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March 21, 2017 | 5:15pm ET
We The Women #BeBoldForChange
By Hannah Spraker

ANAHEIM, CA -- We the Women of the United States Hockey Team, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Hockey Constitution for the United States of America.

If you’re an American citizen and that doesn’t sound familiar to you, go back to grade school because other than about three words changed, that is the preamble to the United States Constitution -- the fundamentals of what the American Dream is built on.

Women in sports is always a sensitive topic, and there has always been a bias. The undertone that “women don’t know sports” or “women’s sports are a joke” is ever-present. I’m not sorry if my hockey knowledge makes you feel emasculated, that’s a ‘you’ problem. I have to fight the notion that I’m not a “puck bunny” everyday, but at the end of everyday, I can still be very successful in my field, pursuing my dream, with equal opportunity -- the very reason I am able to write this.

Now, I am not here to go on some feminist rant about what’s wrong with America, I’m here to talk hockey, per usual -- but this time, I’m talkin’ bout the ladies on the ice.

One thing I heard continually growing up: “She’s tough, she can play with the boys.” I went to my high school winter formal with a black eye, for crying out loud. I was always an athlete. I played softball, had the high school football coach asked me to play as running back on the boys team, and now I play hockey, write about hockey, and teach kickboxing. My life screams stereotypes.

The sad thing; I got more recognition and respect for simply being asked to play football with the boys, than for being one of the top players in the league for softball. I decided not to play football. I didn’t want to be the girl who “can play with the boys.” I wanted to play with other women. I believe it is a privilege to play and compete against other extremely talented women. I didn’t want to feed the stigma of, “I’m successful because I’m playing with the boys.”

While an injury stopped my dreams of going pro, something always bothered me about “she can play with the boys.” The measuring scale for success was never balanced. Forever in a relentless competition with men’s success, women are on the losing end of the seesaw. The notion that girls can grow up to pursue their athletic dreams is a fleeting thought -- but the USA Women’s Hockey Team wants to change that.

As many of you have heard, the USA Women’s Hockey team has boycotted the World Championships due to discrepancy between the Men’s and Women’s hockey teams. The women are asking for “fair wages and equitable support,” claiming they have been mistreated compared to the men’s team, and will not participate until an agreement has been made. Not only are the USA women’s team the reigning World Champions, they are this year’s host of the tournament, taking place on March 31-April 7. Negotiations are ongoing.

As any athlete knows, a hell of a lot of blood, sweat, and tears goes into training -- let alone at the National level. It is more than a full-time job. These girls’ lives revolve around USA Hockey. They are told where to be, when to be there, what to do, and expect to succeed, all for nothing unless it is an Olympic year.

So what exactly is going on with USA hockey, where is this divide coming from?

  • USA Hockey spends more than $3.5 million dollars per year on the boys’ National development program. The money goes to accommodating the boys’ Under-18 schedule of 60 games per year, and the girls’ development gets no such thing.
  • The Women’s National team gets to play 9 games per season, not including the Olympics, despite the fact that they have asked to play more games in bigger NHL arena’s only to get shut down at the chance that they “won’t sell out” the barn.
  • USA Hockey invited the Men’s team to the unveiling of the 2014 Sochi jerseys while the women had to view from their couch.
  • When female players spoke out about inequality and unfair treatment in 2000, USA Hockey had locked them out from playing until they stood down.
  • On the inside of the 2014 Sochi Jerseys, there was a list of all of the years the USA has won gold in the Olympics, except for 1998, when the women’s team took home gold.
  • The only pay they receive from USA Hockey is through a six-month Olympic period every four years, any other compensation is from the United States Olympic Committee, and even that is very small.
  • Championship rings have taken years to reach the hands of the women’s winning team, whereas the under-18 boys get theirs promptly.
  • Women competing in World Championships have often used their old college equipment in competition, whereas the boys under-18 get new equipment for their tournaments.
  • The USA Men’s team gets the cream of the crop when it comes to trainers, staffing, PR, marketing, media, meal compensation, travel, insurance, and hotel accommodations, women get sloppy seconds -- if that.
  • The Women’s team has been in negotiations with USA Hockey for over 14 months with no progress, and now they are United in making a stand to be heard.

"Out of a four-year cycle, USA Hockey pays for only six months out of an entire four years. They pay us $1,000 per month in those six months. So, for the other 42 months we don’t get paid at all by USA Hockey,” Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, told ESPN. “It is a full-time job and to not get paid is a financial burden and stress on the players, obviously. That is the conversation my husband and I are having right now. Is playing going to be more stress than we can handle? Sadly it becomes a decision between chasing your dream or giving in to the reality of the financial burden."

You would get paid more, working part-time at a fast food restaurant, than working more than full-time to represent your country. Think about that and let that sink in. They train and train hard, 365 days a year, to represent their country and they get an average of $1,500 per year -- and have to pay to go to these competitions.

The USA Women’s Hockey team is no joke -- they are one badass group of women. Not only have they medaled more than the Men’s team, they have not left the Olympics without medaling since 1998, and in the past nine World Championships, they have taken the title in seven.

According to the press release from Team USA:

“We are asking for a living wage and for USA Hockey to fully support its programs for women and girls and stop treating us like an afterthought,” said captain Meghan Duggan, who helped Team USA win six World Championships and silver medals in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. “We have represented our country with dignity and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect.”

The Women’s team has been extremely smart in this whole situation. Taking notes from women’s hockey players who came before them, and the USA Women’s soccer team when they dealt with a similar issue -- using the same lawyer, John Langel. What USA Hockey is doing is illegal.

Dee Spagnuolo, who is among their legal team, released a statement on the matter:

“These issues are systemic and demonstrate a failure to prioritize -- or even consider in a meaningful way -- the support and growth of the sport for women and girls,” said Ms. Spagnuolo. “As the national governing body for ice hockey in the United States, USA Hockey has a legal obligation to develop interest and participation in the sport of hockey, and to do so for all ages without regard to gender.”

USA Hockey is required to give equal treatment and equitable support to both men and women’s hockey programs by the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, yet they have not done so. These girls have been on their case for over 14 months now and all they have received is passivity and disrespect.

Breaking it down, the women’s team does not get the same treatment as the men’s team- travel, hotels, meals, they don’t get the same PR and marketing as the Men’s teams, they are in charge of equipment, insurance, etc.

In a nutshell: “Hey, we know you’re the best, and we are asking you to continually represent your country, as long as it is on your own dollar and you sacrifice your livelihood without complaint, sound good?”

From a PR standpoint, this team has been utterly robbed of the opportunities to market this team and give them the attention and traction they need and deserve. You could market the ‘you know what’ out of these girls, but with only nine games in their season, there is not a whole lot of media and marketing to be had. Look at how much attention the World Cup of Hockey gets... now look at the marketing for the Women’s World Championship. I bet you didn’t even know it was coming up until the news broke that USA would not attend.

The system has failed them. In response, they’re making a bold move, and after a year of asking nicely -- they’re dropping their gloves to fight for equal rights.

USA Hockey responded to the women’s boycott with a giant middle finger. President Jim Smith stating that it is not their role to “employ athletes” -- but if they medal in an Olympic year they could receive up to $85,000 from incentives. That is assuming USA wins gold, and the majority of that money does not come from USA Hockey, it comes from the United States Olympic Committee.

After a few days, they came with an offer of $3,000 a month during that Olympic training period. Once again, ignoring what these women are asking for -- year round compensation and equitable support.

The actual amount that the Men’s team makes from USA Hockey has not been revealed, but let’s say, hypothetically, they got the same as the women now. Why don’t the men speak out about it? Because the minimum contract in the NHL is over half a million dollars per year, they don’t need any to make anything off of it to survive.

Don’t get me wrong here, the USA Men’s Hockey team is one phenomenal group, but it’s hard to configure a wage dispute when the Men’s team is compromised of highly skilled NHL players who get paid millions of dollars annually, while the NWHL is struggling to pay their players a few thousand per year -- that’s just the reality of the matter and the two don’t compare.

The women’s hockey team is not asking for millions, they are not asking for anything outlandish. They simply want the support and respect that USA Hockey is required to provide.

To play for “club and country” sounds great, when your club is paying you the big bucks. That’s the case for the men, who receive the best of the best training year round, a hefty contract from their club, and represent their country at large events like the World Cup.

Unfortunately, the NWHL cannot pay the women’s players more than a few thousand per year, so they get pennies compared to the men to begin with, never mind the fact that the women play more frequently than the men at the National level -- a season including nine games, and their requests for support have not been answered.

What I would like to see is USA Hockey to offer every National athlete a contract for a four year cycle -- at a set standard -- with insurance coverage and travel expenses covered. There should be requirements put in place to ensure that both men and women can succeed as an elite, national athlete, at a fair and equal wage. Now, since the men make far more than USA hockey can even provide, their support should remain the same as the women as well as bonus incentives, but their contract from club should veto the income from USA Hockey.

For example: Joe Pavelski (Captain of Team USA) makes $6 million per year from San Jose. He is more than able to be a professional hockey player and represent his country without financial support from USA Hockey. Meghan Duggan (Captain of Team USA) -- before the NWHL made salary cuts in November -- made only $20,000 per year, and that’s a high contract. Basically, if a player makes over a certain amount of money per year from their club, they are not eligible for financial compensation, but equitable support remains the same, regardless of income.

Big picture: I think the NWHL and CWHL should merge into one national league just like the men’s league. The NHL should get behind and support the women’s league -- just as some Canadian teams already do with their CWHL neighbors -- be it through tax subsidies or other support. Then and only then I believe that women’s hockey will be able to gain more traction, more marketing, more staffing, and more opportunities to shine and start to gain the headway that they are capable of.

There is no way USA Hockey can win this battle. It is like taking a knife to a gun fight. They have the funds to support these female athletes, yet do not follow through even though by law they are required to.

To pour even more salt in the wound, according to ESPN, USA Hockey grossed receipts of $42 million in 2014-15. The executive staff received bonuses of over $250,000. The boys development program receives $3.5 million of support. What they are asking is realistic and necessary for what is required of them from USA Hockey. The gap in treatment between the men’s team and development program compared to the women’s has existed for years and it’s time to close it.

We live in a society where Women’s National Hockey Games are not even televised, but an annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show is ranked one of the most viewed events on television. While male athletes are worshipped and respected, women are nearly invisible. Advertisements and commercials are saturated with male athletes, while you only see the women in a tampon commercial. Time to slap the society out of you.

I fully support and stand by the USA Women’s Hockey Team. Their courage to sacrifice playing and competing for equality is admirable. Their unity as a team is inspiring, and their determination to pioneer equality for women in sports is going to change lives now, and for generations ahead of them.

Stereotypes are something that women in sports -- whether playing or working -- are always going to have to battle, but opportunities and equitable support is not something women should have to be fighting for in 2017. It is time to re-write the ‘Hockey Constitution,’ ensuring the American Dream is still alive and well for female athletes.

Hannah Spraker is the Anaheim Correspondent and a Columnist for The Fourth Period. Be sure to follow her on Twitter.

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