Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hit 'Em With Your Best Shot?

Photo courtesy of Gotham Girls Roller Derby
Let me preface this whole post by saying this: I know nothing.

Okay, that’s not totally accurate. I do know a few things about life, verb conjugation (that sounds dirty), cooking, volleyball, old pulp fiction noir novels, and a few other subjects.

But when it comes to roller derby? I’m a baby. I admit that. I can barely skate, have never ever skated a bout and, as of this writing, who knows if I ever will get there anyway? Shoot, I can’t even hang in a practice let alone dream of starring in a bout yet. All that I can say is that I’m trying to learn, trying to work hard, and trying to be a team player.

So, with that disclaimer, let me tell my story.

Just the other day I was checking out posts on the IDerby group, seeing what folks were talking about. A lot of times I’m simply lost there, as discussions and questions about gear, from wheels to plates to boots and bearings are tossed about. Here my infancy is truly realized because I just know we need skates to play; all of this other finery is beyond me at this point.

And as I perused these posts I came upon one discussing how players felt about blind hits. Essentially, the question was about those hits when, for instance, a blocker is coming out of the box and the trailing opponent’s blocker is hanging back, unaware. The blocker isn’t necessarily part of the action at this point, generally, and the unseen blocker takes the opportunity to simply hit the living crap out of them.

One commentator questioned whether or not hits like that equated with the shot delivered by Warren Sapp (of NFL fame, or in this case, infamy), which sent his unaware Green Bay Packer target to the hospital. Some simply called these “cheap shots” while others saw it in a more nuanced fashion, reminding those interacting in the conversation that we are in fact playing “full contact derby.”

So what about these hits? How do you feel about these shots? As I said, I feel unqualified to really offer much in the way of “experienced” commentary, as I lack any derby-wise, yet I do feel qualified from both a spectator’s point of view as well as one who used to consider himself an athlete, albeit a very amateur one.

And the first point to be made is that yes, these plays are generally legal within the scope of the rules. These players aren’t making any motions that negate the rules, by and large, and are striking their opponent in a legitimate fashion, hammering them in the legally sanctioned areas.

Plus, there are some who would argue that plays of this type, of the silent takeout, aid in a team’s strategy. Clobbering an opponent certainly plays havoc on them mentally, making them keep a wary eye out and perhaps lose track of the jammer later on. Additionally, it also provides some solid chances to trap that blocker behind as in benefits the squad at that time.

Yet, even with the fact that these hits are legal and that they can oftentimes play into a strategy, does that mean that we should engage in them? Should we go headhunting?

It’s a good question, I think. I believe that the answer is muddier than we’d like to make it on both ends. Some will rise up at even the question of it, wanting to call me a wuss and send the discussion away because, “We’re playing #$%^ing derby, not croquet!” And others will hold to the line that it’s simply a cheap shot overall. I’m not sure it’s such an easy line of demarcation.

For me, I’m torn. I’m torn because I am a competitor and, like many, hate to lose. When I’m playing any game, whether it be Monopoly or basketball, I don’t want to lose. I’ll work within the confines of the rules to do all that I can to win that game. Thus, when it comes to derby, I like to think that I’ll maintain that same fire. And the mental game is a huge part of any sport. Aside from the simple fact that hammering a player like that will take them out of the equation for a few seconds, it also does provide that serious mental advantage in many cases that will give you the edge. Plus, it's always a plus for the fans to see the big hits; that's a huge part of derby and I in no way want to detract from that element. It's part of the fun! (At least, once I figure out how to take and give 'em, it will be!)

Yet, with my competitiveness also comes a conscience and a sportsmanlike element. I love to win and I hate to lose but I do not ever, ever want to win because I did anything lacking in sportsmanship. And, to me, sportsmanship has to acknowledge that even if something is technically legal, it’s not always necessarily right.

Which is where the rubber meets the road for me. I realize that I’m dabbling in a bit of situational ethics here (as well as rambling along in this post like anyone really cares), which can be a really slippery slope, but I think that sometimes those shots can be legit and justified. Yet, there are other times when we have to stop and think about what we’re doing and ask ourselves whether it’s really the most sporting move to make at that point.

I’m reminded of that point in the great science fiction film, Jurassic Park, as Jeff Goldblum’s character, Dr. Malcolm, questions the park’s founder, Dr. Hammond, about the rationale behind the deal. (Told you this was a rambling post!) Discussing the ethical ramifications of the genetic research needed to create Hammond’s dinotopia, Dr. Malcolm makes a very profound statement, offering, “…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

I know it seems a little heavy-handed to bring that sort of thinking into the conversation; I mean, we’re still talking about roller derby, right? But, for me, it’s exactly that kind of thinking that needs to be involved in all of our decisions, let alone the ones on the floor.

Just a few thoughts from someone who’s really lower than a rookie. For what its worth.

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