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U.S. Women’s Team doesn’t want millions, they’re ‘just asking for what’s fair’

The U.S. Women's National Team took a stand on Wednesday, announcing they'd sit out the World Championship as they seek equitable support from USA Hockey. The women aren't looking for big-money contracts, but they want a liveable wage.

Six months after Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson returned to Grand Forks, N.D., from the Sochi Olympics, she was heading out of town again. This time, it was for the camp leading up to the 4 Nations Cup, where she underwent strength and conditioning tests with the rest of her USA Hockey teammates. After that, Lamoureux-Davidson was off to a December camp, followed by a post-graduate camp in late-February. That set up for the World Championships, which take place the final weekend of March and culminate with the gold medal game in early April.

Every six-to-eight weeks, Lamoureux-Davidson said, she’s packing her bags to head elsewhere to fight for her place on the roster and chance to represent her country. The women are expected to be there if they have designs on competing on the big stage at the Olympics, too. But the only time she and her teammates are compensated is during the six-month pre-Olympic period. Most recently, that meant members of the women’s national team were given a $1,000 per month living stipend. Earning that much hasn’t always been the case.

That the women are only compensated for six months of every four-year cycle is one of several reasons why Lamoureux-Davidson and her teammates made a stand. The U.S. Women’s National Team, the defending world champions, announced Wednesday they are set to boycott the Women’s World Championship after negotiations for equitable support from USA Hockey stalled. The tournament is scheduled to take place in Plymouth, Mich., in two weeks.

“It’s disappointing that we train full time, are expected to win championships and perform at an elite level, but we aren’t financially supported by our national governing body to do so,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “Over half of us work second or third jobs, and there are a couple girls who still live with parents. There (has to be) support from family members or spouses. It’s unfortunate that’s the case.”

Lamoureux-Davidson made it clear, too, that the women aren’t seeking to be compensated like millionaire NHL players. Matter of fact, they’re not even looking for a salary commensurate with that of a middling player on a two-way NHL deal. Rather, the hope is to be supported with a “liveable wage” akin to what full-time professionals in other fields earn. That would help remove the financial burden that can come along with playing for the national team. And it is a burden, to be sure. 

At times, women have to choose between careers and the pursuit of their dream or decide whether they can have a family while still being a member of the national team. It’s the very reason why women who are in the prime of their playing careers leave the game. Lamoureux-Davidson, for example, wants to start a family with her husband, but knows that might mean she doesn’t get to leave the game on her own terms.

“If someone wants to have a family and chase their dreams, they’re essentially saying that you need to pick one,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “It becomes — and it’s sad — but it becomes, ‘Is it worth it to keep playing?’ It’s not even a conversation about whether you’re good enough to keep playing or if you’re getting too old. It’s, ‘Is it worth it?’ ”

After Wednesday’s announcement, USA Hockey fired back with a statement of its own, indicating that each player could receive nearly $85,000 during the upcoming Olympic period. Per a release from USA Hockey, the $85,000 is in addition to "housing allowance, travel allowances, meal expenses, medical and disability insurance and the infrastructure that includes elite-level support staff to train and prepare the players" over the Olympic period. However, Lamoureux-Davidson called USA Hockey’s statement “very misleading and dishonest,” adding that the $85,000 figure includes a gold medal bonus and funding that could come from the US Olympic Committee, as well as potential bonuses provided by USA Hockey. To say a quarter of that money is guaranteed would be generous.

“Well over half (of the $85,000) is from the USOC,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “To say that they’re offering $85,000, that’s not their money to be offering.”

USA Hockey could not be reached for further comment on the financial support during the Olympic period.

It wasn’t just the misleading financial figures that were frustrating to the players. USA Hockey’s statement also glossed over one of the biggest issues, Lamoureux-Davidson explained. The players want continued support over all four years and benefits that are given to the men’s teams that aren’t currently provided to the women. The long-term contract would include equitable support for transportation and travel, pregnancy benefits and disability insurance, which the women don’t currently have but men's teams receive. Lamoureux-Davidson called them “basic benefits that employers provide employees."

"They want to say we’re not employees, and that’s OK, but they could still provide these things for us," Lamoureux-Davidson said. "It’s just very basic stuff.”

USA Hockey’s statement also didn't address concerns over the support given to the men’s game when it comes to development, but did note the organization has a "long-standing commitment to the support, advancement and growth of girls and women’s hockey and any claims to the contrary are unfounded." But in a press release from the women's team, it was stated that roughly $3.5 million is spent each year on the men’s U.S. National Team Development Program. No equivalent support exists for the women, who, per the release, play nine games in non-Olympic years compared to the 60 played by the men’s development program. Not only that, but no similar development program exists for women.

“It’s hard to believe that, in 2017, we still have to fight so hard for basic equitable support,” said Monique Lamoureux-Morando, Jocelyne's twin sister, in a release. “But when I think about the women who paved the way for our team—and when I see girls at rinks around the country who are dedicated to pursuing big dreams and look to us to lead by example—it’s well overdue for us to speak up about unfair treatment, even if it means sacrificing an opportunity to represent our country."

And so it's clear, Lamoureux-Davidson and her teammates don’t want to be missing the World Championship, they don’t want to miss an opportunity to defend their title in front of home fans and they didn’t want it to come to this. But after 14 months of trying and failing to make progress in discussions with USA Hockey, drastic measures had to be taken, Lamoureux-Davidson said. The women are more than happy to play if significant progress can be made, but unless that happens, “the team’s not going to show up in Plymouth.” That has led USA Hockey, which said it remains "committed to continuing dialogue," to reportedly seek players for an "alternative team," according to a release from the U.S. Women's National team. The team added they regret USA Hockey's decision to not "reconsider their treatment of the current World Championship-winning team."

“We’re not asking for millions of dollars, by any means. We’re not even asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars. We’re just asking for what’s fair,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “That’s really what’s important because it’s going to change the landscape of how young girls can come up through this program in the future. That’s why it’s so important to us.”

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