What do we do when a league won’t do the right thing?

Hi, it’s me, Fury.

I take no pleasure in writing this post. It is a last resort. But first, some background: I was divorced in December 2011. With no friends and little support, I found myself at Hartford [Connecticut] Area Roller Derby’s (HARD) new recruit event in March 2012. It took a little while, but I found myself surrounded by friends with similar interests and outlooks. Due to my love of rules combined with a rare condition that makes me particularly prone to concussions, I ultimately chose to become an official rather than play roller derby. Nevertheless, I served on HARD’s Board of Directors in 2012 and 2013 and helped to create their new bylaws and policies, required for garnering non-profit status.

For a variety reasons (none of which is interesting enough to get into), I left HARD in 2013. When I moved back to the Hartford area in early 2017, I eventually landed at a league an hour’s drive from me because of their demonstrated commitment to inclusion and fun. I write this on my own behalf and not as an agent of my home league, though my league has been nothing but supportive and aggressive in creating and maintaining safe spaces for everyone in our regional roller derby community. I could not be prouder to be a part of such a fantastic league.

In the intervening years, an official I had come to know in 2013–I shall call him “M” for purposes of this post–became active in my region. He is not a high-level official; he officiates mostly local games. We had worked together. In fact, we had been friends. He and his wife had come to my place for BBQs and I went to a holiday party at his house. Our friendship did not mean his comments didn’t bother me. As I told people, he was perpetually about one “that’s what she said” joke from crossing the line. I officiated with him in nearly-all-male ref crews and believed I was, perhaps, overly sensitive to his “sense of humor” and his casual misogyny. I thought I was alone, so I never said anything. Besides, I was relatively new and gave far too many fucks.

I lost touch with M in 2014, after I disclosed that I was raped and disclosed my rapist’s name to my regional derby community. I watched him officiate with my abuser and decided I no longer wanted to associate myself with him. I didn’t make any grand statements. I simply stopped showing up where he was. I unfriended him on Facebook. I’m pretty sure he never noticed.

I don’t remember when, but in 2014 or 2015 other woman officials started discussing their discomfort around M. He staffed less qualified men over more qualified women every time he was in a position of leadership. He misgendered nonbinary people. He friended a new skater on social media, photoshopped her head on the body of a — *ahem* — well endowed woman and posted it to her FB page. He worked with my rapist. He worked with the other regional referee who has a habit of “accidentally” flashing his testicles at women in the locker room. The more we women spoke to each other, the more we realized we were not alone is our discomfort.

And then the skaters started talking. M was affiliated with a nearby league. When I landed back in central Connecticut, I considered the neighboring league but couldn’t bring myself to join a league where I would be working with M. I wrote the league and told them.

In the beginning of 2018, after M had already put in a transfer request to HARD, the league with which he had been affiliated conducted an investigation, reached out to officials in the regional community, and banned him as a spectator from their events because too many people–skaters and officials both–did not feel safe in his presence.

About six months ago, I began writing to HARD. Did they know M had been banned from his prior league? What were they doing about it? Could they even confirm that he was an affiliated official with HARD? I didn’t get much of a response. I heard he had, perhaps, transferred to a different league, so I let it go.

It wasn’t until about seven weeks ago, on a public Facebook page, that members of HARD confirmed M’s affiliation. My league, my lovely league that demonstrates it does the right thing rather than paying lip service, allowed me to draft a letter to HARD outlining our concerns. But before sending it, I reached out to HARD once more expressing my concerns. I received this response (redacted):

My name is X of Hartford Area Roller Derby. I am the president elect of our 2019 season, and I am writing you on behalf of my league but also on behalf of myself personally. I understand you have concerns regarding our league member, M, and that, through his continued membership, we are not providing a safe space for our members as well as any visiting members of the roller derby community. As someone who has experienced both physical and verbal abuse over the course of her derby career, I take these concerns very seriously and want nothing but the best for my peers in our community. In the interest of transparency, in regard to the allegations brought against M, we have not been provided with sufficient evidence to terminate his membership. Upon his application for transfer from [nearby league], we were informed there were allegations against M for which an investigation had been performed but not provided with any further details. We have reached out to [that league] since then in regard to more concrete information, and what information we did receive was vague and not sufficient enough to make an informed decision in regard to the status of M’s membership with HARD. We respect the anonymity of those who filed the claims against M and [nearby league’s] choice to keep said anonymity intact. However, as you can see, the lack of a clear definition of the allegations complicates any decision-making within this situation. When the transfer process had been completed, M met with the Vice President of our league; and he was informed that, given the allegations brought before us, we would be observing his interaction with both members of our league as well as those from surrounding leagues. Since his transfer to our league, we were never given cause to believe that M’s interactions were of nothing but a benevolent nature. Having been made aware of your concerns expressed through both email as well as statements made on social media platforms, I am writing to in hopes that you can provide me with concrete evidence that may prove his behavior to be of the contrary as I simply seek nothing but the truth. I am not asking for names or league affiliation as I do not want to violate the privacy of any member of our community. I am instead asking for documented instances in which his behavior was of a threatening and harmful nature. We take these sort of allegations seriously as well as any implication that the behavior of any of our members is of a malevolent nature as that sort of behavior is not tolerated in the space that we work so hard to provide. If you can aid me in my quest to reveal the truth, I would be forever indebted. It saddens me greatly that there are people in our community who are deterred from visiting our league in Hartford because they feel unsafe and threatened in our space. If I can help to change these feelings, I will do everything I can in my power to rectify the situation as all are welcome at HARD. If you feel comfortable in replying to my email, I welcome your response. I am also available to meet in person or via phone. I want you to know that I hear you and that I am here to help. I hope to hear from you.

I responded thusly:

I do not have “documented evidence” because that is not how life works when women discuss men they are not comfortable around. Having said that, I have spoken to at least a half dozen current members at [other league] who have told me they are very glad M is gone and that they have felt safer and happier in practices. I have had more than one HARD skater tell me they are uncomfortable around M, but choose not to speak up for fear of making waves or being labeled a trouble maker. I relate to these women, as it took me over a year to disclose my own abuse in roller derby, and two years to disclose that I was sexually assaulted by a referee at an after party in 2013.
What I have seen and what people have told me about m include the following:
– [unwanted touching; details redacted for confidentiality of complainant]
– hugging people without consent
– being sexist in his interactions with other officials and in his staffing decisions (I have witnessed this personally)
– making lewd jokes that make people uncomfortable (I have witnessed this personally)
– photoshopping skaters’ heads on pictures of “sexy” woman and posting in to their FB pages
On a personal level, M has supported and continued to work with my abuser. That referee harassed many other women and had a WFTDA grievance sustained against him. M still works with him. Also, when put in HR positions, M continues to staff less qualified men over more qualified women or gender nonconforming people. Every. Time.
Over and over again HARD says they cannot take action against M based on “hearsay.” First, this term is a legal term of art that is misused time and again. But more than that, it’s simply untrue. A league may absolutely take action based on hearsay. If enough people tell you that a person is a problem, guess what? That person is a problem. “Vague” information that someone has been banned from a league for sexual harassment is sufficient information. If someone is harmful enough that a league terminates his membership and forbids him at their events, that alone is enough to take action. I am tired of hearing the same response every time I raise a concern. If you choose not to take action, then you choose not to take action. However, stating that you cannot take action because you have no “documented evidence” demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding as to how toxic men ingratiate themselves in our community. HARD may take whatever action they want, but have chosen not to do so out of a perverse misunderstanding of due process.
You say you “seek the truth.” The truth is that Hartford Area Roller Derby has created a space people want no part of due to their support of a sexist and toxic man.
No response. Crickets.
Two more women officials wrote to HARD, too. When the three of us heard nothing back, I sent a follow-up email. Nothing.
Yesterday, my league received a response from the president of HARD. There was no “concrete” evidence substantiating the allegations against M. And I had the audacity to post about some of my experiences on my own FB page. If I or my league continued to “defame” HARD by calling it an unsafe space, “further action” would be taken.
Pro tip, folks: Don’t try to frighten an attorney with an implied thread of legal action. Especially not an attorney who specializes in the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution. Especially not an attorney so trained with a background as a journalist, an attorney with a huge breadth and depth of knowledge regarding free speech and defamation claims.
I am both saddened and sickened by this turn of events. As someone who internalizes anxiety, I have been nauseated since receiving the response. Rather than looking inward or partaking in any sort of self-reflection, HARD’s leadership doubled down to protect this man and in so doing, attempted to point the finger at me for having the audacity to speak up.
I continue to speak up. This is me, Fury, speaking up. In my opinion, HARD is not a safe space for officials. It is not a safe space for skaters. By allowing a toxic man with a history of harassment in their league, HARD fails to embrace the tenets of modern roller derby and fails its own mission, to “… foster the skills and athleticism of roller derby and to promote teamwork, respect, empowerment of women, and to build a community.”
I am now at a loss. What do we do when leagues fail to do the right thing? All I can think of to do is to ask you all to take action. If you, as I , feel HARD’s response to concerns about M are anathema to their stated commitment to empower women, I urge you not to work their games or play against their teams. If you, too, are concerned about allowing a toxic man to be a part of our community, I urge you to share your concerns with HARD. You may reach them via email at skaterrelations@hartfordarearollerderby.com
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2 comments

  • I hear your concerns and it is troubling. I want roller derby to be a safe space for everyone. While it does not excuse his behaviour to others, I’ve never had a problem with him. The first time he tried to hug me, I told him I’m not a hugger, and he’s remembered ever since. This is everyones reminder to speak up for yourself and others! If you see someone who looks uncomfortable, say something.

    However, I also don’t condone preying on new skaters (photoshopping someone’s head on a busty women is so gross and rude). I think unfair staffing is stupid and not safe for skaters. I hope they take a look at his actions and do what’s right for their league as a business.

  • Hello all,

    “M” is a dear friend and a good person and it’s unfortunate to see this situation unfold publicly. League processes aren’t perfect, and it’s a shame that mishandling and delays occur. I hope HARD will address the concerns with consideration for all involved, and manage expectations appropriately.

    This is hearsay, but some things reported in the post above came from experiences of others, too.
    I heard that “M”‘s prior league terminated/banned him without any reasons given, after he offered to head up staffing of officials against an individual who didn’t hold a high opinion of him. If this is true, that’s not okay. The league should communicate clearly if there was a violation of their Code of Conduct or provide at very least the reason why someone is no longer welcome. Especially if an opportunity exists to correct something.

    Everyone has different comfort levels with humor and hugging. Setting boundaries is important, but so is self awareness. I’ve even started asking “may I hug you” before doing hugging someone. Amanda’s reminder about speaking up if someone else looks uncomfortable is a good one!

    There’s a learning curve to most things and we should all be allowed to improve. Not a single one of us is perfect.

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