The Rollergirls situation

Disappointing news came out yesterday concerning the Cincinnati Rollergirls. Mercedes Stafford, better known to fans as Sadistic Sadie, plead guilty to charges of wire fraud. According to the plea agreement, she illegally obtained over 500 plane tickets from her regular employer, United Airline, that were valued somewhere between $400,000-$1 million. She gave these tickets to friends, family, and also to the Rollergirls squad.

Certainly Ms. Stafford has made some incredibly bad choices over the past few years - not the least of which was to procure tickets for the team and potentially involve them in this - and we can hope that she'll take advantage of the time she's going to have over the next several years and turn things in a more positive direction when she's released from prison.

It's also fair to start wondering how this will affect the team going forward. This has been a difficult past couple days for the team, and they've done about as well as can be expected in dealing with the situation - when you start up a volunteer roller derby team, the last thing you expect is to have something like this pop up.

But the reality is that the Rollergirls have built themselves up into being one of the major entertainment options in town, and have been getting tons of publicity. And to a large extent, that's been because of Sadistic Sadie. For all intents and purposes, she's been the public face of the team. She's the one player any casual fan of the team knows. She makes the public appearances. She was the most talented skater on the team - so much so that she was named the Women's Flat Track Derby Association skater of the month for May 2010 (this honor has since been removed from the web page, but it lives on in Google Cache). She had the most charisma of anyone on the squad. And now the team has to figure out where to go from here.

I'm hoping that fans don't desert the team over this - to the contrary, I hope they support the team even more now, because there's no reason to believe that this went any further than one skater. But, for all the effort that this team has put into giving roller derby legitimacy, and showing fans that the Rollergirls are just regular people that play a rough sport on the weekend, this is a huge setback. It takes a lot to convince some people to give roller derby a chance, because they see it as either the cartoonish pro-wrestling style event that took place in the late 70's, or as some sort of seedy underground fight with shady characters and drunk hoodlum fans. Those people likely won't give it a chance now.

I'm not a P.R. consultant (though I don't think it'd be a bad idea for them to talk to one), but if it were up to me I'd start getting my skaters out in front of the public, and start getting people to know them and see them as the face of the team. Like it or not, I think they're going to have to actively distance themselves from this situation, and likely from Sadie as a player. I'm not sure that sitting back and saying that they didn't know what was going on is going to be an adequate response to this situation.


jk said...

Could a conviction or two help the sport? Certainly the early players in other sports weren't saints. And, as you've noted, this is a rough-and-tumble sport. Having a "bad girl"--albeit a white-collar criminal--associated with the team may help attendance, though it might not help in getting sponsors.

A.B. said...

I don't think that really has a lot of appeal anymore. Especially since the focus of the team - and the sport in general - has been to get the general public to accept it as a clean and legitimate support, this flies in the face of that. Even Ultimate Fighting steers clear of shady characters anymore.