On Monday, a group of 20 United States senators sent a letter to the Executive Director of U.S.A. Hockey expressing their support for the U.S. Women's National Hockey Team boycott to protest what they perceived as unequal treatment. In the letter, the senators encouraged the organization to end their pay dispute with the women's team and ensure that the team receive equitable resources, saying "...These elite athletes indeed deserve fairness and respect."
The U.S. women's hockey team announced several weeks ago that it would not be participating in the 2017 World Championships in Michigan at the end of March unless their ongoing wage negotiations with U.S.A. Hockey came to an amenable conclusion. The team has been engaged in ongoing pay negotiations with U.S.A. Hockey for over a year. The women's team is requesting a "living wage" from U.S.A. Hockey, along with compensation that is equitable to that of the men's team. (U.S.A. Hockey disputes this, alleging that that the female players asked for between $100,000 and $250,000 per player per year.)
According to USA Today, U.S.A. Hockey only provides the women's team with $6,000 per person in compensation every four years. While this salary is equal with that of the men's team, the U.S. men's team is composed primarily of NHL players, some of whom make millions of dollars every year. While American women now have a National Women's Hockey League, it was founded in 2015 and is still very much in the establishment phase, with some players making as little as $5,000 per year.
Beyond wages, the U.S. women's team indicates that the resources with which U.S.A. Hockey provides them are vastly different from those of the men's team. For one, U.S.A. Hockey has a National Team Development Program for boys under 18, which U.S.A. Hockey spends $3.5 million to support. The women's team has no National Team Development program for girls whatsoever. (In a statement, U.S.A. Hockey said that the players were requesting "a wide variety of other financial obligations to USA Hockey, such as business class airfare on flights of more than three hours, day care, nanny support and increased staffing that total more than $1.3 million.”)
In their letter to the Executive Director of U.S.A. Hockey, Dave Ogrean, the senators acknowledged and agreed with the women's team concerns about inequitable treatment. Citing the requirements of the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, the senators' letter stated that U.S.A. hockey is "legally required to 'provide equitable support and encouragement for participation by women where separate programs for male and female athletes are conducted on a national basis.'” Furthermore, the senators added that they were "disturbed by reports from the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team suggesting that U.S.A. Hockey is not providing 'equitable support' to female athletes."
The senators sent their letter ahead of a U.S.A. Hockey board meeting on Monday at noon, during which board members were supposed to vote on the team's proposal for equitable treatment. The New York Times reported that, as of Monday night, there has not yet been any resolution to the wage dispute, indicating that Jim Johannson, U.S.A. Hockey’s assistant executive director of hockey operations, had “nothing to say” on the matter.
While the issue is not yet resolved, the fact that U.S. Senators have now stepped in to back the women's team push for equitable treatment will hopefully help ensure that the team's proposal for equitable treatment is quickly approved.
In addition to the Senators, players' unions from nearly all of the major national men's sports teams as well as the U.S. Men's National Hockey team have voiced their support for the women's team, with the men's team reportedly threatening to boycott their own World Championship game in solidarity with the women's team.
It is incredibly refreshing to see so many prominent entities come together to try to achieve gender equality. Hopefully U.S.A. Hockey pays attention and provides the women's team with the equitable treatment they so rightfully deserve.