Skating To An Arena Near You: Men's Roller Derby
In the world of roller derby, women rule. There are more than 400 women's teams in the U.S. alone, with thousands of skaters. Now, men are getting into the game. About 30 men's teams have sprung up in the past few years, and some of those men will go to great lengths to play.
To a roller derby skater, little is more important than your name.
Filthy McNasty (real name Brendan McMullen) and Maulin Brando (real name Joe Mihalchik) are members of the New York Shock Exchange, which is quite possibly the strongest men's roller derby team in the country.
Standing inside their practice space, an old cigar warehouse in Queens, N.Y., they watch about a dozen men in helmets and pads chase each other down.
It's the team's last practice before its first bout of the season, and the coaches are checking everyone's progress. Team captain Jonathan Rockey is watching one skater in particular.
"Futures John's got guts, that's what I like," Rockey says. "He's got guts. He's out, John! Go, John!"
Futures John is a rookie, nearing the end of his tryout period. If Rockey and the other coaches like what they see, he'll make the team. Co-captain Maulin Brando says only then will he get to pick a real derby name.
"It's kind of the tradition that you don't officially get to use your name until you've made a team," he says. Some teams call the tryouts "rookies" or "fresh meat." "We call ours our 'futures.'"
Futures John isn't the only one trying to make a name for himself. All of the men are. Rookies like John are important because they represent growth. The men may be fighting for respect, but Futures John is struggling just to stay on his skates.
When Futures John, whose real name is Jonathan Dawkins, gets knocked down by a player more than twice his size, he says: "Ow. Well, now I know what it feels like to get launched 10 feet in the air."
He says he feels good about the testing.
"A little bit comprehensive, I’d like to say. We've been doing some stuff that wasn't even on the test, but it's all good," he says.
His ordeal is worth it. At the end of practice, Rockey asks for the rookie's skates.
"Futures John, will you take a knee right here please?" Rockey says. "Can you tell me the name you wish to be known as?"
"Jimmy Rage," he replies.
"On behalf of the team, I dub thee Jimmy Rage, our newest teammate on the New York Shock Exchange," the captain says. "Please rise and take your skates and join us, teammate. Let's give a round of applause for Jimmy Rage!"
After six grueling months, Jimmy Rage has finally earned his spot. His next goal will take longer, helping men's derby achieve the same success that women's derby has.
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