SPORTS
03/27/2017 04:21 pm ET Updated Mar 27, 2017

16 Senators Back U.S. Women's Hockey Team's Fair Pay Boycott

The team's players "deserve fairness and respect," Elizabeth Warren and other senators wrote in a letter to USA Hockey.

The U.S. women’s national hockey team’s ongoing boycott of the upcoming women’s world championship gained new supporters on Monday, when 16 members of the U.S. Senate sent a letter to the sport’s American governing body demanding fair treatment for female players.

The boycott began on March 15, when members of the team announced they would not play in the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship ― which begins March 31 ― without “significant progress” in negotiations with USA Hockey over fair pay and other forms of financial support.

“We urge you to resolve this dispute quickly to ensure that the USA Women’s National Hockey Team receives equitable resources,” the senators, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), wrote in the letter addressed to USA Hockey Executive Director Dave Ogrean. “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.”

Warren was joined by 13 of her colleagues, all Democrats: Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Thomas Carper (D-Del.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.). Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) also signed the letter but were not listed on the original copy. 

In launching the boycott, members of the U.S. women’s team said they wanted better compensation from USA Hockey, which provides them with monthly stipends during a six-month Olympic training period, but does not pay them for the other three and a half years of each Olympic cycle. They also said other forms of financial support ― for marketing, travel and youth development, among other things ― pales in comparison to what the federation provides men’s teams.

In their letter, the senators cited the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, a federal law that applies to governing bodies like USA Hockey. Under that law, the senators wrote,  USA Hockey is “legally required to provide equitable support and encouragement for participation by women.”

Players and USA Hockey officials met last Monday to resume negotiations, and the players emerged from more than eight hours of meetings confident that they were close to a deal that would allow them to return to the ice for the tournament. But negotiations fell apart later in the week, and USA Hockey resumed its efforts to field a replacement team at the world championship.

Those efforts have been largely unsuccessful, with some collegiate and even high school women’s players posting on Twitter that they have turned down USA Hockey’s requests.

The senators joined a growing list of supporters of the team’s boycott. Members of the U.S. women’s soccer team ― which is battling its own federation over equal pay issues ― spoke out almost immediately, as did former members of the women’s hockey team. The NFL and Major League Baseball players’ unions have also supported the team. Reports emerged Sunday that members of the U.S. men’s hockey team were considering joining the women’s boycott of the world championship.

USA Hockey’s board was scheduled to meet Monday afternoon to vote on a potential deal that could end the boycott.

The women’s team members still want to play in the tournament. On Friday, forward Monique Lamoureux told The Huffington Post that players “will show up the day before the game if we have to” ― as long as they reach a deal with USA Hockey first. 

Read the full letter below.

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 

UPDATE: This article has been updated to reflect that 16 senators had signed the letter to USA Hockey supporting the players’ boycott. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) also signed the letter but were not listed on the original copy. 

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