As the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championships signify the third time that the United States has served as host country, there may be an ominous feeling. Taking into account that the two previous stints as host (2001, 2012) resulted in the US unable to claim gold, which may be the case once again in 2017.
Sadly, such an outcome may not be attributed to the on-ice activity. Instead, all the wondrous women that comprise the roster of the US national team, having excelled either collegiately, in the NWHL or with the Minnesota Whitecaps, showed courageous solidarity by going to social media and simultaneously conveying their message.
The point of tension is attributed to a lack of progress in their negotiations with regards to better wages and other benefits, which has dragged for over a year. For now, USA Hockey has been informed that the national team has planned to boycott the IIHF Women’s Worlds, which shall be hosted in Plymouth, Michigan.
With the Worlds scheduled to begin on March 31, it would be nothing short of tragic if a deal for the US national team was not reached. Considering that the US national team has captured the gold medal in six of the last seven IIHF Women's Worlds Championships (its last silver coming in 2012), they must be considered the tournament favorite.
Should it happen that the US national team does not end up competing, it would be only more tragic still if fans considered them traitors for their actions. Taking into account that so many women’s hockey players must find other means of employment to supplement their income, trying to get by on a hand-to-mouth existence in order to make their sporting dreams come true, now is the time for fans to show their support.
For all the times that players have shelved their personal lives, and put promising careers on hold in the name of training, let alone given up their own time for autographs, photographs and meet-and-greets at various occasions, their careers can best be defined by one word, “sacrifice”. Meanwhile, there are professional athletes in men’s sports who ride the pine, making hundreds of thousands per annum, a salary that would take others a decade to attain, this imbalance truly embodies who there appears to be a lack of dignity for all women who compete at a world class level.
Such an imbalance made national headlines in 2016, when the women of USA Soccer, having emerged as household names after capturing the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, made a strong argument for pay equity on the allegations of wage discrimination. While their hopes were vanquished in federal court, it was an important statement. An exhibition game against South Africa, prior to the 2016 Rio Summer Games saw the players wear T-shirts with the hashtag #Equal Play Equal Pay.
Of note, Philadelphia-based lawyer John Langel, who represented women from the US national soccer team for a period spanning a decade, is joined by Dee Spagnuolo in representing the players. Worth noting is the fact that back in 2000, the US national teams also hired legal representatives for the soccer players, and were locked out by their officials. For a group that captured the first gold medal in Winter Games history, one would have assumed that the team would have been flush with cash.
Instead, subsequent generations were just looked upon in the same light, instead of glorified as the heroes that they are. The compensation of $1,000 per month during the six-month residency period for the Winter Games is far from sufficient. There needs to be a contract that covers an entire Winter Games cycle, a proper investment in the future of the game and an adequate reward for the women who don the stars and stripes.
With the fight for sporting equality among the elite women that represent the US in international play has dragged out for close to two decades, there is a moral obligation on the part of their “employer” to correct the wrongs of the past and work towards improving relations for the future, while showing a sincere investment in the development of the women’s game.
Any success that the US experienced in the international game was done on the backs of these hard-working individuals, whose stoic dedication is truly emblematic of the gold standard. Considering the tension over the poor treatment of women in sport is one that is growing, the powers that be have the influence to bring about long overdue positive change. Until adequate compensation is a reality, the unfortunate statement from the lack of progressive bargaining is that these players are not valued, which is definitely not how their fans perceive them. The players have every right to stand up for themselves, and the fans should stand alongside them for what is right, because fairness works.