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U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team Wins Strike

Yesterday, the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team reached a historic agreement with USA Hockey, the governing body that oversees ice hockey in the United States. In exchange for the players ending their boycott and agreeing to play in Friday’s upcoming IIHF World Championships of Hockey, the organization will increase players’ compensation to $70,000 a year, plus bonuses.
women's hockey
Image Credit: _becaro_/Flickr

Prior to negotiations, the women’s team received only $6,000 in compensation, and only during the six months while they were training for the Olympics. The women’s team has won gold in the world championships the past three years in a row.

The players were supposed to report to training camp in Plymouth, Michigan on March 21, but elected to boycott when negotiations stalled.

“We are asking for a living wage and for USA Hockey to fully support its programs for women and girls and stop treating us like an afterthought,” said captain Meghan Duggan, in a statement. “We have represented our country with dignity and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect.”

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A Financial Hardship for World Champions

When the boycott was announced, USA Hockey made a statement that said, in part:

The support USA Hockey is implementing in order to prepare the Women’s National Team for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games includes a six-month training camp, additional support stipends and incentives for medals that could result in each player receiving nearly $85,000 in cash over the Olympic training and performance period. The sum is in addition to a housing allowance, travel allowances, meal expenses, medical and disability insurance and the infrastructure that includes elite-level support staff to train and prepare the players.

But Johnette Howard at ESPN pointed out that the players were effectively on their own financially for three and half years out of four, while USA Hockey grossed $42 million in 2014-15 “and paid its executive staff compensation ranging from $440,209 in salary and bonuses for director Dave Ogrean to $250,000 to $300,000 for other senior officials.”

Howard also noted that the teenage boys’ team plays 60-plus games a year and trains where the championships are held, while the women’s team has nine games a year.

To add insult to injury, the federation’s initial response to the players’ boycott was to replace them. They didn’t have a lot of luck. At the hashtag #BeBoldForChange, Twitter buzzed with female players declining USA Hockey’s invitation to be scabs.

ESPN reported that the federation had reached out to women currently playing in rec leagues.

“It’s crazy. Just crazy,” one player told ESPN. “They said USA Hockey is having a final meeting Monday, and if the national team is still boycotting, we need you to report Wednesday. What I kept going back to is, ‘How do I say no, but how do I say yes?’ I mean, I just play in a beer league. I just play for fun now. I don’t train like I did in college. It’s insane.”

The U.S. men’s team also threatened to boycott the world championships in solidarity.

Prior to negotiations, the women's team received only $6,000 in compensation while training for the Olympics.Click To Tweet

What the Players Won – and Why It Matters

The players’ agreement with USA Hockey reportedly entitles them to $3,000-$4,000 per month during the next four years. This means that players can expect to earn $70,000 annually. An Olympic gold medal in 2018 would boost their earnings to $129,000.

“The agreement is going to change how we’re able to train on a day to the day basis,” forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson told SI.com. “We’re going to have the financial support from USA Hockey, so it’s going to allow us to focus more on being an elite athlete, 24/7, instead of trying to squeeze it in between a workday.”

Others hope that the women’s victory will help female athletes in other sports negotiate fairer compensation.

“Incredible courage on display by these brave women. They stand and fight for all of us. Thank you!” said Mia Hamm on Twitter during the boycott. Hamm’s former team, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, has been fighting for pay equity. The players have gone without a contract since the end of 2016.

The hockey team’s victory may also draw attention to pay inequity outside of professional sports.

“Your daughter owes a debt to these women,” writes Barry Svrluga at The Chicago Tribune. “You owe a debt to these women. With not an ounce of hyperbole, they sacrificed so others might prosper. They risked personal gain so future generations could advance. They said they wouldn’t play so others could.”

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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