Sometime Monday, USA Hockey’s Board of Directors is expected to make its decision on whether to accept the deal on the table put forth by the US Women’s National Hockey Team. Last Monday, 15-month negotiations reached its climax with the women’s hockey club proposing an agreement with USA Hockey ahead of the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship set to take place in Plymouth, Michigan starting March 31. It is now known that USA Hockey had been shopping for replacements to the roster for the eight-team tournament that officially begins Friday.
But the players refused to abandon their position, one that seeks fairness, equality, and support from the United States’ governing body for all things hockey-related for the Red, White, and Blue. Joan Heider, Public Relations Specialist for Ballard Spahr, LLP, released a statement on behalf of the Women’s National Hockey Team:
The players are aware that USA Hockey is attempting to secure a team to play in the World Championship, in case the players and USA Hockey are unable to reach an agreement. As we have maintained from the beginning, this issue is about more than the compensation of the current team: it’s about equitable treatment for female players now and in the future. A forward-looking agreement will benefit the next generation of players even more than the current players. For that reason, and the fact that the younger players identify with us, we are confident that they would choose not to play.
Some in the media have asked if USA Hockey made a counter proposal. They did – they made a disappointing offer that didn’t reflect the progress of the negotiations. We ask that they approve the original agreement that, the players believed, was acceptable to both parties after Monday’s meeting.
Unless there is an agreement, the players remain resolved to bypass the defense of the World Championship.
Support for the Women’s National Hockey Team has been gathered from many sources, both within and outside the hockey world. Most notably, the NHLPA has expressed its support for the women’s fight for equality. Aside from an encouraging tweet from the NHLPA, according to Allan Walsh, Sports Agent for Octagon-Hockey, via Twitter, word is circulating amongst NHL players whereby Americans in the NHL “will refuse to participate in [future IIHF] World Championships in solidarity with the women.”
Perhaps the support for the #BeBoldForChange movement has created some optimism with regards to the players. As per Amanda Kessel, player for the New York Riveters and US Women’s National Hockey Team, the players met on Sunday to reaffirm their stance. The players are hopeful that the meeting of USA Hockey’s Board of Directors on Monday will agree to the terms of the agreement proposed after negotiations in Philadelphia last week.
I have already expressed my unhindered support on record for the US Women’s National Hockey Team in their noble cause for a better future. The negotiating strategy implemented by the squad, while certainly asphyxiating for USA Hockey, is incredibly brave. The Women’s National Hockey Team is certainly beating USA Hockey in the media/public relations front. The players have been all over Twitter, sending their message about fighting today for a better tomorrow.
It would also be a tremendous help to the cause if the men true decide to follow suit come this May. Knowing all of the hard work that USA Hockey has done in conjunction with the NHL and others to help grow the game by tapping into unconventional markets in the United States, a men’s boycott on the women’s behalf would, without a doubt, not only cripple the efforts to expand participation, but would likely reverse all the wonderful progress that has been made. The drafting of Auston Matthews first overall in 2016 would sadly be rendered the apex of USA Hockey in the United States, with a subsequent nose-dive into the abyss of obscurity.
As an American, and an avid hockey fan, I believe I speak for many, if not most, hockey fans in America when I say that this would be devastating to hockey, not just in the United States, but worldwide. Sure, the men might be putting their finger on the proverbial nuclear button right now, getting ready for Mutually Assured Destruction. But, some concepts and causes simply transcend the game itself and speak to a bigger picture in history. You either step it up, or you stagnate and slip into descent. That is evidently the maxim by which the supporters of the cause have been operating.
In fifty years, will students in America open their history books (or, more likely, view them on their tablets) to find that in 2017, women fought for equality in sports and won? Or will there be no mention of female athletes at all? The US Women’s National Hockey Team truly believes, as I do, that it is on the brink of making history as we celebrate Women’s History Month, 30 years after its first official designation by Congress.
But now, it boils down to what USA Hockey decides to do. In the final week of Women’s History Month, and at the 11th hour in negotiations, will USA Hockey contemplate a significant overhaul of how the organization runs and allocates funds, or will it fail to act and forever be engraved on the wrong side of history? Soon enough, we’ll have an answer…