Q&A: Jane McManus on Roller Derby

Starting April 21st, WFTDA kicks off the Roller Derby World Summit and IF Client, Jane McManus, will be a keynote speaker. Held in Manchester, UK, this public and international event will "curate sessions focused on business resources for leagues, organize panels discussing important topics, and provide networking opportunities for those involved in roller derby." Before heading off to the event, we got the chance to catch up with Jane to discuss roller derby and women in sports media! 

Q: First off, can you provide a little bit of context on what the Roller Derby is? 

A: Roller Derby is kind of an old time sport that a lot of people might remember from the 50's and 60's played on a big track. But in the 2000's in Texas, it was reborn as a women's contact sport. I played for 7 years for a team in Yonkers, New York called Suburbia Roller Derby, and I played under the name Lesley E. Visserate. You have a special roller derby name. So mine is an homage to the sportscaster Lesley Visser, who was a pioneer in our industry. I played for 7 years and I loved it, and I miss it but I got a little busy. So I keep in touch with the great friends I made when I was playing and this was an opportunity for me to go and speak on women's sports and on roller derby, which is something I'm obviously super familiar with and very passionate about so it seemed like a natural fit. 

Q: So how did you get into roller derby yourself?

A: Well, I did a story on it when I was a reporter at a newspaper in Westchester County called the Journal News. At that time, there was a league in Connecticut and two local women playing in it so I thought, 'well this sounds like an interesting sport, I can pin this story to the two local women we have.' And I'd been a basketball player and played sports growing up. I walked in the door and saw them practicing and hitting each other and the contact and the fun that they were having, and I just knew this was my next sport and that it was for me. It felt completely at home. So I did the story, and I said to the two women, 'look if you ever start a league in Westchester, let me know and I'd love to play.' So sure enough, they started a league in Yonkers and they gave me a call, so I got a pair of skates and went down and tried out for the team...At the time and about a year in to playing roller derby, I was assigned to the NFL Jets beat, so I was kind of playing a contact sport while I was also covering this other contact sport. So it ended up being really good experience for me because I learned a lot from a first person view point. 

Q: In terms of you being a keynote speaker this weekend at the World Summit, can you provide a little insight about what you are going to be speaking about as it relates to women and sports media?

A: I work for espnW, which is a part of ESPN that focuses on women and sports, and we look a lot at women as athletes, and women as fans and how sports plays a role in our lives. So for me when I think about the women I know that play roller derby, we all consider ourselves athletes. And at the same time, there is a power that comes from that. I want to talk about how playing sports changes us and changes our lives. I've seen that first hand so much, not only in the professional athletes I cover but also the amateur athletes that I know. 

Q: Looking at the bigger picture, what do you think some of the progress is that has been made with women in sports media in general? 

A: Well, there's been a ton of progress. Part of that is you have a place like espnW where it can be talked about and these issues are discussed. We care about them. You also have something like the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament, where the games are on television and they can be seen. You are allowing that fan base to develop because you are providing coverage of that sport. So to me, part of it is just visibility and that is something that has changed. For example, women's tennis and women's basketball. These are sports that people care about and watch because they are available to them. I think more and more we see coverage of individual women as athletes really elevated. There are a lot of different women that come into public consciousness because there is more coverage of women's sports. With my network, we really care about hiring women and covering women, and I think that makes a difference in how women's sports are covered. 

To read more about the World Summit, click here. Be sure to keep up with Jane and follow her upcoming activity. She has multiple in-depth features that will be coming up before the draft as she takes part in some of the draft coverage at ESPN. Also catch her every Saturday on her radio show, "The Trifecta."