USA Women’s Hockey Boycott and Social Movement (By Traci Nigg)
This quote defines the overarching theme of USA Women’s Hockey’s social movement for equality, change, and promotion of social justice of women’s rights via sports. The following link is USA Today’s brief video to explain the basis of the National Women’s Hockey Team boycott as they are seeking wage and other support from their governing body, USA Hockey.
Social media networks are being flooded with images and commentary on this issue. Many of these are from the professional athletes themselves directly to the media stream in an attempt to use any leverage they may have due to the quickly approaching 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship which is being held on home soil in Plymouth, Michigan from March 31st until April 7th.
USA Women’s Hockey comes into this tournament with an impressive record and reputation. The Team USA Hockey website states that “The U.S. has won the last three IIHF Women's World Championships and has played Canada in the gold medal game in all 17 of the previous events, capturing the top prize a total of seven times (2005, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016), including six of the last seven tournaments. Team USA is 67-3-6-8-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L-T) in 85 career games and has outscored their opponents 565-130.” With this dominant presence at the international level, the women are taking advantage of the opportunity to use their previous successes along with the dependence of future success on their willingness to play in the World Championships to take a stance on wage equality and fairness.
There has been an outpouring of support from other professional female athletes as well as those players who USA Hockey have reached out to as possible “replacements.” The Guardian reports that USA Hockey is in a race against time to field a team for the tournament. Due to the united front of female hockey players, the attempt to find replacements has been met with resistance and refusal to take USA Hockey’s offers to be called up to play for World’s this year. That article states that “the unwillingness of possible replacements to take part raises the embarrassing prospect of the US not being able to field a team in the championship it is hosting (Guardian Sport, 2017).” It is highly unlikely that this boycott would be as effective if players from Division III programs and former athletes were willing to participate as USA Hockey would have, in the least, a team to present at the tournament.
Brittany Ott of the Boston Pride stated, “It’s a very unified front. It’s a tight-knit community that we have in women’s hockey here. This is definitely a big opportunity for us to make a big change and have a big impact on our sport and have it grow. We’re all standing together (Guardian Sport, 2017).”
THE FINANCIAL ISSUE
According to an article released by CNN Money on March 18th, 2017, the women players say that USA Hockey does not offer them a living wage and argue that the men’s hockey team is afforded more benefits and marketing help (Wattles & Garcia, 2017). USA Hockey’s response says it offered the women, among other things, a $24,000 annual base salary and an extra $7,500 if they win the gold medal at the world championship games (Wattles & Garcia, 2017). It was further elaborated in the article that the season for which the women are paid is only the six month period leading up to the Olympics. During this time they receive $1000 per month. They players are concerned with compensation for training time and public appearances outside of this limited time frame. The players are also asking for a salary and other benefits such as child care, maternity leave and the ability to compete in more games throughout the year (Garcia, 2017). While addressing the discrepancies between them and the treatment of their male counterparts, the women want to be able to bring guests to competitions, fly in business class and get disability insurance (Garcia, 2017). Ultimately, the refuting statement is that “USA Hockey has said that it's a governing body and not an employer, and so it has no plans to classify the women as full-time employees (Garcia, 2017).”
If this is the case, how does the wage inequalities and treatment get resolved?
THE SOCIAL ISSUE
It is difficult to see the Women’s USA Team have so much success and represent their country with pride yet suffer the financial hardship of being unable to earn a living wage. All the while, it is reported by the USA Hockey Men’s team’s record page that since being involved in World Tournament in 1928, “The U.S. has won a total of 11 medals in the event; winning gold once, silver four times and bronze six times. Team USA has claimed two bronze medals in the last three years (USA Hockey).” This is by no means a bash on the Men’s team, however a credit to the Women’s team for their international success. This is also where their frustration is stemming from as they are bringing home trophies and hardware to commemorate their valuable efforts yet they aren’t receiving the financial compensation to back their success.
Where this dilemma becomes even more challenging is when we consider that USA Hockey is a 501c3, non-profit organization that operates as a governing body for hockey, however, is not a revenue generating source. Frustration may also come from female athletes when they see their male counterparts on the USA Men’s Team taking home millions of dollars each year. However, the men are not receiving their income from USA Hockey. Their income is a result of the revenue generated by the National Hockey League which contracts these players and provides their salaries and benefits. When a female hockey player knows that the lowest earning NHL player receives more than half a million dollars per year, then yes, it is easy to understand why they feel that their professional career and training isn’t being shown the same respect. According to the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement from 2005, “The minimum NHL player salary in 2005-06 and 2006-07 will be $450,000; $475,000 in 2007-08 and 2008-09; $500,000 in 2009-10 and 2010-11, and $525,000 in 2011-12 (to the extent the CBA is extended by the Union).” With a union to support them, the men have a bargaining power where the women do not. So where can the women gain this type of support?
As a social worker looking in on this situation, I see the women’s team seeking support, reassurance, and backing. They are primarily seeking financial compensation, however, this isn’t all they are after. With the social media posts and the positive responses they have received from their fellow athletes and other fans, I believe they are becoming more empowered to stand strong for equality and fairness. This isn’t just for the financial benefits but for the overall movement of gender equality, women’s rights, fair treatment, and professional respect.
On the USA Hockey (2017) website in their “About” section, they specifically state “As the National Governing Body for the sport of ice hockey in the United States, USA Hockey is the official representative to the United States Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation. In this role, USA Hockey is responsible for organizing and training men’s and women’s teams for international tournaments, including the IIHF World Championships and the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. USA Hockey also works closely with the National Hockey League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association on matters of mutual interest.” They claim to work closely with the NHL and the NCAA. These two organizations are powerhouses that could promote significant social change within the world of women’s hockey and its development. The simplest of responses from USA Hockey could promote a more peaceful exchange between the women’s team and their governing body. The official website does not make any reference to the boycott which gives the impression that they wish to overlook the issue and hopefully brush it under the rug before it negatively impacts the organization as a whole. Instead of washing their hands of the issue and seeking backdoor deals with undertrained, unprepared athletes to “replace” the current USA players, USA Hockey could advocate for awareness of the inequalities and injustices that female athletes face today. Then they could promote awareness and collaborate with the NHL to try and create a more welcoming, appreciative social and athletic environment for female hockey players. In the least, their understanding and support would give the women a sense of care and concern that their governing body understands their hardship and wishes to take action to address it.
Realistically, the money may not come pouring in, but emotional support and empathy can. Along with this could also come social support and action for positive change, but how? Currently, there is an open position for employment within USA Hockey for a manager specifically for female hockey. The request is that his manager “coordinate USAH American Development Model and female long term athlete development (LTAD) initiatives within the female hockey structure (USA Hockey, 2017).” Someone with passion for social change, women’s rights, youth development, and a drive for advocacy, would be ideal for this role. Maybe there is a social worker amongst us that would greatly serve this organization, its athletes, and this social movement during this time of need and reform.
Collective Bargaining Agreement FAQs. 2005. National Hockey League. Published 7/21/2005.
http://www.nhl.com/ice/page.htm?id=26366 Accessed 3/26/2017.
Garcia, A. 2017. “While the U.S. men's hockey team sat in business class, the women sat in coach.” CNN Money Sport. Published 3/24/2017. http://money.cnn.com/2017/03/24/news/companies/usa-hockey-womens-pay-dispute/ Accessed 3/26/2017.
Guardian Sports. “USA Hockey rebuffed as replacements stand in support of women's boycott.” The Guardian. Published 3/25/2017. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/mar/25/usa-hockey-world-championships-dispute-boycott Accessed 3/26/2017.
Perez, A.J. 2017. “U.S. women's hockey team members share bold messages on social media.” USA Today Sports. Published 3/24/2017. http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nhl/2017/03/24/us-womens-hockey-team-social-media/99577336/ Accessed 3/26/2017.
USA Hockey. 2017. “Men’s World Championships.” Accessed 3/26/2017. http://teamusa.usahockey.com/page/show/2425772-men-s-world-championship
Wittles, A. and J. Garcia. 2017. “Pay fight between USA Hockey and women's players intensifies.” CNN Money Sport. Published 3/18/2017. http://money.cnn.com/2017/03/18/news/usa-womens-hockey-equal-pay/ Accessed 3/26/2017.
Websites for further information:
Financial Statement from USA Hockey Inc., on August 31, 2016
USA Hockey Financial Requirements and Expenses as a Non Profit Agency