The world’s top-ranked team is taking a stand for equitable wages and support from USA Hockey
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Four years ago, the U.S. Women’s National Hockey team faced off against their archrivals, Canada, in the finals of the quadrennial World Championships. Team USA prevailed 3-2, claiming its sixth world title. Later this month, Canada gets its chance for revenge and the United States gets an opportunity to defend its title, as the world’s best teams gather in Michigan for the 2017 Worlds. Except, the U.S. women may not show up at all.
This week, the U.S. Women’s Team announced they would boycott the championships if USA Hockey, the sports’ governing body in America, didn’t to make dramatic changes to provide women with fair wages and equitable support of the national team.
The players say USA hockey treats them as an afterthought, failing to invest in women’s teams as they do in the men’s side. USA Hockey pays the women meager wages (just a $1,000 per month stipend in the six months leading up to the Olympics), they don’t invest in youth development equitably, and they also fail to promote women’s hockey the same way they promote men’s. For instance, when USA Hockey unveiled the jerseys for the 2014 Olympic team, no women were part of the unveiling, and they and didn’t acknowledge the women’s 1998 gold medal as they had celebrated the men’s teams victories in 1968 and 1980. This neglect by USA Hockey could actually be illegal.
“We have asked USA Hockey for equitable support as required by the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act,” U.S. player Hilary Knight wrote in a statement. “Specifically, we have asked for equitable support in the areas of financial compensation, youth team development, equipment, travel expenses, hotel accommodations, meals, staffing, transportation, marketing, and publicity.”
The act Knight cites states that governing bodies such as USA Hockey must “provide equitable support and encouragement for participation by women where separate programs for male and female athletes are conducted on a national basis.”
USA Hockey is falling well short of that obligation, as Julie Foudy notes on ESPNW, USA Hockey spends “$3.5 million per year to support boys participating in its national team development program. That $3.5 million goes to support a schedule of more than 60 games a season for teenage boys, with no comparable development opportunities for girls.”
The governing body has countered the players’ boycott threats, saying it will still field a team for the World Championships that begin on March 31 and arguing that it’s not their responsibility to pay women’s hockey players more. "In our role as the national governing body, USA Hockey trains and selects teams for international competition," said USA Hockey President Jim Smith. "USA Hockey's role is not to employ athletes and we will not do so."
This statement ignores that on the men’s side, players have high-paying day jobs (playing in the NHL) that keep them trained up for international action. Women don’t have that same opportunity, usually working multiple jobs around their training. The women are expected to stay in shape with little support from USA Hockey, but, unlike men, are expected to drop obligations for long training sessions, whereas men usually only have to participate in team camps for a few days before the Olympics.
And the women argue that with the proper backing, they could generate the revenue to support paying team members for their efforts, but USA Hockey has not given them the chance. "For years we have asked for more games on our schedule. And more games in bigger NHL venues, as we know we can sell them out," U.S. captain Meghan Duggan told Foudy. "USA Hockey's response was, ‘Why don't you play in smaller venues so you can pack them. What if people don't come to the bigger venue?’ We would say to them, 'And what if they do?’”
USA Hockey is tasked with growing the game in America, for women as well as men. By skipping the chance to be crowned world champs on home ice, the women of the national team are poised to hold their governing body to that obligation.