With New League in Mind, Women’s Hockey Players Form Association

Members of the newly formed Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association say that they’ll take the next season off, if necessary, to help put together a league that’s more financially sustainable.

Professional women’s hockey players, concerned about low pay and no safety net, are getting a players association in an effort to build a league that offers better resources.

The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), announced last week, builds upon a recent move by more than 200 top female hockey players to sit out next season in an attempt to help build a new league that offers many of the basic benefits that athletes in most prominent sports take for granted. Many players taking part have had major success on the world stage, including multiple Olympic gold medalists.

The players raised concerns that, for all the work they put in, they made very little money off of the sport.

“We cannot make a sustainable living playing in the current state of the professional game. Having no health insurance and making as low as two thousand dollars a season means players can’t adequately train and prepare to play at the highest level,” PWHPA said on its website. “Because of that, together as players, we will not play in ANY professional leagues in North America this season until we get the resources that professional hockey demands and deserves.”

The move has major implications for the National Women’s Hockey League, the only major North American pro hockey league at the moment. (The Canadian Women’s Hockey League shuttered in March.) But bigger still is what the new association represents—an effort to fix what athletes describe as glaring problems with the sport.

In a news release, Olympic gold medalist Kendall Coyne Schofield said that the move to build PWHPA was necessary to help lay the groundwork for long-term growth.

“We are fortunate to be ambassadors of this beautiful game, and it is our responsibility to make sure the next generation of players have more opportunities than we had,” Schofield said in a news release. “It’s time to stand together and work to create a viable league that will allow us to enjoy the benefits of our hard work.”

PWHPA, which was formed with pro bono legal assistance from the law firm Ballard Spahr, aims to improve the infrastructure around women’s hockey, including in the form of stronger training for young female players, a focus on diversity and inclusion, and broader awareness efforts.

Speaking to USA Today, Ballard Spahr partner Dee Spagnuolo acknowledged that one potential path for the sport was to have support from the existing men’s league, which has helped the WNBA’s own success story. But if they can’t get the NHL to work with them, they plan to build something anyway.

“We can’t speak for the NHL,” she told the outlet. “The singular focus of the PWHPA is to create a sustainable league for professional women’s hockey in North America. It’s the NHL’s decision and we don’t speak for them.”

If players end up not playing next season, Spagnuolo added that the stars will take part in training events and exhibitions in an effort to fill the gap.

Team USA, after winning the IIHF 2013 Women's Ice Hockey World Championship. (stevekingsman/iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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