So You’re Saying There’s a Barrier?

What do lacrosse, hockey, fencing, and roller derby have in common? Stumped? Well, if you guessed that they are predominately white sports in America then you are spot on. Why are so many sports including our beloved roller derby dominated by white faces?

One reason, boils down to barrier to entry. What do I mean? I’ll lay it out for you. These sports require lots of equipment, and at the youth level generally expect kids to own their own gear. By the time youth in lacrosse, hockey, and fencing make it to high school the majority of these athletes own their own gear (aka mommy and daddy bought them the gear). I’m not knocking parents giving their kids resources to participate in sports. I’m asking for an open perspective on why these sports are predominately white, so we can understand ONE aspect of the whiteness in roller derby.

Notice the name and country printed on the gear. More on this in a sec.

I picked up fencing during my junior year of high school. The best fencers tend to have their names printed on their gear similar to Olympic fencers. These fencers often took private lessons and had national rankings from competing on their own outside of school events. It was also a symbol of status within the fencing community, and they were usually the top ranked fencers at school tournaments. I did not have my name on my gear. I wore hand me downs and it was obvious. My school thankfully provided gear for the fencers who needed it, and by the time my senior year rolled around I was winning medals at tournaments while still wearing borrowed gear.

Basic low level, starter foil fencing set: $400. High school me was not about to beg for fencing gear.

Roller derby is no different. We all know how much it costs to join this sport. We all know that to even try this sport out, you have to fork over a decent amount of cash to make it happen. From WFTDA insurance, to monthly dues, to purchasing gear. It all requires money. If it weren’t for the borrow bag I would have never tried fencing. Heck, if it weren’t for the borrow bag I would have never tried roller derby.

My first practice was in roller rink skates and missed matched gear, but I felt like I wasn’t official just like I did in fencing. At fencing tournaments I was referred to as “No Name.” Kind of made me feel like I was less than other fencers. We need to get rid of the stigma associated with borrowed gear if we are going to draw more diversity into this sport. Not thinking about the money involved is how we place barriers to entry. It is also how we keep POC skaters from making it to the higher levels in derby. Think on that for a sec.


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