(note - this post does not contain typos - just British English spelling)
Wednesday seemed a normal midweek news day in hockey – college free agent signing beginning in the NHL, preparations well advanced for the NWHL playoffs, and the beginnings of the build up to the World Championship season for both men and women, and NHL playoffs.
Then the US women’s national team dropped a beautifully co-ordinated grenade into a calm March Wednesday – one that could leave reverberations running through the hockey world for a long time yet.
For the full low-down on the events, this excellent piece by The Ice Garden will explain in far more detail than I can both what happened and the context the action was taken (and for excellent in-depth w-hockey reporting, we recommend you should look to names like Hannah Bevis, Kate Cimini and the team at the Victory Press as this story develops).
The short version, though…is this. The USA women have had enough of being treated like second-class citizens in their own hockey program, and are refusing to play in the Women’s World Championships (which, by the way, is being held in the US this year) due to negotiations between the team and their federation over pay and arrangements breaking down.
Here’s the thing. This is something that the hockey world needs to support, unconditionally. The women in the US programme represent their country with pride and honour without any exception. They make the same sacrifices as men, train with the same fervour and dedication, and face the same on-ice challenges of competing at the highest level in the world.
The difference is, they do it with almost no support from the very national federation that’s supposed to speak for them.
The US players are unquestionably some of the best in the world. US sport has basked in the glory of their achievements the past few decades, both in hockey and their contemporaries in soccer. Yet their respective national sports apparatus have shown an almost shameful lack of commitment to actually supporting them – for example, the US women’s hockey programme has no investment in it (comparatively, the federation spends $3.5 million a season on junior programmes) and could barely muster a supportive tweet for International Women’s Day.
Which is why the team standing up for themselves is so important. They have finally decided to use what little power they have – namely withholding their labour at an international tournament, which they hope will force USA hockey to act due to the alternative being not having a representative team at a World Championships they host.
USA Hockey now has two options. Essentially, it can do the decent thing and actually find a way to support women’s hockey in the same way it does men’s hockey (or even on a broadly comparable level, which it is absolutely nowhere near at the moment)
Or it can do what it has done, which is essentially try and bypass the problem by sending a “replacement” USA team to Worlds, made up of the younger players.
This tactic deserves to be challenged. So let’s – in letter form, because if written that way, it’s far easier to marshal my thoughts.
Dear USA Hockey,
Your reaction to the USWNT asking for fair and equitable treatment shames you, and shames the very values of unity and pride in representing a nation you and your defenders claim to hold so dear. By asking under-18 and under-22 female players to make a choice between supporting their fellow athletes and achieving what for many will be the lifelong dream of representing their country, you are making a shameless and cowardly attempt to divide and rule the players you claim to care so much about.
Let’s be clear here.
They are asking to be treated in a way that shows that women’s hockey is as valued as men’s – as one that is one of the fastest growing sectors of the game.
They’re asking to be treated in a way that will not only show them that they are valued, but that will show every girl that picks up a hockey stick or pulls on a pair of skates that they are just as valuable, just as popular, just as worthy of the love of their country’s sports community as their male counterparts.
By attempting instead to simply ignore them in the hope that you’ll be able to manipulate and deceive the generation of players who wish to follow them into hockey folklore, or to continue a system that places them on a lower level for funding and support, you are betraying their hard work. You are sending a message to every player that they are less important to you – players who have inspired people of all genders all over the world with their skill, creativity and hard work and will continue to do so.
The hockey world wants you to do the right thing, USA hockey. It’s time to #beboldforchange and give the USWNT and all involved in the USA hockey women’s national team system what they deserve – fair treatment.
Do so, and you’ll reap the rewards for years to come. If you fail them or try and divide them through nefarious means and asking players to choose between their sport and their fellow players, the hockey world will remember. And you will not come out of it well.
The choice is in your hands, USA Hockey. You can either join the modern world, or continue to treat one of the most valuable assets you have like second-class citizens.
But rest assured if you do so, there will only eventually be one winner – and it will not be USA Hockey.
Do the right thing. For the sake of the women who have represented you with pride, those who do so now, and those who will continue to in the future.
Anything else and you are betraying everything you claim to stand for in USA hockey.
A hockey fan.