Members of the American women’s national hockey team knew it might come to this.
Over the last 14 months tears have been shed, arguments have been made, opinions have been heard and plenty of sleep has been lost.
The conclusion the team came to, as they announced Wednesday, is they’ll be boycotting the IIHF world championships next month—a tournament in which they’re defending champions, a tournament that’ll be held on their home soil—unless USA Hockey takes big steps towards meeting their demands for fair pay and treatment.
“We feel like we’ve been pushed into a corner to have to come to this hard decision as a team,” alternate captain Monique Lamoureux-Morando said. “It’s very emotional.”[sidebar]
And so, the defending world champions may be defending nothing at all. They’re sacrificing a chance to play in their one big tournament of the year.
Unless USA Hockey makes major progress on their demands in the next week or so, the winners of six of the last eight world championships won’t be reporting to training camp in Plymouth, Michigan, on March 21. They won’t be opening the world championships against Canada ten days later, either.
On Wednesday afternoon, USA Hockey released the following statement in response to the boycott:
In the words of captain Megan Duggan, the women want the organization that runs hockey in the country to “stop treating us like an afterthought.”
“As hard as it is to potentially be sacrificing an opportunity to play for our country, we felt it was the right thing to do, even though it’s the harder thing to do,” said Lamoureux-Morando, a five-time world champion and two-time Olympic silver medallist. “To gain progress we have to stand up for what is right and what we deserve.”
USA Hockey pays the women in the national team program $1,000 per month for a six-month period every Olympic year. That’s it. “The other three and a half years, they don’t give us any money,” Lamoureux-Morando said. It’s why you’ll find a lot of players who double as personal trainers, coaches, and IT workers on the roster.
“If you’re at the pinnacle of your sport, you should be able to make a living wage doing so,” Lamoureux-Morando said. “We should be able to make a living wage being the top female hockey players in the country and not have to hold second and third jobs.”
The women have proposed a dollar amount to USA Hockey, but they’re not disclosing it. It isn’t $2-million salaries, though. “I wish it had that many zeroes on it,” Lamoureux-Morando said, with a chuckle.
Players do also get compensation from the U.S. Olympic Committee, ranging from $750-2,000 per month. Travel and food is covered—but not like it is for the men’s senior team, or the world junior team.
“The food we eat isn’t as good, and we don’t stay in as nice hotels,” Lamoureux-Morando said.
Over the last year, they’ve been asking for more playing opportunities (they play just nine games in non-Olympic years) and financial support “consistent with the boys’ teams,” as a statement puts it.
USA Hockey has so far made improvements only to their six-month, pre-Olympic residency period. They’re seeking fair treatment during the three-and-a-half years between those Olympic camps.
“None of those requests get addressed in our conversations,” Lamoureux-Morando said. Fair compensation, travel, relocation expenses, pregnancy benefits, worker’s compensation and disability insurance are all on a long list of requests.
This has been in the works for 14 months, since the women’s team approached Ballard Sparhr—the same law firm that represented the American women’s soccer team last year, when they demanded equal pay with their male counterparts.
A group of veterans on the team—Duggan, Kacey Bellamy, Brianna Decker, Hilary Knight, Kendall Coyne, Lamoureux-Mordando and her twin sister Jocelyne—got the ball rolling on the demands for USA Hockey, and the decision to boycott, if necessary.
The election of Donald Trump and the swell of a feminist movement since in the U.S. doesn’t have anything to do with the timing of this announcement, Lamoureux-Morando said. “It was not planned to be that way. It just kind of is where we are as a country, and this is where we are as a team.”
And where they are as a team at this moment means they won’t be on the ice in Plymouth to defend their world title.