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Female Full-Contact Sports in New Mexico

Female Full-Contact Sports in New Mexico

Heat, we have Merlinda Chavez and Danni Nava. And from Duke City Roller Derby, we’ve got
Kimberly “Captain Crush” Haines. Thank you all for being with me today.>>Thank you for having us.>>Ekulona: So, we’re here to discuss women
in full contact sports. And, you know, it’s our changing culture. I want you all to tell me briefly how you
got involved in your sport.>>Chavez: Well I got involved in my sport
back in high school. And, the only reason I got involved was because
I was told women or females couldn’t play football. And, I said, “Oh yes I can!” And that’s what actually got me going, on
playing full contact sports, was someone telling me, “No, you can’t. You can’t play”
>>Ekulona: OK. I like that. Did you play on that varsity team?>>Chavez: I did. I played for my high school football team
. I was one of the first female players in the
state of New Mexico. So, I told my mom, I’m gonna try to pave the
way for other girls like me, when they go into high school. Because, everybody deserves a chance and a
shot to play this sport, especially if you love it. I mean, there should be no gender stopping
you to do it.>>Ekulona: Yeah, gender bias. That’s excellent. Danny?>>Nava: I got into it because I have a huge
love for football. Unfortunately, due to medical reasons, I cannot
play. So, these ladies allowed me to come on board
as kind of like the team assistant, slash team Mom. So, basically what I do is I keep the girls
in check like a Mom would, you know? I’m like, “You guys need to behave,”
and stuff like that. And for the same reason that she came on board,
because they said women cannot do this. And I’m like, “Yes, we can”. And these girls have proved it, all the time,
that we can do it.>>Ekulona: I love it. I love it. Captain Crush.>>Haines: Yeah, so I started playing roller
derby about 13 years ago. This sport had a bit of a renaissance in the
early 2000s, and it grew. Duke City Roller Derby was formed in early
2005 here in Albuquerque, So, I started playing on the East Coast in New Jersey. And, it looked like a really fun thing to
do. It was, at the time, mostly women. Men’s teams hadn’t really started at that
point. So, it’s the opposite of football, where the
default is women’s. And men’s roller derby is sort of that, like,
other. Like, oh, and by the way, there’s men who
also do this. Which is kind of, kind of cool. But, yeah, I wanted a fun, social kind of
sport. The idea of having a contact sport was really
interesting to me and at the time it was a very underground, punk rock kind of sport. And we had a lot of fun names, fishnets and
you know little fun activities during the games. So, it was a little bit more of a show, which
was interesting to me.>>Ekulona: I remember growing up watching
roller derby as a kid. It would come on after wrestling and it had
a very large wrestling feel to it. Entertainment. This was the bank stuff and it was kind of
a little bit exaggerated, I think. And, it was supremely violent and we all,
we didn’t understand the scoring, but we saw people doing flips on skates and it kind of
took us wild. So, another question for you all. Most women’s sports that are nationally
recognized, you’ve got women’s soccer, USA women’s soccer. You’ve got the WNBA. You’ve got tennis. Track and field. And skiing, and they’re non-violent. Most of the ones are MMA and we see Ronda
Rousey and the local hero Holly Holm. People don’t hear much about roller derby
or football, respectively. What do you think the significance is, in
growing the popularity for these sports?>>Haines: I think, you know, women hitting
other women is kind of, it makes people a little uncomfortable, which is why women’s
MMA took so long to really take off. You really needed a face like Ronda Rousey
to sell the sport to the masses, right? And I think for us, you know, people do have
that preconceived notion of roller derby as show and roller derby as you know wrestling
on roller skates. So, to feel that we’re a legitimate sport
and to be recognized by ESPN or recognized by Sports Illustrated, which we have been,
but sort of on this, like, fringe of we’re this sideshow of a sport… and we want to
be recognized for the athletes that we are. I mean, we have a World Cup. We have international championships.>>Ekuona: You’re out there sweating and breaking,
breaking bones playing the sports. Now, adding to that, has anybody ever objected
to you playing guys. You said, you were told when you were in high
school, “No, you’re not allowed to play.” When people find out that you’re involved
in these sports now, do people object and say, “Well, why would you want to do that”?>>Chavez: Whenever I tell anyone, “Oh, I
play women’s football,” immediately the thing that comes to mind is lingerie. And I say no (laughs). We wear full pads, helmet, full gear, like
an NFL male football player. And, like she said, I think the fact that
they, you feel uncomfortable when women hit each other, or the fact that in society they
portray these sports as being male dominant, male only sports. We’re not really promoted too much by anyone
on the outside. Like no media promoting, even though we have
tried. They’re just like, I don’t know, women hitting
each other, and, you know, still to this day women are still looked at as caregivers and
mothers. And, you know, “Oh no, you can’t be violent.” And, in actuality, I’m like it’s not really
violent. It’s more of entertaining. It’s a sport. We’re athletes and we deserve to be recognized
just as much as our male counterparts, because I know I’ve played on men’s semi-pro teams
as well. And, until I took my helmet off, they had
no idea I was even a woman.>>Ekulona: Yeah, you’ve gone out there and
played on equal ground. Now, you mentioned lingerie football
and things are… it’s hyper-sexualized. So, if the sport is to be taken seriously,
it has to be hyper-sexualized and added a fantasy element to it. But, we’re now in the “Me Too” era, and
that’s not really going to play anymore now. So, what do you have to say to that, to people
who want to only take it seriously if it is hyper-sexualized. If it is this caricature, so to speak.>>Haines: I mean, like I said, that’s how
roller derby sort of started getting recognition, was because it was, you know, billed as you
know come watch some girl-on-girl action…>>Ekulona: Watch bombshells here.>>Haines: And, the outfits and the themes
of the teams and things like that were very hyper-sexual and it’s drastically been reduced. You see little elements of it here and there
and it stinks because these are amazing athletes… even back when it was, you know, fishnets
and underpants and pillow fights and all these silly things we did. These were still people on roller skates,
knocking the crap out of each other. They were really going for it. It was a fast-paced, hard-hitting sport, but
now, you know, it’s just as hard-hitting. It’s not as fast-paced, but it’s a brutal,
brutal sport. But, people aren’t looking at us the same
way that they were when you could put a flashy headline in a newspaper with some pictures
of girls wrestling on the ground in rollerskates. We’re not getting the attention anymore. We’re not getting the media attention. We’re not getting the fans that we used.>>Ekulona: Ah. So, what do you think that says about society,
now that the sport is being played legitimately? We’ve taken the sexualized aspect out of it
and people aren’t watching anymore. They’re not as interested.>>Chavez: Well, I think it’s just because,
the main fan base of any sport is gonna be male. And, I guess if society pictures women as
being these dainty, caregiving, sexualized creatures that, oh no, you need to put them
up a pedestal. They can’t be hitting each other like that. That’s not okay. And, like you said, MMA kind of brought that
out. However, it still wasn’t as popular as a male
card, MMA.>>Ekulona: And you could say that since Ronda
Rousey has retired from MMA, women in MMA, the boxing fights, the matches aren’t really
publicized as much. I mean, here they are, but it’s only when
Holly Holm fights, you know.>>Yes. Yes. Yeah fights.>>Ekulona: That’s interesting that you all
are… these are serious sports. You’ve mentioned getting knocked down and
coming up. Injuries. Insurance. Being taken care of. Are you all provided adequate medical care
for yourselves?>>Chavez: Everything, I know on our side,
we do personally. All of our expenses are out-of-pocket. All of our insurance comes from our own personal
insurances. The WFA does offer $1,000 or so insurance
policy, for when we’re on the field playing an actual game. But when we’re at practices, or doing scrimmages,
that’s all us. We have to cover ourselves.>>Ekulona: Is that the same?>>Haines: Not really. We have… we’re encouraged to carry your
own personal medical insurance, obviously. Just in general. But, you’re playing a contact sport. The women’s Flat Track Derby Association,
which is our parent organization. We’re a founding member. They have the liability insurance, which we
participate in. So, our league pays money every year to be
a part of their liability coverage. Each of us, as skaters, or officials, pay
annually for a like, a secondary accident medical kind of policy, that responds after
our primary insurance maxes out. And, it has… carries pretty high deductibles. So, I mean, we have some coverage. It does apply to practices and games, as long
as the safety protocols are followed, which includes medics. Which includes first aid kits. Which includes emergency action plans. Like, we have to come up with our own safety
plan. We have safety officers and we sign waivers. And, you know, we take safety very seriously. And we are actually unable to play games without
proper medical staff.>>Ekulona: You have the entire protocol set
up, as you would in other leagues. But, it’s still a significant physical and
financial riskby doing and participating in these sports. You all are doing this volunteer status from
what I understand. Nobody’s getting paid to do this. You’re doing this because you absolutely love
this sport. as opposed to some of the professional sports,
particularly in men’s, we see how these athletes act. And, it’s like, “Do you really love the
sport?” Or, are you complaining and you’re getting
contracts of 40 to 50… what, there is a baseball player yesterday I heard got… scored
a 300 million dollar deal. And who knows if he really enjoys the sport. Now let’s move on to the community here in
Albuquerque. We have a lot of different sports teams, but
we don’t necessarily support our sports teams and our athletics very well. What would you all need to support… to get
attendance, the type of attendance you need?>>Chavez: I think right now, what we’re doing
is, we’re just trying to get as much media attention as we can, whether it be me doing
a slight commercial or small commercial for Duke City Harley-Davidson, which I did recently,
coming here and doing this interview with you helps get us some publicity, or some media
attention. So that we can get the word out and knowledge
that we are here and we’re here to stay and we’re here to play. We do a lot of social media, reaching out
like with Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook… you name it. We’re out there just plugging our names in
there. Word of mouth. I see people on the street and I’m like, “Hey,
do you have an 18 plus year-old daughter, you know, and you ever think she could play
football?” And just like, just recruiting techniques
and just letting him know, “Oh, well even if you don’t come check out a game here’s
our schedule.” And they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t even know
this existed.”>>Nava: Yeah, we get that a lot. Yeah, we didn’t even know this existed. This is so interesting. And they want to come and they want to watch
us, you know, play our games. Then they tell a friend… they tell a friend.>>Ekulona: Given that, when you approach young
girls and young women who say they never knew this existed, what is their reaction when
they see you all doing what you’re doing?>>Chavez: Like shocked. Surprised, very surprised. They look at me and they see how small I am
compared to what they portray as a football player. And, I always get, “Oh, well you’re so small.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but you put some pads
and a helmet on me and I look probably like 100 and some pounds bigger.” I was like, you know, we have… and I told
you, we always, we have people, a wide range of people that play for us. All the way from political figures to police
to medical people to postal employees to military personnel that play football with us. And, I let them know, you know, we have mothers
that play football with us. Sisters. And, I was like, we come from all walks of
life and we’re all classes of people, all races of people. And we just, we come together just for the
love of this sport. And a lot of women just look at me like, “Well,
do you think I’m too small to play?” And I say, “You’re never too small to
do anything you want to do.”>>Ekulona: All you have to do is have the
heart and the desire to get there. Is it the same with roller derby?>>Haines: I mean people are generally sort
of surprised that again, that it exists. You know, a lot of people have that preconceived
notion from the 70s or the 80s, “Oh, that’s still around?” Or, it’s younger people who have seen “Whip
It” with Ellen Page, or you know there’s a children’s book I think it’s called “Derby
Girl.” We actually do have a juniors program that
is open-gender, ages 8 to 17. The adults program is women and gender non-conforming
folks who identify with women’s sports. Our biggest issue is we don’t have anywhere
to play, which makes it difficult to get fans, when our venue is changing a couple times
throughout the season. Or, you know, if we play games… where we
practice, we’re on a basketball court outside. There’s not a lot of seating. We can maybe have 200 people at a game and
that’s not enough to build a fan base, because that’s mostly our friends, family, coworkers,
you know, skaters from other leagues around the state. That’s not our fan base, that, we want a fan
base. We want a venue that will support our sport. It’s difficult to recruit and retain skaters
and officials when we have that inconsistency. You know, we had a bootcamp last weekend which
was great. We had a great turnout. But, Monday’s practice was cancelled.>>Ekulona: Because of weather and you are
outside.>>Haines: And tonight, we’ll see. You know what I mean? So, it’s hard to keep people interested over
time, when we can’t support them as an athlete. When we can’t give them advanced training. When we can’t necessarily have a space to
do off-skates conditioning and more workouts to train ourselves. We’ve had to resort to going to, you know,
work out at a gym with one of our skaters who’s a trainer or watch roller derby footage
and come up with strategy or come up with a drill that we could do, based on that game.>>Ekulona: The facilities is what you primarily
need.>>Haines: Yeah. We’re struggling. We’re struggling there.>>Ekulona: I understand that. Well, I hope that we can get attention, eyes,
fans to you all, so you can get the resources, to get the facilities you need. I commend you for just being stalwarts and
trailblazers and doing what you’re doing. Thank you all very much for being here with
me.>>Thank you for having me.>>Thank you so much.

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