United States senators send letter to USA Hockey in support of women’s team boycott

The standoff between the United States women’s national hockey team and USA Hockey doesn’t seem to be getting any better, and now politicians are stepping in.

In search of equitable support, the women’s team announced earlier this month that they would not be playing in the upcoming World Championships — being hosted on home soil in Michigan — unless support from USA Hockey increased.

USA Hockey responded with a statement — one that was called “inaccurate and dishonest, at best” by U.S. star Hilary Knight — and said they would ice a team of replacements if the current players continued to boycott. The women’s team didn’t budge, and there’s been no clear sign of progress at all.

On Monday, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren and more than a dozen other senators (all Democrats) sent a letter to the executive director of USA Hockey declaring support for the women’s boycott and asking the program to offer more support and end the dispute in a timely manner.

March 27, 2017

Dave Ogrean

Executive Director

USA Hockey

1775 Bob Johnson Drive

Colorado Springs, CO 80906

Dear Mr. Ogrean,

As Senators committed to gender equity in all realms of American life, we write to express our serious concern with allegations raised by members of the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team regarding USA Hockey’s inequitable allocation of resources to the women’s hockey program and unjust treatment of national team members.

As you know, the women’s team has chosen to boycott the upcoming International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship games, citing faltering negotiations with USA Hockey regarding equitable pay and resources. Among other issues, the women note that USA Hockey expects female players to “train full time and compete throughout the year,” yet pays them only $6,000 every four years, an amount that would put them far below the poverty line. The women’s team is in the process of negotiating a four-year contract with USA Hockey that includes “appropriate compensation.”

As the National Governing Body for ice hockey in the United States, USA Hockey is required by the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act to “develop interest and participation throughout the United States” in ice hockey and “be responsible to the persons and amateur sports organizations it represents.” USA Hockey is also 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.”

We are disturbed by reports from the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team suggesting that USA Hockey is not providing “equitable support” to female athletes. While USA Hockey provides its male athletes with a “seemingly endless” supply of hockey equipment, for example, female players are often expected to “buy their own.” This “inequitable support for equipment, staff, meals, travel expenses, transportation, and publicity” is apparent at younger levels of the sport as well: while USA Hockey spends $3.5 million to support male youth athletes in its National Team Development Program, there is no parallel development program for women.

The U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team has medaled in every Olympics since 1998, when Women’s Hockey was first added as an Olympic Sport. The team has won gold medals at the IIHF World Championships for the past three years in a row. As Megan Duggan, team captain, announced last week, the women’s team has “represented our country with dignity and deserves to be treated with fairness and respect.”

We urge you to resolve this dispute quickly to ensure that the USA Women’s National Hockey Team receives equitable resources. These elite athletes indeed deserve fairness and respect, and we hope you will be a leader on this issue as women continue to push for equality in athletics.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts

Patty Murray, Washington

Dianne Feinstein, Cailfornia

Patrick Leahy, Vermont

Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut

Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire

Sherrod Brown, Ohio

Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts

Thomas Carper, Delaware

Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin

Robert Menendez, New Jersey

Mazie K. Hirono, Hawaii

Cory Booker, New Jersey

Bob Casey, Pennsylvania

Kirsten Gillibrand, New York

Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota

We’ll have to wait and see if this affects anything between the two sides, but it can’t hurt for the players. The men’s national team is also considering withdrawing from this summer’s World Championships in solidarity with the women, so USA Hockey may feeling some extra pressure to get a deal done.

As for the women’s World Championships, it seems unlikely this dispute reverses course before the start of the tournament on March 31 in Plymouth Township.