Team USA’s Boycott Speaks Volumes

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” – Yoko Ono

On March 31st the USA National Women’s Hockey Team was set to take on Team Canada in a preliminary game at the Women’s World Championships in Plymouth, Michigan. As history would indicate, Team USA and Team Canada would be set to battle for Gold on April 7th. Instead, Team USA is choosing to battle for something larger than a gold medal. I always have and always will be a fan of the Red and White, but this week, Team USA has made a fan out this Canadian hockey fan.

What’s the Deal?

On Wednesday, March 15th, Team USA released a statement indicating that they would be boycotting the 2017 Women’s World Championships unless USA Hockey was will to move in their negotiations. The above image is a statement from the USA Women’s Hockey Team explaining the demands they’ve asked of USA Hockey.

While USA Hockey responded to Team USA’s demands, they failed to come anywhere near what was being asked of them. The below image is another statement from Team USA on their response to USA Hockey’s rebuttal. As of right now, Team USA will continue to sit out the World Championships. USA Hockey has responded to this by stating that they will put in another team as a plan B.

The Breakdown

What the heck does this all even mean? Who’s asking for what? Hold up. Let’s break this down:

Something to keep in mind going forward is their use of the word equitable as opposed to equal. They’re not asking for the same, they’re asking for fair.

Team USA is currently only paid $6,000 by USA Hockey in the six months leading up to the Olympics. That’s $1,000 a month, or $1500 per year if you’d like to look at it in terms of the four years between every Olympic tournament. Any more of the money that USA Hockey refers to is said to only partially come from USA Hockey. So, members of Team USA are asked to train like professional athletes, a commitment that sees them quitting their regular jobs to prepare for the Olympics. They must find housing for these six months, supply their own equipment, and cover any travel costs… all for $1,000 a month. I don’t know about you guys, but even my beer league budget would cut into a grand a month. And this $6,000 is only given to individuals on Team USA in Olympic years.

The big kicker here is that asking for fair financial support from USA Hockey is one of the lesser demands on the agenda. Team USA is taking a stand for the coming generations by demanding USA Hockey put more money, effort, and exposure into the women’s hockey program – at both the grassroots and professional level. While monetary compensation is necessary for these women to compete at the level they’re expected to, the level of exposure and treating them like valued professional athletes needs to be stepped up. Sports Illustrated recorded the following statement from two of Team USA’s top players:

“There are a number of times when we travel to different areas and people don’t even know that the U.S. National Team is there, the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team is there, because nothing was made of it,” Knight says. “I think another example would be our 2014 Olympic jersey unveil. None of the women were invited, but the entire men’s team was. In addition to that, the gold medal counts were supposed to be on the inside collar of the jersey, and they left out the 1998 women’s Olympic gold medals in that as well. There are a lot of little injustices that have happened along the way that add up and have compounded to a bigger factor.”

“Another thing is, our Under-18 team has won five World Championships since it started in ‘08,” says Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, an 18-time member of the roster and Monique’s twin. “And not one of those girls have gotten a World Championship ring. That might be something small, but it’s significant when these things are consistent. The boys’ hockey teams, they get rings every time there’s a championship, a couple of months after they win. If the senior women’s team gets a ring—if we do—it’s a couple years late. It just goes to show, oh sorry, we forgot about you, here’s your ring from two years ago.

“That’s just the culture of how it is and it’s not right and it’s 2017 and it needs to change.”

USA Hockey has put out a number of press releases regarding the boycott, including this one, which breaks down the money and exposure they claim to provide to the women. It’s been stated by Team USA that the monetary values included in this are in conjunction with what the USOC also provides them, but what I, like many others, would like to see is a side-by-side comparison with the men’s side. Their numbers and explanation of growing the women’s game may make some say, “See! They do support the women’s game” until you compare that list to what their male counterparts receive. Rather than taking things at face-value and accepting mediocrity in the value of the women’s game, Team USA is asking for equity — something that we’re still fighting for in 2017.

As a small experiment, I took the brother-sister USA hockey duo, Phil and Amanda Kessel. Both came through the ranks of the USA Hockey development program and, according to the statistics on USA Hockey’s website, the numbers don’t seem that alarming in terms of men/women getting the same opportunity on development teams with Phil playing 59 games and Amanda playing 44 games. Seems about right if you take into account Amanda’s missed tournaments due to injuries and the fact that she’s younger than Phil. But then you scroll down on Phil’s stats and see that he’s played 109 more games for Team USA as a part of the National Under-18 Team, an opportunity Amanda never had because there is no such team for women in the USA.

What Does it all Mean?

MALMO, SWEDEN – APRIL 4: USA players celebrate after a 7-5 gold medal game win over Canada at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)

First thing’s first. In no way does what Team USA is doing translate into them not wanting to play hockey. The World Championships at the end of the month are on home soil for them, they’re looking to defend their title, and this is one of the very limited chances the team will have to play on the world stage — and they’re willing to give it all up to fight a battle that I’d hoped would be non-existent in 2017.

In the interview Hilary Knight did with The Trifecta on ESPNW, she stated that it’s been almost a miracle that Team USA has found the success it has at the World’s and Olympics considering the lack of funding and support they see. That’s a pretty bold statement from one of Team USA’s most well-recognized members. I like to imagine the level of women’s hockey we would see if the women’s program was treated differently.

The argument of money and the fact that the women’s game doesn’t make USA Hockey nearly as much cash as the men’s game is leading the race in this battle, but as we are all aware, this is a chicken and egg scenario. Without more funding going into the women’s game, it will never even have the chance to progress, widen its reach and, ultimately, make more money. This argument cannot be challenged because it’s being used as a safety net for why women’s hockey doesn’t deserve the support.

I believe you’d be hard-pressed to find multiple female hockey players, and even women, who are not cheering for the success of these women. I am but a very tiny blip on the radar of female hockey players, but I’m here to say that what Team USA is doing is a step forward for not only themselves as professional athletes, but for the generations of female hockey players that are rising through the ranks around the world. This boycott is speaking volumes to all of the women who had to grow up with terrible ice slots, who had to listen to people tell them their sport was nothing but “participaction,” and who didn’t have the NHL to dream about. This action by Team USA is speaking volumes to what women in all walks of life deserve.

As a woman, I stand with Team USA and support everything they’re trying to accomplish. Thank you, for challenging a world that is still in need of some change.