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Last week, the US Women’s National Hockey Team made clear that unless significant progress was made “on the year-long negotiations with USA Hockey over fair wages and equitable support,” the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship would be reduced to a seven-team tournament.  Our very own Jackie Daly did a Double G Sports Minute in response to the message sent by the USWNT.

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The bottom line is if the USWNT does not feel that significant progress is being made, they will not compete in the tournament, despite the fact that the United States is the host country this year.  But before we dive into who’s right (and who’s less right), we need to debunk some of the myths surrounding the controversy.

Myth #1: The US Women’s National Hockey Team can’t possibly expect to be paid like Crosby, Lundqvist, or even NHL league-minimum salary.

This is true.  In fact, somewhat related to the matter at hand, the National Women’s Hockey League this season announced pay-cuts to the players due to lack of revenue from poorer attendance than last year’s inaugural season.

But that’s not the point; the women are not looking for millions.  They are seeking fairness, equality, and more support from USA Hockey.  They want to be able to focus more on training.  But with such low income coming from hockey sources, some of the players are forced to get several part-time jobs to be able to afford all the expenses that come along with playing the game of hockey and, most importantly, to be able to afford to live, in general.  As for the players that currently play on NCAA squads, they certainly are not being paid at all pursuant to their player status.

According to a statement released by the women’s national team, the players receive $1,000 in the form of a stipend for the six months leading up to the Olympic Games.  That means the players receive $6,000 for four years of training.

Myth #2: USA Hockey does not require the women to train for the 42 months that they are not being compensated for.

The players will tell you that this is utterly false.  If the players don’t show up to training camps in off-Olympic years, they risk getting cut from the squad.  Whether or not this is true at all, it is a moot point.  The fact remains that these women must devote their lives to training for the Olympic Games as well as the several other tournaments they play in off-Olympic years.

The last decade has seen a massive increase in training, dieting, and overall lifestyle for not just hockey players, but athletes as well.  In the olden days, the players partied; they smoked liked chimneys; they drank like fish; they spent their nights out at clubs and lounges until sunrise; and they may or may not have partaken in the consumption of illegal and/or illicit narcotic substances.  But those days are long gone.  Players are all but contractually obligated to spend their entire off-seasons in the gym training for next season or recovering from off-season surgery, save for a couple of weeks of vacation to reset the mind.

The level of competition has ushered in an era of emphasis on fitness.  Look no further than to Jaromir Jagr who, at age 45, trains harder than just about anyone in the NHL.  The same goes for the women.  Fitness is not gender-discriminatory; if the US Women’s National Hockey Team wants to continue to be a strong presence in the world today, the women need to train all the time.  Working several part-time jobs does not allow the women to devote their time to training and being the best they can possibly be.  So USA Hockey can say all they want that the women are only being compensated for what’s being required of them.  But there are 42 other months that the women are training and not be compensated for their time and effort.

Obviously, when it comes to the women who play for NCAA clubs, I would assume they have full access to their respective school’s training facilities, and are afforded ample ice time with their college clubs.  But as for the several women who are not in college, without support from a spouse, significant other, or family, these players must rely on themselves to juggle their lives between making a living wage off the ice and training for the next big tourney (more on this later).

Amanda Kessel (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Amanda Kessel (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Myth #3: These women have a right to be paid more.

Very simply, this is false.  Without a contractual agreement between USA Hockey and the players, the players would have absolutely zero legal rights to be paid for their performances.  Unfortunately, we are dealing with two private parties: USA Hockey and the women’s national team.  USA Hockey is an non-governmental organization – USA Hockey is by no means a department or agency of the Federal Government of the United States, nor is it a department or agency of any of the 50 states or territories of the United States of America.  Furthermore, the Federal government has still failed to pass any laws mandating equal pay based on gender.  Legally, USA Hockey has no obligation to pay the women anything at all (again, this is contingent upon there being no operating agreement between the parties.  There is obviously an agreement to pay the women for the six months leading up to the Olympic Games, but nothing beyond this obligation exists).

If any of these arguments are still not good enough for you, you’re right.  Everything I mentioned in the previous paragraph is a moot point.  USA Hockey does not actually employ the players – they are merely independent contractors (a legal debate could ensue regarding whether the players could be seen as temporary employees or independent contractors in a court of law, but I will spare you the analysis).  I will not belabor you with a dissertation on employment/tax law, but USA Hockey would like to keep it that way, for legal reasons, I presume.  But legally, USA Hockey is under no obligation to raise the amount or length of the stipend that the players are requesting.

In Myth #1, I mentioned that the women are seeking fairness and equity.  But it’s all about context.  In the legal world, “fairness” and “equity” entail specific legal obligations.  But just as the women do not have a legal “right” to be paid more money, there is also no legal right to “equality” and “fairness” either.  But in the world of common parlance, “fairness” and “equality” have other, implications which will be further examined below.

Note: USA Hockey has reportedly offered a raise in the amount of the six-month stipend from $1,000 to $3,000, but not the length of the stipend beyond six months.  This is decent starting point from the part of USA Hockey, but it does not fully address the concerns that many women have regarding the 42-month periods of not being supported while still in competition mode.

Myth #4: Just like any other business, profits and production should drive salary.

If that were true, then the funds that USA Hockey provides to the boys’ youth and USA Hockey National Team Development Program should not be any more than the women’s national team, let alone any funds at all.  Though the figures are disputed, suffice it to say that the boys’ and NTDP receive more money from USA Hockey than the women’s nation team.  But let’s break it down.

In total, the Women’s National Hockey Team has posted an international record of 228-72-4.  The WNT boasts seven gold and ten silver medals in 17 appearances beginning in 1990 at the IIHF World Women’s Championships (the very tournament at stake in this controversy).  In five Olympic appearances, the women have won gold once (1998, their first appearance at the Olympics), three silver medals (most recently in 2014 in Sochi), and one bronze medal (2006).  Ironically, the Olympics are the only tournament in which the players are supported at all (while you might see a correlation here, I invite anyone to find me proof of a causation here).

The Men’s National Hockey Team, on the other hand, has competed in the Winter Olympics several more times than the women have, and only have two gold medals, their last being a miracle in 1980.  Team USA has added eight more silver medals, and one bronze in 21 total appearances at the Olympics.  USA’s most recent medal in the Olympics was silver in 2010.

In 70 IIHF World Championships, USA brought home one gold medal in 1933.  Technically, the 1960 Olympic gold medal also counted as a World Championship at the time, so that would give the men’s squad two gold medals at the World Championships (in 1968, the IIHF scrapped this classification thereby segregating Olympic Gold and IIHF WC Gold).  USA also collected four silver medals and six bronze medals.  The men’s team’s most recent medal was a bronze in 2015.  USA Men’s Hockey has never won a Canada Cup, but has won the first of three World Cups (1996), one Spengler Cup (1988), and two Deutschland Cups (2003 and 2004).

Based on the above results, the women are way more productive than the men given the amount of opportunities each squad has had to capture medals and championships.  However, the men are not asking for any compensation from USA Hockey.  Then again, they don’t need it.  The men have the luxury of being paid all year-round to play professional hockey in the NHL.  Playing to represent one’s country is just a perk of being a male professional hockey player.  But for the women, it’s not so convenient.

Notice the key word in this myth: “salary.”  Again, USA Hockey does not pay “salaries” to the players because the players are not employees.  Compensation is in the form of stipends for six out of 48 months between Olympic cycles.

Beyond the nitty-gritty nitpicking there is another major distinction here under this myth, one that leads me to the main point of this controversy.  Stipends need to be viewed more in the sense of an investment, not in compensation.  USA Hockey is a for-profit business – this is a given.  USA Hockey’s intent is to make profits.  But beyond just profits, a main objective is to grow the game of hockey within American borders.  Thus, it is incumbent upon USA Hockey to put out the best possible product on the ice, both for the men and the women, at all international tournaments.  It is not the players’ jobs to market the game.  While they benefit from increased viewership, and they often make public appearances for charitable organizations, and others, the women, at least, are compensated in exchange for playing the game of hockey to the best of their ability at all international tournaments in which they appear on the roster.  Beyond that, the players’ obligations are discharged.

So whose job is it to market and grow the game?  USA Hockey, of course!  And to do that, USA Hockey must make sure – in some way, shape, or form – the players have the resources necessary to be able to train and compete at all events.  While USA Hockey does spend a significant amount of money on boys’ youth hockey programs and the USNTDP for teenage boys, USA Hockey needs to also invest in its women’s squads, at all ages (another gripe put forth by the women’s national team).  I have gone on record before regarding the importance of growing the game before, but never have I specifically addressed the game to be grown for women and girls.  Needless to say, I am a firm proponent of growing the interest and viewership of women’s hockey for purely selfish reasons – I want to watch more hockey!  But beyond this, USA Hockey needs to put its money where its mouth is.  USA Hockey says it is committed to growing the game, but if you follow the money, the assertion doesn’t add up.

Young girls and women are just as important of an investment as the boys and teenagers are.  The argument against women getting paid more money here is that revenue generated by men is significantly higher than that which is generated by women’s hockey.  It’s a classic case of which came first: the chicken or the egg?  Are the women not being supported because the revenue they create is lower?  Or is it that the revenue generated by the women is not as high as the revenue generated by the men because the women are not being supported?  It’s purely a matter of opinion, but I do believe women’s hockey is very entertaining, and I do not think women’s hockey and men’s hockey can really be compared, given some of the different rules regarding contact.  But I assure you: if you fund women’s hockey development programs better, there will be an even better product from the women’s perspective.  The quality of play will increase.

USA Hockey must invest in its female athletes by ameliorating the circumstances for women to compete.  There is no reason why the 2016 USA female hockey player of the year, Monique Lamoureux-Morando, is forced to work three part-time jobs some days from 5:00 AM to 7:00 PM and then have to go to the rink to train in off-Olympic years when men get to practice and watch preparation video tape, talk to the press, do some charity work, and then take a nap before evening games.  That is where fairness and equality come into play.  The women’s efforts and determination should be rewarded, not overlooked.  After all, if a company wants to grow, that company must invest more in its marketing department, for example.  Here, if USA Hockey wants to grow the game, especially on the women’s front, it needs to invest more in the women so that players like Lamoureux-Morando, Hilary Knight, Amanda Kessel, Meghan Duggan (Team USA Captain), etc., can continue to be role models to young girls (and boys too!), the same way NHL players serve as heroes for kids of all ages and genders.

As per the players, there has been some progress at the meetings with USA Hockey in Philadelphia the past few days.  At the beginning of the week, Knight, Lamoureux-Morando and twin-sister Jocelyne Lamoureux-Morando, Duggan, Kacey Bellamy, and Kendal Coyne were scheduled to meet with representatives of USA Hockey in the City of Brotherly Love.  But the previous training camp schedule to take place is Traverse City, Michigan has had to be canceled because of ongoing discussions.  Whereas the players were set to appear at camp on Wednesday, March 22 through March 28, and an exhibition game on Saturday against Finland, a revised schedule will be forthcoming, assuming discussions between the squad and USA Hockey yield positive results.  Until then, I fully support the US Women’s National Hockey Team in their boycott efforts.  Hopefully the sides can find some common ground so that the WNT can properly defend its title in Plymouth, Michigan from March 31 to April 7!

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Evan is the Hockey Editor for DoubleGSports.com. He provides coverage of the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers, as well as some league-wide content.
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