US Women’s Hockey Team Hits Hard in Pay Dispute
In the expanding world of pay disputes between underpaid athletes and sports bodies, the US Women’s National Hockey team Wednesday said it would take a step others have often been reluctant to: not show up for its games.
The team’s players said they would not play at their world championships—scheduled for two weeks in Plymouth, Michigan—because they are weary of being paid salaries that put them around the poverty line.
The team’s boycott matters because the US women are the defending world champs. They have medaled in all five of the sport’s Olympic tournaments. They are one of only four or five quality teams in the world, making their presence essential to the legitimacy of any major tournament.
“We never wanted it to get to this point, but we felt like we were not being heard,” said Monique Lamoureux-Morando, a captain who has played on the national team for nine years, including at the past two Olympic Games. “It’s the hardest decision we’ve ever made, but it’s the right thing to do.”
The women aren’t asking USA Hockey to make them millionaires. They take issue with an organization that in 2015 reported $42 million in revenues paying the players just $1,000 per month in the six months leading up to the Olympics.
Most of the additional money the players receive comes from the US Olympic Committee, which provides about $750-2000 per month to each player, depending on quality and experience, plus bonuses for winning medals.
In a statement, Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey said the organization has “proactively increased our level of direct support to the Women’s National Team as we prepare for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. We have communicated that increased level of support to the players’ representatives and look forward to continuing our discussions.”
Lamoureaux-Morando and her teammates feel differently. “We’re tired of being ignored,” she said.
The move also wasn’t done rashly. To guard against players crossing a picket line, the team’s leaders have obtained the support of the 90 players in the national pool, as well as the under-18 national team members.
In doing so, the women’s hockey players are taking a much different tack than the leaders of the world champion US Women’s National Soccer Team did ahead of the Rio Olympics, when they filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission to try to gain pay equal to the men. They then went on the Today Show and 60 Minutes, and garnered lots of other publicity. More than a year later, their negotiations with US soccer remain stalled.
Why? Probably because the soccer players never boycotted so much as an exhibition game. They went to Olympics, where they failed to medal for the first time. Recently, they dutifully performed in the SheBelieves Cup in the US, a tournament with Germany, France and England, losing to both England and France on home soil.
The history of sports labor has a clear pattern. Players’ grievances?are ignored until they don’t show up to play. It might cost a half-season of salary, or in this case, an appearance in one of the few tournaments that anyone pays attention to.
But that kind of sacrifice, plus some litigation, is how players in Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Football League finally got a reasonable share of league revenues and the right to become free agents. And it’s probably the only way women hockey players—or the women’s soccer team—will ever get what they are seeking.
No one expects the women of the US hockey team to get paid like Patrick Kane anytime soon. They don’t either. They say a living wage and some more respect would be nice, though.
Importantly, they have figured out the lesson that tennis legend Billie Jean King learned decades ago—the only way to get what you want isn't to play.