Sass: Midwest, USA

At my first awards banquet, I won Most Improved and Rookie of the Year. I’d worked my ass off. After everyone else had gone home, I stayed on the track, practicing my transitions over and over. I was so happy, I cried. I accepted the microphone and started, “When I first started roller derby…”

X took the microphone out of my hand.

“No crying,” she said.

I was going to say that when I started roller derby, I was on the brink of killing myself and it empowered me, and made me stronger, and I was so happy to be there. I pretended to laugh uproariously and sat back down.

X would go on to win the Douche Canoe and Most In Need Of A Vacation Awards. Yes, my league has “biggest asshole” awards.

But don’t worry, there’s no bullying.

At the mediation 3 years later, the first thing that was said to me by the grievance coordinator was, “Do you think X is the kind of person who would tell you if they had a problem?”. What was I supposed to say? Grievance was derby wives with the person with whom I had a grievance. X had accused me of insulting coaching staff, saying I was of poor character, citing the code of conduct, and implying that I wasn’t a committed teammate when I pre-empted a personal Facebook post specifically with “This is not about my league. This is a general brainstorming about A and B rostering in roller derby and how different leagues define their teams.” I didn’t feel comfortable talking to X by myself. I wanted her to understand that I had no ill will, and it really was not about the league, and I had a personality disorder but I was really, really trying to work on it. And that I really didn’t like being accused of having a shitty character. I felt like she didn’t really understand me. If you read my posts, I said, I like to think out loud a lot. I reflect on a lot of things. It’s how I process.

“I read every single one of your posts until I couldn’t take it anymore. They were so attention-getting and passive-aggressive. They were… uch.”

My jaw dropped. Grievance sat there, mute.

“Do you think X is the kind of person who would tell you if they had a problem?”

And I should have realized that it was going to be gaslighting until the bitter end, but I still tried to go through the process – to be accountable for “my part,” apologize for the times that I had made her upset, etc. When originally asked for the outcome I wanted from the mediation, I said, “For both of us to admit that we felt butthurt and acted out on it sometimes.” I even backed down from that. At the end of the mediation, X finished her second drink, rolled her eyes, and said “That was a waste of time.” I cried all the way home.

I apologized multiple times. She never, ever did. For anything.

But I wasn’t ready to quit. I was going to take the mediation to heart and say and do all the right things. I was going to be direct when I felt she was being disrespectful and try to solve it myself. I was going to give her the benefit of the doubt. I was going to prove how I wasn’t passive aggressive. I was going to play by the rules that were clearly laid out in front of me. What X did was OK, apparently. I had to change. Besides, this wasn’t just her team. This was my team, too.

I had stepped down from Secretary after X told me I was doing a poor job of things. Instead, I’d run for Co-secretary, still receiving 5 “no” votes. OK, I thought. I have to really step it up this year. I have to do a really, really good job. I have to prove that I’m valuable and deserve to be taken seriously. I deserve respect if I do a good job. I’ll work really well with X. I won’t lose my temper. I’ll be a good teammate.

To get the year off on the right foot, I thought I would educate the league how to use our team calendar in a comprehensive post. It was something that X, and a few of her toxic buddies, complained about. They were always bitter that no one knew how to do it. Whenever someone casually asked what date something was, they would reply “Check the Calendar. That’s what it’s there for.” So type type type, click, post, and there it was. A comprehensive how-to.

X replied to my post publicly.


I felt humiliated. I privately messaged her, saying that her post was rude and dismissive and I didn’t appreciate it. Publicly, I added that another good resource was the code of conduct, part of which meant that unproductive forum posts were not appropriate.

Then came the emails.
“I’m sure you’re quite familiar with the Code of Conduct considering the many issues that have come up. My point was an attempt at humor for the long email because it’s difficult to get people to read these emails at all. My apologies for attempting humor. I will refrain from engaging with you anymore.

Kind Regards,

Someone please get me a dictionary, turn to “passive aggressive,” and then tell me the axiom about the pot and the kettle.

So I went on a Leave of Absence. By that time I was actively scared to go to practice if she was there. I felt like I couldn’t risk it. I couldn’t handle her saying or doing something and getting away with it. I also messaged Grievance and the LLC.

Over the course of about 4 weeks, I shared the stories of how other skaters had been pushed around (physically and emotionally) by this person and quit as a result. I literally got out a white board and drew a diagram of a circle representing a toxic team attitude and who drifted in and out of this circle, but how X tended to remain there, with others being pulled in. I cited the time that a proposal for an “orange bandana” safe space was brought to a Board of Directors meeting, but X turned it into a joke and gave out orange bandanas to everyone at a game, saying, “You wear these when you don’t want people to talk to you.” How she was bossing around the bench coaches as a skater. How an opposing team captain asked us to use gender-neutral pronouns and she puffed “oh my God” and rolled her eyes. I lost my temper one weekend, thinking that X had taken down a team sign I made for her hotel room door. I asked where it had gone. They had changed rooms. I apologized, saying I was feeling sensitive to rejection and was trying to fend of anxiety the whole weekend. X proceeded to send me a photo of the sign every 3 weeks or so without comment. I told her to throw it away for all the trouble it had caused. I told a member of the LLC that I was having suicidal thoughts and difficulty concentrating at college because of all of this. I said so because this is textbook bullying, and I’m living it, and one is supposed to tell others when it’s happening.

Grievance called it a “conspiracy,” saying, “No one else has reported a problem.”

Flashing back to the first mediation? “We don’t know what X is going through,” said the grievance coordinator, as X sipped on her martini. “People think she’s an asshole, but she’s not.” I should have known it would be more of the same.

At the LLC grievance meeting, the first thing that was said was “We looked at every definition of bullying, from WFTDA, from everywhere, and we can’t call this bullying.” I sat across from 3 of my friends as they told me the gravity that the word “bullying” had and that it was a big deal and did I want to use it? That’s how it started. And it continued the way it always did. Maybe you heard her wrong. People think she’s an asshole, but she’s not. Maybe she meant it another way. Maybe you should go back to therapy. I backed down – way down. I said OK, I wouldn’t say bullied. Way, way, way down: tell X that I’m sorry. I know we’re kind of doing this to each other. Can you tell her that?

I’m an idiot. I always think that if I’m super responsible and open and accountable for myself and work hard to be a good person, it means people will take me seriously, and they will be inspired to do the same and not totally take advantage of it as a weakness.

Privately, one of the LLC members had said, “I am so sick of her shit.”
Another had been bullied herself.
Two LLC members weren’t even at my meeting.
And this happened anyway.
The “resolution” from the LLC meeting.

The takeaway of meeting with me:
“Sass admitted to feeling targeted and targeting X… Sass took an LOA (along with admitting her alteration in counseling services and history of mental health)…”

Of meeting with her:
“X admitted to making a rude comment… X was counseled at her initial meeting.”

It was a “conduct issue” and they were going to work on the Code of Conduct. I got nothing more than that.

I asked the LLC to strike the mention of my mental illness and treatment from the record. X had received the same email as me. See, whenever she said something hurtful, and I reacted to it, she’d argue “You said yourself that…” I had a mental illness, or I was sensitive to rejection, or I was undergoing a med change. She took advantage of my emotional weaknesses and this was ammunition to do more of the same. I told the LLC this. It was PHI, I argued. It was private. Please remove it from documentation. This opens me up for reprisal.

They doubled down. No, it’s not PHI. No, it doesn’t matter because you told X months ago anyway. No, we didn’t tell her your diagnosis.

Then I announced that I was quitting the league due to bullying and the lack of appropriate response.

The LLC jumped to defend themselves, saying they never, ever shared PHI. Grievance sent me an email guilt-tripping me about her reputation as grievance coordinator and how I had ruined it, and how she thought our league was a very positive space and I would be missing out. That sharing PHI is a serious accusation.

Yes, it is. Too bad you shared my PHI.

The CEO eventually sent a short email apologizing for how I felt and that they didn’t mean to hurt me.

The next day, X was named captain.

Two weeks later, the CEO’s husband “interviewed” X for a PR piece and it was shared by my remaining derby friends. Her photo was up and down my Facebook page wherever I scrolled. There it is – the face of my captain. The face of the league. The face of roller derby. Telling me I’m a waste of time, I’m of poor character, and she put her body on the line for the team when I didn’t.

And I’m just one more person who quit because no one was willing to tell X to stop acting like a dick.

Have fun, everyone. You deserve each other.


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