#ForTheLeague: The fight for equality in women’s professional hockey

Photo courtesy of ESPN.

A lot has taken place in the world of women’s professional hockey since the CWHL announced on Mar. 31 that they would be folding. Here is a recap of everything that’s happened in the last two months.

Folding of the CWHL

The announcement came just one week after the Calgary Inferno defeated Montreal to win the Clarkson Cup, which saw a record 175,000 people tune in to watch the game.  “It is no longer economically viable” was the reason the board gave for deciding to fold. The CWHL was officially a non-profit organization, kept alive by major donors, who had reportedly started to withdraw their funding throughout the year.

On Mar. 31, all players and managers were told the news before the public became aware later that morning. Everyone was shocked. The league had seen growth in awareness and viewership throughout its 12 years, and in the past year had started to gain more attention through some games being broadcast on Sportsnet, as well as increasing NHL partnerships between individual teams. Now just under 150 players are out of jobs, and had to process this news just four days before some of them were set to compete in the IIHF Worlds in Finland.  

For over a year, fans and players alike had started to become more vocal in calling for one league, instead of the separate CWHL and NWHL. While this is now the reality, there simply isn’t space for each player in the NWHL, even if they were to complete the expansion to Toronto and Montreal.  While people are looking to the NHL to step in, the NHL stood by their previous stance of not wanting to get involved with league structures they don’t believe in. For now, they have doubled their funding of the NWHL from $50,000 to $100,000. This is a simple reallocation of funds that would have been going to the CWHL.

Uproar surrounding CWHL Auction

In the past week, the situation seems to have only gotten worse, as the league announced they would be auctioning off league memorabilia in an attempt to be able to pay the players and league supporters what they are owed. On April 26, items including game worn jerseys, signed sticks, framed photos, and even trophies were put up for the public to bid on. Similar auctions were also started for each team.

This was part of a legally obligated asset liquidation the CWHL had to partake in, though it understandably bothered many players and fans that the league trophies, which are meant to be earned, were going to be bought and sitting in someone’s home. Many believed the trophies belonged in the Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF) to preserve the history of women’s hockey. However, the HHOF cannot purchase any of the trophies as it is technically a charitable organization, though they are encouraging those who win the trophies to donate them. Perhaps the league took notice of the large outcry, as they soon removed the Angela James Bowl, Jayna Hefford Trophy, and Chairman and Humanitarian awards from the auction. The Clarkson Cup was also unavailable.

On April 30th the auction closed, and the players have been paid their base salaries, though at this point they have yet to receive the money due to them in bonuses. Aside from players, it is thought the league still needs to pay out their many independent contractors, though financial reports have not yet been made public, so how much is owed and to who is still mainly speculation.

No Professional Women’s Hockey League in North America

On May 2, 24 hours after the CWHL officially ceased operations, the players are making an impact with their #ForTheGame statement being spread across social media. Over 200 players across Canada and the U.S. have stated that they will not be playing in any league until they receive proper resources.

While the women may be rivals on the ice, off of it they have the same goal to grow the game, and this is what they view to be the best way to make that happen. The players hope that announcing they will not play will put the pressure on the NHL to step forward and provide some support. As goalie Shannon Szabados stated, “It’s all, not a few.” There is power in the unity of the situation.

In the standardized statement being spread by the players, the main point made is that they simply cannot make a sustainable living in the current compensation situation. They do not receive any health care support, and many athletes are making as low as $2,000 a year. This makes it extremely difficult to train to be able to play at the necessary level for a professional league. By banding together to show their dissatisfaction, they hope their statement will finally make an impact and see change.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had previously stated he didn’t want to get involved with unsustainable models or seem like they were ‘bullying’ the women’s leagues. Many stand by Liz who replied to this with a simple, “not good enough”.

Now there is no league. Women’s professional hockey will not exist until change is made.

Time to see something happen.



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