In thinking about the statement released by more than 200 women’s pros on Thursday, it was very tempting to liken Hilary Knight, Marie-Philip Poulin or any of the other signees to Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay – a player who put his career on the line to do what he thought was best for his fellow hockey players. But why do we always end up comparing women players to men?
If anything, let’s compare the 200 to historical figures such as Lucy Parsons or Emma Goldman; women who took on difficult labor battles that many saw as impossible to win (and as a sidebar, how has it been 24 hours without someone photoshopping these players onto a “300” style movie poster with “200” as the tagline? Why even bother having an Internet?).
What has become incredibly clear in the past two years is that the biggest names in the sport are willing to go to the walls for the game they love. The first spark came back in 2017, when members of Team USA threatened to boycott the World Championship – which was being held on home soil in Plymouth, Michigan.
The American women wanted more playing opportunities and treatment, including financially, more in line with their male counterparts. It was a daring gambit, but thanks to unity in the ranks – including younger women who turned down “scab” invites to replace them – it worked. USA Hockey came to the table and negotiated. The women were satisfied enough to return in time for the tournament. They received business-level travel for the future and insurance protection, just like the men had. National team wages were reportedly raised from $1,000 a month around the Olympics to as much as $4,000. With other financial throw-ins, an Olympic gold medal (which they ended up winning in 2018) could mean a total of $129,000 per player for the year.
Which brings us to the here and now. Round 2, if you will. The 200 are facing just as great a crisis, as the CWHL has been shuttered and the NWHL has not provided the necessary support to sustain the best talents in the world. Something new must come, it is plain to see.
Now, the 200 could have sat quietly, played in the NWHL and hoped that things would get better. Perhaps a league that started off with so much promise would reap a financial whirlwind and pay the players more, instead of less than advertised (which infamously happened in 2016).
No. Not for this crew. They have clearly chosen to fight and it is admirable beyond words.
The viability of women’s professional hockey is still a question for many. Detractors will claim that the level of play isn’t as good as the NHL, that no one wants to pay to see the women’s game on a consistent basis.
The counterargument is that we have still yet to see a framework that would allow the women’s game to thrive. In small doses, we have seen the massive ratings for the Olympic tournament and we have seen a sell-out crowd of 8,435 in London, Ont. for the Rivalry Series between Canada and Team USA – a tournament created as a result of the 2017 American boycott settlement.
But I’ll leave the Internet arguments to the mad-on-Facebook crowd. Personally, the Well, Actuallys are boring to me.
The 200, particularly the Americans who fought before in 2017, have tapped into something here. They are not going to be quiet, they are not going to settle for less. They are obviously aware that the hockey world could move on from this story and never look back. I mean, what will Brad Marchand do next, amirite? And that’s where I see the nobility in this fight. There is no guarantee of victory, but there is honor in standing up for what they believe is right. The history of the American labor movement is lined with losses, but that never stopped folks from trying. And incrementally, things got better.
You can say it’s “only” hockey, but for a lot of us in the industry – even those who aren’t players – it means something. This is about their passion and their livelihood. And as an outsider, it’s incredible to watch them stand up and battle for it.