do well, is there some kind of national tournament?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: All three of our teams invite other teams in the region to come skate with us, or we go to them. Even the Vigilantes, our Home Team, is willing to travel a few hours to skate. The two travel teams have been known to travel to other locations in the midwest – Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio. We also participate in the Mitten Kittens tournaments with other leagues from across the state. As our Brawlstars continue to succeed on the track, we are hopeful that they’ll be invited to skate at some of the bigger tournaments in the coming years. There’s a national tournament for roller derby, the WFTDA Championships, which are going to be held soon in Nashville (October 31 – November 2nd). We’re still some distance from being able to skate on that stage but, “Woo, it would be nice to get there some day.”

MARK: Would I be right to assume that you weren’t born with the name Susan B Slamthony?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Right, although it would have been cool if my parents had named me that. Lots of the women and men in the derby community take on “stage” names. It goes back to those 1970s roller derby teams and their showmanship. Some people say that derby names are part of what keeps our sport from being taken seriously. What network is going to air Suzy Hotrod going toe-to-toe with Olivia Shootin’ John, right? Well, Sports Illustrated was willing to make Hotrod one of their featured athletes a few years ago in their body issue, so why wouldn’t ESPN start showing us just because we use fun, often punny names? Most skaters pick their name because it means something important to them – like how I picked my name in honor of a personal hero of mine. Some skaters pick something that describes them or their personality, or some just come up with hilarious puns.

MARK: Coming up with a good pun… I could see that being a lot of pressure.

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: It took me months to come up with my name. My dad even came up with a great one – Auntie Social. It was perfect – I like to talk to people, I’m a social worker and my sister had a baby just as I was getting ready to take on the name. Too bad someone in Pennsylvania already uses that name. Such is the curse of derby.

MARK: What happens to a derby girl if it’s found out that she knowingly ripped off a name? Is there some kind of ceremony where you remove the wheels from her skates, and rip the number from her uniform?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: In the past, we had a website (twoevils.com) that kept track of all derby girls from around the world. You submitted your name and you waited to be “validated”. You might be told that Riot Girl was too close to Riot GRRRL so you’d need to change your name. Your league would encourage that, and our league had a policy of only accepting names that had been validated by the website. Now derby has gotten so big that most people generally follow the guideline that you don’t use a name that’s being used by anyone you might possibly play someday (so while you shouldn’t take the name of another local skater, taking the name of a skater in California isn’t so big of a deal). I don’t know what will happen going forward. I spent a lot of time googling all the different derby names that I was interested in before I felt safe to say that no one else was Susan B. Slamthony, though.

MARK: Who, in your opinion, has the best name in the league?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: That’s a tough choice. Like choosing between beer and pizza. I’d have to say Jadzia Smax, because I wish I’d come up with a good Star Trek reference for a derby name. I also do love that our league has both a Lezzie Arnez and a Lucille Baller.

MARK: Let’s talk injuries. I suspect everyone’s prepared for the possibility that something bad might happen, as broken bones come with the territory, but I’m curious as to how people deal with it when it actually happens. I imagine it’s pretty devastating for folks, given the expenses associated, lost work, etc. Is that the main reason that people end up leaving the sport?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: You’re right – this can be bad. I’ve seen three or four people break their tibia/fibia during derby bouts or practices. Lots of skaters have to take time off to heal from major injuries, or from more minor ones that just don’t seem to heal well. We do lose some people permanently that way too. They can feel that their body just isn’t healing well enough to skate again, or they don’t want to put themselves and their families through the cost of another injury.

But we only lose a small percentage of our skaters to acute injuries (like breaks or ACL tears). Probably double that we lose to chronic injuries – an ankle that was broken, and just doesn’t feel great on the track two years later, or old injuries that hurt for days after a game. The majority of the time, we lose skaters because of life! Derby takes a lot of time, a lot of commitment and isn’t cheap. Unless you love it with all your heart, it’s hard to commit that much to it. And as life happens and priorities change, people leave derby to go on to new adventures.

MARK: Is insurance pretty prevalent?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: We’re re required to carry skater insurance, but it’s a second payer system that waits until you’ve put in a certain amount already before it kicks in. The cost can be tough, and we, as a league, do what we can to take care of each other. We’ll put money into GoFundMe campaigns to help cover costs, or we’ll show up at your house to mow the lawn or walk the dog. We’re constantly sharing job postings and helping folks make employment connections. Our league even has a “sisterhood fund” for when skaters absolutely can’t pay their dues.

MARK: Would you be in a gang if not for derby?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: If by gang you mean feminist collective plotting to overthrow the patriarchy and establish an egalitarian society, totally. But, no, I’m not very aggressive by nature. Derby is the first full contact sport I’ve played.

The first bout I ever watched, I remember thinking the women were so cool and so tough and I could never be like them. Then I started reffing for the Dimes and, a few months later, after watching other people who didn’t know how to skate at the beginning either, I began to think “If she can do it, I can do it.”

I know some derby players say that they love getting to go to practice after a long day and get out all that aggression by hitting people as hard as they can. I actually love to go to practice because derby takes 100% of my focus. I can leave all the frustrations of work and life behind and be entirely focused on what I’m doing–what’s the strategy we’re implementing, making sure my body is positioned perfectly for what I’m trying to accomplish and working hard.


MARK: So, what’s your record so far this season?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: The Vigilantes are 4-2 this season. Wait, derby is the only sport I play… 4 -2 means we’ve won four, and lost two, right?

MARK: Yes.

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Then we’re 4-2. The Bruisers are 4-5. And the Brawlstars are 5-5. The Brawlstars are also currently ranked 104th in the USA. Not bad!

MARK: You mentioned earlier that the local league is skater-owned. Is that not the case elsewhere? Are other leagues started up by entrepreneurs who just hire the girls for their teams?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Most derby leagues these days are skater owned and operated. There are a few out there that are owned by a third party – a promoter or a business. They usually form their own leagues that just bout each other. We really do promote ourselves as “skater owned” because of that history of being owned by someone else – someone who had the potential to trade the skaters to another team or retire you because you’re not selling tickets like you used to. We also take pride as Dimes that we’re self-coached. We’ve hired outside coaches in the past, and we’ll continue to bring in guest coaches, but we’ve found the model that works best for us is to train each other, and teach each other as a unit.

MARK: Are there teams out there that have a reputation for being too rough?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: There are some. I mentioned earlier that we play by the WFTDA’s rule set. There are other leagues out there that play by other rule sets, including one called Renegade Roller Derby. It looks a lot more like those videos of old-timey derby – flying tackles, punching, dragging people to the ground. One of our skaters said once that she’d be interested in having us try out their rules. I told that that she could just start an on-skates Fight Club and have the same effect. Most derby leagues won’t play with other leagues that use renegade rules. Even if they say they’ll use WFTDA rules, there’s a chance they’ll forget the 74 pages of rules we follow, and go crazy on the track instead. Frankly, I find it embarrassing to even watch renegade derby.

That said, there are a few leagues who have reputations for not understanding the rules clearly enough and just liking to hit people without regard for the sport. Our league has simply agreed not to schedule any games against those leagues. Wedecline invitations from them.
But, there are lots of leagues with reputations of hitting HARD! That doesn’t make them “too rough,” it just means that you know you’re going to go home with lots of bruises.

vigisMARK: Is there any push within the sport to move it one way or the other? Are there people out there, for instance, who want to see the professional wrestling side of things come back in a big way, nationwide? Or, on the other side, are there pushing for you all to lose the puns and make a push to become an olympic sport?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Almost everyone is pushing harder to make it a legitimate sport – one that could be in the Olympics some day. There are a few that prefer the renegade track – if only because games are more action packed, and less time is spent on officials calling penalties and reviewing plays. I think that’s why you’ll see some very different personalities on the track in our league now than you would have seen three years ago. Our skaters used to wear face paint, tutus, and other silly costumes. Now we wear uniforms and we’re much more focused on how we play during the game than on how we look in the pictures.

MARK: Are there real rivalries?

SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Friendly ones, heck yes. Our Brawlstars just skated against the Lansing Derby Vixens. Last time we played them at their rink, we lost by one point. You could feel the electricity between the teams this year (our girls pulled out the win in the last few jams). But we also saw hugs after the skaters finished as well as at the afterparty. Last month the Vigilantes lost to the Mitten Mavens, but I spent the after-party sharing beers and stories with their players. The upside of being such a small community is that even when we come from different teams, we have more in common than we have differences. It is not unusual for skaters from other leagues to visit one another’s practices and share tips with each other. Within our league, there are friendly rivalries that happen all the time, but at the end of the day, we’re all family.


Posted in Ann Arbor, Art and Culture, Other, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

ISIS and the Christian right are in agreement on evolution

According to CNN, ISIS has announced their K-12 curriculum in Syria, and certain elements sound surprisingly familiar.

In swaths of Syria now controlled by ISIS, children can no longer study math or social studies. Sports are out of the question. And students will be banned from learning about elections and democracy.

Instead, they’ll be subjected to the teachings of the radical Islamist group. And any teacher who dares to break the rules “will be punished.”

ISIS revealed its new educational demands in fliers posted on billboards and on street poles. The Sunni militant group has captured a slew of Syrian and Iraqi cities in recent months as it tries to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, spanning Sunni parts of both countries.

In the letter, ISIS said alternative courses will be added.

It also said teachers must erase the phrase Syrian Arab Republic — the official name of Syria — and replace it with Islamic State, which is what ISIS calls itself.

Educators cannot teach nationalistic and ethnic ideology and must instead teach “the belonging to Islam… and to denounce infidelity and infidels.”

Books cannot include any reference to evolution. And teachers must say that the laws of physics and chemistry “are due to Allah’s rules and laws”…

I know I should just be thankful that our religious fundamentalists in this country aren’t fond of cutting off the heads of disbelievers, but I do think it’s worth pointing out the fact that a certain degree of commonality does exist between the fundamentalists in Syria and those here at home. One would hope that this fact alone would be enough to motivate the Christian right in America to rethink their stances on issues like evolution, homosexuality, and birth control, but, given the interactions I’ve had with fundamentalists over the years, I don’t have a lot of faith. I just know that, if I ran, say, a restaurant, and there was another restaurant down the street that had an almost identical look, and feel, and menu, only they were known for decapitating their diners, I’d probably drop everything and begin a pretty extensive rebranding campaign.

One last observation about this newly rolled out ISIS curriculum… Given the realities of the world in which we live, is really likely that you could build a state capable of taking on the United States when you’re not teaching your boys math, and not teaching your girls at all? Is that really a tenable strategy? I mean, I guess you can cut heads off without knowing math, and hack at people with machetes, but that’s about it, right? I’m not complaining. I think it’s a great strategy, and I’d encourage all of our enemies around the world to stop educating their kids. I just found it interesting that ISIS, after horrifying us with gruesome decapitation videos, chose to follow up with a promise not to educate their kids. That, to me, is like a bully punching you in the nose, and then announcing, “I’m going to go home now and cut off my legs.”

And this image, by the way, was not produced by ISIS.


Posted in Civil Liberties, Education, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments


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