Behind The Scenes

Sidelines: See Jane roll

As "Lesley E. Visserate," ESPN reporter Jane McManus swivels past foes and scores points as a jammer for the Suburban Brawl, a roller derby team based in New York's Westchester County

YONKERS, N.Y. — As Jane McManus, she delivers news and interviews on the NFL as a reporter for and espnW.

As “Lesley E. Visserate,” she swivels past foes and scores points as a jammer for the Suburban Brawl, a roller derby team based in New York’s Westchester County.

Jane McManus (Rich Arden/ESPN Images)

For more than three years, McManus has skated with the Brawl, which competes in both the Suburbia Roller Derby League and in the larger Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. For McManus, skating is way to feed her competitive fire the way playing basketball on New York City playgrounds once did.

“I was ready for something pretty intense again. Once I saw this, I said ‘This is it for me.’ I love the physicality,” said McManus, who was drawn to roller derby when covering the sport for a New York newspaper years ago.

Like all of the athletes, McManus competes under an alias. There are some beauties — Fatal Booty, Rita Wayward, IV Drop (she’s a nurse), Vixen von Bruizen and Domestic Violet, to name a few. There’s even an international registry.

McManus’ stage name is a tribute to journalist Leslie Visser, a friend and a mentor.

“That’s what we call each other,” McManus said of the aliases. “Before we were all on Facebook, I literally didn’t know their real names.”

McManus, who will cover the NFL draft this week for and be featured when espnW’s enhanced website debuts Tuesday, balances her work life with family (she’s a wife and mother) and multiple practices a week.

She’s not alone. McManus is joined by dozens of women, ages 18 to 50-plus, who regularly heed the call of their inner Kansas City Bomber.

This brand of roller derby is contested on a gym floor rather than a raised track that was common with the circuits of the 1970s.

Similarly, the atmosphere in the local Yonkers Police Athletic League gym — where the Brawl plays its home games — is down to earth. The teams depend on fundraising efforts and volunteers to compete, practice, pay for insurance, travel and venues. Local rock bands donate their time to entertain the hundreds of ticket buyers.

There are no theatrics you might associate with televised roller derby of years past; there’s plenty of contact as the skaters negotiate the circled track in packs, but fights are rare, derby veterans say.

Injuries, however, are a given.

“I’ve seen knees explode, ankles crushed. ACL tears are disturbingly common,” said Erin Knitis, a k a “Fifi Fleshwound,” a teammate of McManus’ and self-described “PR maven” for the Brawl.

“I know a girl who had her hips replaced — at 30.”

Why compete?

“Because it’s awesome,” said Knitis.

On a brisk Saturday afternoon in March, Visser helps pace the Brawl to a 254-21 rout of a visiting squad from New Hampshire.

As a jammer, McManus uses her speed, agility and teammates’ blocking to weave past opponents and score points.

Afterward, she seems ready to play two.

“I’ve seen a lot of people suffer broken femurs, wrists, ankles,” said McManus, who suffered a broken tailbone after one bad spill a few seasons ago.

“But I’ve suffered nothing bad enough to keep me from playing. I will do it for as long as I can.”

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