With only weeks to go before the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship, the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team put their dreams on the line to boycott USA Hockey. Among other things, the team sought sufficient financial support to stay active and competitive in the sport during the years between the Olympics. In addition, the women’s team requested grassroots hockey development support, child care, maternity leave and the ability to compete in more games off the Olympic cycle.
The Disparities Between the Men’s and Women’s Teams
In the past, the women were paid $1,000 a month for six months during the Olympic cycle and virtually nothing else. The players survived financially off of the support that the U.S. Olympic Committee supplied, while half of the team held second or third jobs. While players on the men’s national team can also play in the NHL, which has a minimum salary of $650,000, the women’s alternative is the NWHL, where salaries have recently been slashed to below $18,000.
The disparities go beyond that of paychecks. While the men’s team travels to their games in business class, the women travel in coach. The men’s team is allowed to bring along a guest to championship games, USA Hockey pays for the guest’s transportation costs and allows the guests to stay with the players. On the other hand, the women’s team is not permitted to bring guests and are instead forced to share rooms with other teammates. Beyond hotel and flight perks, unlike the women, the men’s team receives disability insurance.
USA Hockey also spends $3.5 million annually to support a sixty game schedule for a boys’ youth program in its National Team Development Program. Comparably, there is no development opportunities for girls and the Women’s National Team only plays nine games in the non-Olympic years. The request for increased playing opportunities and financial support consistent with the boys’ teams have been the subject of yearlong negotiations.
The negotiation process of this deal took a toll on the players. The women had to stay focused and keep up with training because they could be back in the tournament at the last minute if a deal came together. The situation was made worse when the team got word that USA Hockey was considering using replacement players for the tournament.
Despite all of this, three days before the start of the Championship tournament, a new deal was inked with USA Hockey paying players more than $100,000 in an Olympic year and around $70,000 in non-Olympic years.
Included is the formation of a Women’s High Performance Advisory Group, composed of former and current players from the program, who will meet regularly and assist USA Hockey in the advancement of girls’ and women’s hockey. The Women’s High Performance Advisory Group will assist with programming, marketing, promotion and fundraising efforts. In addition, there will be a focus on grassroots hockey development support for young girls.
The deal ultimately came together because the team stood as a united front. When USA Hockey spoke with each player individually to try to field a replacement team for the tournament, their unified responses sealed the deal. With support from all over the country, including the rumor that the men’s team would boycott their championship game in solidarity, the pressure was placed on USA Hockey.
With the new deal in place, the Women’s National Team laced up to skate in the IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship in Plymouth, Michigan. The momentum from the win against USA Hockey propelled them in the eight-nation tournament by dominating to a championship win. The team came out with a 3-2 overtime win over Canada in the championship final, giving the team its seventh gold medal in the past eight World Championships, and three in a row since the loss to Canada at the 2014 Olympics.
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) April 8, 2017
The victory of the women’s hockey team securing increased pay and benefits will consequently boost the reach of American women’s hockey and allow national team members to focus on hockey year round. This agreement is the latest in a sequence of battles for gender parity in sports. In 2014, 52 NBA players had a salary, individually, which was more than the WNBA’s salaries combined. In tennis, a sport which is more advanced in pay equality, has even seen Serena Williams be given a smaller prize for her win compared to men in the same tournament. In 2016, the U.S. Soccer Federation was sued for wage discrimination, with the U.S. Women’s National Team asserting that they outperformed the men and were paid roughly a quarter less. Like the women’s hockey team, the soccer team also cited to unequal conditions and benefits. While the men’s soccer team plays on grass and fly in business class, the women were playing on hazardous turf and flying economy. The fight for fair pay in women’s sports is ongoing and agreements such as this set a precedent for women’s equal pay battles in the future.
The U.S. women’s national ice hockey team has been reliable winners, winning a medal at every Olympic Games in which they participated. The mere act of defiance in boycotting USA Hockey was a plea for change in this society of sport, especially in a sport led by men. In the U.S. Olympic world and in a nation that desires winning above all else, the women’s team demanded to be taken seriously.