Very few are aware that the International Ice Hockey Federation’s women’s world championship is taking place March 31 to April 7 in Plymouth, Michigan. For many on Yale’s campus, this week will pass like any other. But for those following the World Championships and everything leading up to the annual tournament, this year will go down in history — not because the women will be skating, but because they almost didn’t.
About two weeks prior to the tournament and one week before the United States national team was set to report to Michigan for pre-tournament camp, the team decided to boycott the tournament over unequal wages. The 2014 Olympic team captain and current team captain Meghan Duggan stated in reports that the team and USA Hockey had been working toward an agreement for several months, but no agreement was reached leading up to the World Championships.
“We have represented our country with dignity and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect,” Duggan said in an interview with USA Today.
As the tournament was fast approaching and the talks between the USWNT and USA Hockey stalled, the organization began its search for a replacement team. Though it needed to field a team of about 21–23 players for the tournament to represent the country, it was rumored that only five qualified players still agreed to take the ice.
USA Hockey went through the under-22 and under-18 team rosters — player after player, woman after woman said no. Former National team players, athletes in the National Women’s Hockey League, NCAA Division I players and even some college hockey alumni said no. The female hockey community banded together in support of USA Women’s hockey.
As players continued to turn down USA Hockey, I was back home with my family when my parents asked me, “What would you do if they asked you to play?”
The question gave me pause. On one hand, I would have been humbled and grateful for the opportunity to represent my country while also living the dream I’ve had of pulling on a USA Hockey jersey. But while playing for Team USA would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I was ready to say no and put my dream on hold.
The USWNT only gets paid during a six-month period leading into the Olympics, and its members receive about $1,000 a month. Getting paid $6,000 to train for the Olympics sounds pretty good to just about any college student, right? But compared to their male counterparts, who earn NHL salaries and receive other benefits during their international tournaments, these women spend their non-Olympic years working full-time jobs and coaching teams to make a living on top of training for the upcoming Olympics. USA Hockey puts significantly more money into the male hockey programs, in particular the men’s National Team Development Program that serves as a stepping stone for high school players in transition to college.
There is no such women’s program, yet the USWNT which competes annually, trains year-round and has established a legacy of excellence in women’s hockey, gets less funding than a junior men’s program. These women deserve far better treatment and more compensation than they have gotten in the past.
Although the details of the agreement have not been publicly disclosed, the four-year agreement will provide more compensation and equal benefits comparable to the men’s programs. Players will be provided with travel and insurance provisions equal to the men, as well as an increased monthly stipend of $2,000 per month year round rather than just the months leading up to the Olympics. Lastly, larger performance bonuses are on the table for winning medals, and similar benefits are available to the women that are given to the men. The fact that both USA hockey and the USWNT were able to strike a deal days before the tournament after months of negotiations and failed attempts speaks volumes to the importance and significance of this deal. The USWNT turned down previous deals and was willing to skip the IIHF women’s world championship to fight for equality, not just for current players, but for the next generation of girls, too.
I want to be a part of the fight for women’s equality within USA Hockey. Countless former teammates, friends and players from across the nation said no, and I knew that if USA Hockey decided to call me, I was going to say no. The USWNT’s motto reads, “We are a part of something bigger than ourselves, we are Team USA, we are team first.”
Although I would miss out on an opportunity to live and pursue my dream, it’s humbling and satisfying knowing that I was part of something so much bigger. I was ready to put off my dream, to be a part of something so much bigger than me and to fight for equal wages and treatment for the next generation of women’s ice hockey players. That’s why I was ready to say no.
Mallory Souliotis is a junior in Silliman College and a defender on the Yale women’s hockey team. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .