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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
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264 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, a division of the Indiana State Library.


“Michella M. 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

Roller Derby: The History of an American Sport is both a powerful history and a great read. It brings alive the origins, growth, and complex evolution of an unusual and very real sport, which tends to be either loved to distraction or regrettably misunderstood. As one of those who loves roller derby to distraction, I was wowed by the author’s colorful stories, original interviews, and incisive analysis of gender, race, class, and sexuality. Readers, skaters, athletes, feminists, and fans of all kinds will want to high five Michella M. Marino (aka Coors Lightning) for this meticulously researched, force-filled, and fascinating book. ”
Devoney "Stone Cold Jane Austen" Looser, Arizona State University, author of The Making of Jane Austen

“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®

“This book is an absolute gem, meticulously researched and certain to become the authoritative text on the history of roller derby in the USA. Using a combination of oral history testimonies and fascinating archival sources, Marino approaches roller derby as an important cultural institution and examines the twists and turns of almost one hundred years of the sport with curiosity, generosity, and impressive rigor. The book stands out for its consistent attention to the way tensions around gender, class, and race across twentieth-century America were transacted and negotiated by skaters and wider roller derby communities. Roller Derby: The History of an American Sport achieves the remarkable feat of not only giving an account of the captivating conflicts, triumphs, and frustrations of roller derby itself but also offering readers a fresh perspective on the much broader issues that shape our lives and define our cultures. ”
Maddie Breeze, University of Strathclyde, author of Seriousness and Women's Roller Derby: Gender, Organization, and Ambivalence