200 Female Pro Hockey Players Lay Down Their Sticks Demanding Better Conditions

Decrying the sorry state of salary and support for women’s hockey, around 200 female players announced Thursday they won’t play the game at the professional level across North America, until they get a league with “the resources that professional hockey demands and deserves.”

“We cannot make a sustainable living playing in the current state of the professional game,” said the statement several players posted to their social media accounts. “Having no health insurance and making as low as two thousand dollars a season means players can’t adequately train and prepare to play at the highest level.”

By contrast on the men’s side, Forbes says the top ten players of the 2018-2019 season each brought home multi-million dollar paychecks from the NHL, with lucrative endorsement deals topping them off.

On Wednesday, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League officially discontinued operations, citing an economically unstable business model, leaving the National Women’s Hockey League the sole remaining professional league in North America.

The NWHL had been hoping to fold in players from the Canadian league and said Thursday, despite the boycott, it still plans to proceed with season five in October with its five teams.

As a concession to players, the league announced it is “offering increased salaries and a 50-50 revenue [split] from league-level sponsorships and media rights deals,” adding it remains open to communicating with players about their concerns.

Among those participating in the boycott are Hilary Knight and Kendall Coyne Schofield, who helped propel the U.S. Women’s National Team to win gold at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in South Korea, as well as Canadian national team goalie Shannon Szabados.

“Obviously we want to be on the ice, but I think that kind of speaks volumes to how critical it is,” Szabados, who played for the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts, told The Associated Press. “It’s over 200 of us that kind of want to stop being pulled in 10 different directions and kind of get all our resources under one roof.”

After they announced the boycott, words of support for the players came pouring in.

“Female athletes deserve to live the life they envisioned as kids: playing the sport they love, and making a living doing it,” tweeted Billie Jean King, the onetime world’s top-ranked women’s tennis player.

Mary-Kay Messier, vice president of global marketing for ice hockey equipment manufacturer Bauer, called on the NHL to step in. “In order to develop a long-term viable women’s professional hockey league, the NHL must be in an ownership position,” she said in a statement.

The NHL has provided limited funding to the women’s teams, but has so far resisted calls to do more. The players designed Thursday’s announcement, in part, to compel the NHL to act, reports ESPN.

But in a statement emailed to NPR, the NHL says, while it supports the objectives of both the NWHL and the female players, it is not in a rush to make any move. “We will need some time to better understand what the full picture and implications look like,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said.

Commissioner Gary Bettman told the AP that the NHL still wants the NWHL to “make a go of it,” and does not want to interfere at this time, although that could change if “there turns out to be a void.”

But the players say the void is already there and they will not pick up their sticks again until it is addressed.

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