The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) sent a wake-up call to the ‘old boys club’ that runs USA Hockey at a crucial point in American politics.
More now than ever the issues of women’s inequality are taking precedent in the United States.
It isn’t limited to corporate offices, schools, government, health care, etc. As the US women’s soccer team showed when they filed a wage discrimination suit against the US Soccer Federation, being the best doesn’t translate to being equal in the eyes of those that control the money.
Early Wednesday, the USWNT announced the team’s decision to boycott the Women’s World Championships starting on March 31 in Michigan unless ‘significant progress has been made on the year-long negotiations with USA Hockey over fair wages and equitable support.’
To which USA Hockey responded with the following statement:
Let’s not mince words here: USA Hockey views the men’s and women’s programs under the same lens.
To take this point of view is not only arrogant, it reveals how little respect USA Hockey has for not just the women’s national team but the little girls who aspire to follow in the footsteps of those players.
The stance of USA Hockey is best summed up in the closing line of the statement: “In our role as the national governing body, USA Hockey trains and selects teams for international competition,” said Jim Smith, president of USA Hockey. “USA Hockey’s role is not to employ athletes and we will not do so. USA Hockey will continue to provide world-leading support for our athletes.”
Consider Smith’s pejorative statement: “USA Hockey’s role is not to employ athletes and we will not do so.”
In one sense, he’s right.
USA Hockey doesn’t need to employ players … on the men’s side. Those on the men’s national team are likely already in the NHL where they make – at the very least – $575,000 per season.
However, let’s remind Mr. Smith of the options for women’s hockey players once they leave college: Go get a regular job, play for the national team (if good enough), and/or play in the CWHL or NWHL. The former of which does not currently provide a salary for players, and the latter had to cut salaries that were already well below a living wage.
Should a player opt for the national team route, she is essentially the property of USA Hockey.
She can do other activities as long as they don’t interfere with her national team duties. It’s not lost on the players that they can be replaced at any moment by another player in the USA Hockey system who is anxious to get her opportunity.
(To be clear: USA Hockey will ice a team for Women’s Worlds with the next group of young talent waiting in the wings; those outside the sphere of influence of the USWNT.)
In regards to the Olympics, what many don’t realize is that the women’s team is subject to ‘centralization’ and is a key point in their equal pay argument.
In the year prior to the Olympic games, those deemed by USA Hockey to be eligible for the final roster are made to relocate to one location to train and practice. Those players who were in the NWHL are no longer picking up an additional paycheck.
Players don’t have a choice. They must centralize if they want a chance to play on the Olympic team.
OK, USA Hockey, you’re not an employer of players. Then what are you when the decision given to those who want to play for you is uproot your life for a year or quit?
As for the men’s team, they have a two day orientation in the off-season and some practices when they get to the event itself. Yes, they don’t receive their millions of NHL dollars during that time, but it’s not like they’re living on, say, $60,000 every four years?
We don’t know how much the men pull in for participating in USA Hockey sanctioned events like Worlds or the Olympics.
Can’t imagine why USA Hockey or the players themselves wouldn’t want that information released?
We do know that it’s really, really expensive to send the men to the games. Hence the current negotiations (or lack thereof) between the NHL and IIHF.
Many players heading to Sochi took private planes after their NHL games ended. Pretty sure they didn’t fly coach on the way back. The cost burden of insuring a whole team of multi-million dollar contracts alone is astronomical.
To consider the women’s team is equal by those few examples of cost measures alone is laughable.
What USA Hockey wants is for the public to believe they’ve supported ‘the equitable treatment of our female athletes, a commitment going back decades.’
If that were truly the case, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Now the USWNT is risking everything they’ve worked for as little girls for those same little girls who look up to them now.
However, according to the players’ comment on USA Hockey’s response, it’s not like they’ll be missing a paycheck. USA Hockey (allegedly) doesn’t provide compensation to the players for Worlds.
If true, at least USA Hockey is staying on-message. They aren’t paying players like employees. Heck, they aren’t paying them at all.
This isn’t all about the money. It’s just one portion of the bigger picture we’ll continue to unpack as more information comes available.
Watch this space.
Bob McKenzie, speaking on NBCSN, echoed much of the information released today by the US women’s national team and USA Hockey.
One key note from McKenzie: the NWHL players have agreed to not play in place of the boycotting USWNT members.
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) March 15, 2017
Leave it to Hilary Knight to add fuel to the fire:
Hilary Knight to USA Hockey: “Good luck getting a suitable No. 1 competition to represent our country on a world stage. I kind of dare them”
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) March 15, 2017