Molly Fannin doesn’t exactly live a double life, but she’s not all she appears to be.
While you’ll see her working as a fundraiser and scholarship manager in the College of Education, you can also go out and see her rough-and-tumble side as a blocker for the Windy City Rollers, a roller derby squad based in Chicago.
Fannin, known as Bork Bork Bork when she puts on her helmet and pads, is occupied for about 50 to 60 hours per week. She works 9 to 5 at DePaul and generally practices with her team two hours per night, five nights per week. In addition, she chairs the team’s marketing committee and spends several hours volunteering each week.
“It’s amazing how much you can actually fit in,” Fannin said. “I never thought I could be this busy.”
Roller derby is a sport that doesn’t get as much attention as professional teams like the Bulls or Bears but exposure isn’t the goal for Fannin and her teammates. They prefer to look at it like someone who enjoys golf or bowling.
“Most people don’t really know how much volunteer work goes into it, and that we pay to play,” Fannin said. “It’s a hobby. Derby is something that I love.”
As far as her day job goes, Fannin prefers not to be looked at as someone who has two different personas. While her coworkers are aware of her involvement with roller derby, it’s not something that she perpetuates. She’s Molly Fannin, and Bork Bork Bork is just an identity she uses while having fun on the track.
“We try to avoid the stigma of ‘living a double life,'” she said. “That was the familiar trope that was used around 2004, and pretty much when the movie ‘Whip It’ [directed by Drew Barrymore] came out.”
That movie also happened to portray roller derby as a violent, brutal sport full of fighting, one that was less a sport than it was a wrestling match. Fannin says that while casual fans still tend to think of roller derby in those terms, the sport has undergone significant changes that have started to lend legitimacy to the athletes participating.
“People at DePaul know I play but it’s a little bit far removed because people don’t really get what the new sport is all about,” Fannin explained. “They remember the theatrical style, more like WWE. Now we’re a normal sport like football. There are no theatrical elements other than the fact that some people wear hot pink tights.”
The change in philosophy has taken a lot of the token violence out of the festivities. Strategy and teamwork has taken its place and makes the game seem more professional than amateur.
“If I’m really good at wiping someone out, that’s cool for the crowd but probably not the best thing for my teammates,” Fannin said.
That doesn’t mean the players don’t get their share of scratches and bruises. Roller derby is still a very physical sport, comparable to hockey in its raw intensity. Players routinely break bones and tear muscles, and often play through the pain.
“I’m lucky, I’ve never really had anything that bad happen to me,” Fannin said with a smile-she’s torn her MCL in the past, but doesn’t consider it a serious injury.
The Windy City Rollers play at the UIC Pavillion about once per month, and draw around 1,100 to 1,500 fans per outing. Their biggest crowd was around 3,500 fans and there are always people young and old who are ready to take in some action on the track. There are also initiatives to get younger girls involved. Fannin works hard to make sure that women and children who idolize their favorite roller derby athletes can participate as well.
“The cool part is that we have juniuor leagues now, little girls from 12 to 18 who are trying to learn the sport. It’s an informal pipeline and it’s a great environment for these girls. It starts at 12 and I think our oldest lady is 45,” she said.
As the chair of the marketing committee, much of the involvement falls on Fannin’s shoulders. Roller derby is not a professional sport; it’s an amatuer league where the players don’t get paid, so finding interest amongst the public is a job that takes up much of her time. Fannin said that interest peaked when “Whip It” came to theaters but that it is still very palpable several years later.
And how about those names? Fannin’s derby moniker is Bork Bork Bork, and her teammates’ names include Ruth Enasia and Beth Amphetamine, among others. “I’m Bork Bork Bork because I love the Swedish chef from the Muppets. People pick what they like, people pick their favorite beer, it depends,” she said.
Fannin said that it’s a personal choice. “I don’t know if I’d get rid of it but if I could have started the sport over I think I’d use my real name,” Fannin said. “Right now, I don’t think I’d ever get rid of it because it’s kind of what I’m known as.”