Coach: Women’s hockey off-ice victory can inspire locally

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Team USA hockey goalie Alex Rigsby defends the goal during a practice session in Plymouth Township, Mich., in December. | Via NPR.org

By Katie Zhao and Rabab Jafri

The USA Women’s Hockey Team scored a victory – off the ice – after long negotiations with USA Hockey, receiving the same wages and benefits as their male counterparts. Specifically, they will have the same amount of money for meals as the men’s team ($50 per diem on non-travel days) and will have insurance and travel accommodations equal to the men’s team. To gain the concessions, the USA Women even threatened a boycott of the world championships. The team faces Canada tonight in the finals in Plymouth.

The women’s successful negotiations have repercussions right here in Washtenaw County. Coach Alyse Johnson of Skyron, the Huron High School and Skyline High School combined women’s hockey team, spoke about the threatened boycott’s role in creating more equitable wages for women’s hockey, saying in an email, “I don’t necessarily think that they are getting stiffed on their wages in regards to equality (comparison to the men’s team), but I do think that they deserve a higher wage based on the amount of time and effort they put into the program.”

Johnson explained that many female players do not play as professionals like most of the male players. “The men make millions of dollars [in the National Hockey League], so I don’t think there is much demand for higher wages” for playing on the national team, she said. “However, even women who play professionally only make $10,000 to 20,000 per year.”

Part of Johnson’s – and many others’ – gripe is that Team USA Women’s Hockey players spend so much time training for tournaments and other events, but can’t even make a living off of the wages they are paid. For a lot of these women, playing hockey for Team USA is their primary job, although they have to hold other jobs to make ends meet. “For the amount of time and effort they put in to being a part of USA Hockey, they deserve to be paid more,” Johnson said.

Although the threat of a boycott only lasted two weeks, negotiations for increased benefits – at least equivalent to that given to male hockey players – had been happening for over a year.  

Johnson said the USA Women’s Hockey players are role models for athletes around the country, including in Ann Arbor. While the University of Michigan’s Women’s Ice Hockey team said they supported the USA Women’s Ice Hockey Team, they had no comment on the boycott itself.

“I am more than happy to hear that USA Hockey has come to somewhat of an agreement, which includes the formation of the Women’s High Performance Advisory Group to advance women’s and girls’ hockey at the youth level. I think that the wage increase is a good start, and this program is not only good for the women, but for our youth as well,” Johnson said.

This raise could grow the sport. “When I was growing up, there was no real hope for playing hockey at the professional level unless you were to play for the Olympic team. I think we have come a long way [by] providing more opportunities for girls to play hockey and to be able to continue to play past the high school/travel level. The women deserve to be shown appreciation for all the hard work they do. We as coaches try to do the same with our players; we have to get creative since we can’t pay our players. I hope that this is the start to something greater for women’s hockey. It is definitely exciting and gives women and girls something to look forward to, and to be proud to play hockey,” Johnson said. 

Not only will the USA Women’s Hockey team serve as inspiration for youth athletes, but the members have paved the way for other women athletes and workers to advocate for equity in their own professions. 

We’d like to thank Lou Issel of Dexter for pointing us at this story. 

Katie Zhao and Rabab Jafri are interns working for The Ann. They are students at the University of Michigan.


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