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Roller Derby

Roller Derby
The History of an American Sport

The dynamic and culturally complex story of roller derby, the only full-contact sport in the United States that has embraced women as equal competitors since its inception.

Series: Terry and Jan Todd Series on Physical Culture and Sports

October 2021
Not yet published

Available for pre-order.
This book will be available in September 2021.
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296 pages | 6 x 9 | 26 b&w photos |

Since 1935, roller derby has thrilled fans and skaters with its constant action, hard hits, and edgy attitude. However, though its participants’ athleticism is undeniable, roller derby has never been accepted as a “real” sport. Michella M. Marino, herself a former skater, tackles the history of a sport that has long been a cultural mainstay for one reason both utterly simple and infinitely complex: roller derby has always been coed.

Richly illustrated and drawing on oral histories, archival materials, media coverage, and personal experiences, Roller Derby is the first comprehensive history of this cultural phenomenon, one enjoyed by millions yet spurned by mainstream gatekeepers. Amid the social constraints of the mid-twentieth century, roller derby’s emphasis on gender equality attracted male and female athletes alike, producing gender relations and gender politics unlike those of traditional sex-segregated sports. In an enlightening feminist critique, Marino considers how the promotion of pregnancy and motherhood by roller derby management has simultaneously challenged and conformed to social norms. Finally, Marino assesses the sport’s present and future after its resurgence in the 2000s.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. From Spectacle to Sport
  • Chapter 2. Skating through the Boundaries of Identity
  • Chapter 3. “A Very Handsome King for a Very Beautiful Queen”
  • Chapter 4. Diaper Derbies
  • Chapter 5. California or Bust
  • Chapter 6. DIY Roller Derby
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Index

Michella M. Marino is the deputy director of the Indiana Historical Bureau.


“Michella Marino’s original and compelling history of roller derby shows us how the coed sport skates on a precarious balance of challenging and reinforcing the dominant culture. In doing so, Marino untangles the gender, sexual, and racial dynamics of US sport culture itself. Deeply researched, this lively narrative is a must-read for those interested in gender, sport, spectacle, and American culture.”
Susan Cahn, University at Buffalo, author of Coming On Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Women's Sport

“In this exploration of the history of women in roller derby, Michella M. Marino highlights the shifting, often contradictory dynamics of gender, sexuality, and race in US sport and society. Expertly told and carefully researched and including a wealth of oral history interviews with athletes, coaches, managers, children of skaters, and fans, this is a fascinating study of an understudied phenomenon. ”
Jaime Schultz, Pennsylvania State University, author of Women's Sports: What Everyone Needs to Know®