SPORTS
03/28/2017 08:48 pm ET

U.S. Women's Hockey Players Reach Deal To End Fair Pay Boycott

The team will return to the ice for the upcoming world championship.
Shaun Best/Reuters

The U.S. women’s national hockey team has ended a two-week fair pay boycott and will play in the upcoming world championship tournament, after their lawyers reached an agreement Tuesday with the sport’s governing body.

USA Hockey, the sport’s American federation, and the U.S. women’s team announced in a joint press release that they had reached an agreement “that will result in groundbreaking support for the U.S. Women’s National Team program over the course of the next four years.”

“Today reflects everyone coming together and compromising in order to reach a resolution for the betterment of the sport,” said Jim Smith, president of USA Hockey. “We’ll now move forward together knowing we’ll look back on this day as one of the most positive in the history of USA Hockey.”

The two sides agreed to keep financial terms of the deal private. But the deal includes the formation of a new advisory group made up of current and former players that will “assist USA Hockey in efforts to advance girls’ and women’s hockey,” the release said.

“Our sport is the big winner today,” said Meghan Duggan, the team’s captain. “We stood up for what we thought was right and USA Hockey’s leadership listened. In the end, both sides came together.”

The agreement means the U.S. women’s team will return to the ice for the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship, which begins in Plymouth, Michigan, on March 31.

More than a year of private negotiations between the players and USA Hockey over compensation and other forms of financial support exploded into a public battle on March 15, when the USWNT threatened to skip the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship unless they made “significant progress” in talks with the federation. The dispute threatened to leave the tournament without its host and defending champion.

The United States won the tournament’s gold medal in 2016, and has won six of the last eight world championship gold medals overall.

The boycott centered on a lack of financial support for the women’s team. The players wanted better compensation from the federation, which they said only provided small monthly stipends during a six-month Olympic training period ― but otherwise did not pay the players during the other 3 1/2 years of each Olympic cycle. They also pointed to insufficient support for travel and marketing, and what they saw as USA Hockey’s disparate support for men’s and women’s hockey at the development level: While USA Hockey spends $3.5 million annually on its national team program for boys, they said, girls receive no “comparable” support.

USA Hockey disputed those claims, and initially began seeking out replacement players to field a team in the tournament. 

The boycott appeared near its end last Monday, when USA Hockey officials met with nine players and the team’s attorneys in Philadelphia. More than 10 hours of “productive” meetings left players feeling hopeful that a deal was close.

But the talks collapsed later in the week, and USA Hockey again extended invites to other players in hopes of placing a team of replacements in the world championship. Women’s players at the collegiate, high school and even recreational level, however, remained committed to the national team’s cause, publicly posting on Twitter that they had declined the federation’s invites. 

Members of the women’s team said all along that they hoped to reach a deal that would allow them to return to the ice in time for the world championships.

“We want to play,” Duggan told The Huffington Post the day the boycott began. “We want this to get resolved. We want to come to an agreement that USA Hockey and ourselves can both be on board with.”

As of last Friday, players were willing to “show up the day before the game if we have to,” USWNT forward Monique Lamoureux told HuffPost.

That, in effect, is what they will do. The U.S. will hold its first practice Thursday night, one day before they begin the tournament against Canada.

USA Hockey’s board met for several hours Monday night, once again fueling hopes that a deal was near. But the evening ended without a resolution.

USA Hockey sent a new proposal to the players Tuesday morning, and players voted to ratify the agreement after hours of negotiation over unspecified terms in the deal. 

In the end, the agreement highlighted the power of the women’s commitment to the boycott, and its ability to stretch beyond their sport.

Members of the U.S. women’s soccer team, who have battled their own federation over equal pay issues, stood behind the hockey team almost immediately.

Support for their fight eventually spread across the sports world. Unions representing Major League Baseball, NBA, NFL and NHL players all backed the women’s hockey team. WNBA and women’s college basketball players tweeted in favor of them; and members of the men’s national hockey team reportedly threatened to join them in boycotting the world championship. 

On Monday, 16 members of the U.S. Senate sent a letter to USA Hockey’s executive director backing the players and urging a quick end to the dispute. 

The deal, which will extend beyond the 2018 Winter Olympics, affirmed the larger cause Duggan and the players said they had committed to when the boycott began.

“It’s bigger than hockey,” Duggan said that day. “It’s bigger than any one sport or individual. It’s about equitable support for females in this country. This is a difficult thing for us, but we’re united and proud and happy to do it.”

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