The US women’s hockey team boycott of the Women’s World Championships really got me thinking and stirred up some unpleasant emotions from my teenage years.
Many years ago, when I was in high school in Michigan, I played on my school’s girls’ softball team. From March-June each year, we practiced almost every weekday after school and had games 2-4 times a week. Over the four years I played, we were always a good team, winning way more games than we lost and never having a shortage of girls who wanted to play on our team.
At the beginning of my first season on the team in 9th grade, our team was asked if we wanted new uniforms or a pitching machine—the school could not afford both. We choose a pitching machine, and we wore a uniform mishmash made up of mostly hand-me-downs from the boys’ baseball team. We didn’t even match. Some of us had gray pants, some of us had white and red pinstripe pants. We did not have ball caps as part of our uniforms. We didn’t all have the same stirrups. We must have looked pretty bizarre. We only had four batting helmets, most of which were either too big or too small for players on our team. This presented a problem when we were batting with the bases loaded. The on-deck batter had to remain in the dugout because all four batting helmets were in use and there wasn’t another for her to wear in the on-deck circle.
During this same time, here’s just a partial list of what our counterpart, the boys’ baseball team had—two pitching machines, a matching set of home jerseys, a matching set of away jerseys, their last names on their jerseys, ball caps, a set of practice jerseys, and each player had his own designated batting helmet. The baseball field also had a scoreboard, something we didn’t have.
I am not sure why none of our parents threw an absolute fit at this disparity. Perhaps it was because they saw that we were happy playing, and they were afraid to stir things up by creating drama. Or maybe they actually believed we didn’t deserve the same in sports as what the boys got (yes, that’s true—not only were some of our more old-fashioned parents less than pleased that we, as girls, were so involved in a sport, but as my parents told me frequently, “You shouldn’t take sports so seriously—you’re never going to make a living playing sports.”). And even though within our team there were occasional grumblings about how much the boys’ baseball team had in comparison to us, maybe we were actually somewhat subconsciously conditioned to believe that we didn’t deserve the same things—after all, we knew that, unlike boys, we’d never have a chance to make a living playing a sport.
Regardless, when I look back at this inequity now, it really makes me angry. The fact that it was accepted makes me angry. So the US women’s hockey team’s boycott of the WWC as a way to stand up to the inequity of USA Hockey gives me chills. If you think that their boycott is just about hockey or just about the national team players’ stipends, think again. Their boycott is also about USA Hockey’s gross imbalance in funding of boys’ vs. girls’ youth hockey programs. The team’s lawyers’ statement mentions the disparity of funding in youth programs specifically: "At the younger levels, USA Hockey spends approximately $3.5 million annually to support a schedule of more than 60 games a season for boys participating in its National Team Development Program. There are no comparable development opportunities for girls, and the Women’s National Team plays only nine games in non-Olympic years.”
As US captain Megan Duggan said, “We want to do the fair thing, and the right thing — not just for hockey but for all women.” And alternate captain Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson explained that this boycott is about more than the current national team and the upcoming WWC–“Girls can’t dream of what they can’t see,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “If you put the women’s game out there and fund girls’ development, girls will say, ‘Yeah, I want to be that; I want to do that.’”
These ladies are making this sacrifice for all female hockey players, and make no mistake, for all female athletes. And it is a statement that will resonate globally with implications for years to come. Their sacrifice is for your daughters, girlfriends, wives, nieces, granddaughters, great-granddaughters, maybe even for you. And in some way, even though I am past the point where I can think, “Yeah, I want to be that; I want to do that,” I feel it is also for me. And I cannot thank these brave women enough.