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Commentary: U.S. Women's National Hockey Team Doesn't Get Enough Respect


Good news for hockey fans. Later this month, the U.S. is hosting the Women's World Hockey Championships. And Team USA is a favorite to win it all - if they play. Commentator Sarah Spain explains.

SARAH SPAIN: What's it going to take for the U.S. women's national hockey team to get the respect they deserve - Olympic medals, World Championships, near-record Olympic TV ratings? Well, they've got all that. And they still feel like an afterthought to their own federation, USA Hockey. Last week, the team announced plans to boycott the upcoming World Championships happening right on home soil in Plymouth, Mich., if progress wasn't made toward a labor agreement. The team's demands are threefold - more financial support in the years leading up to Olympic years, more substantial development for the girls and women's game and better promotion and marketing. USA Hockey's stated mission is to grow the game. But I'm starting to wonder - which game?

Right now, women's national team players receive just a thousand dollars a month for one six-month period every four years leading up to the Olympics from their federation. Compare that to the three and a half million dollars a year USA Hockey spends on boys' youth level development. And there's no comparable development program for girls. While youth boys are funded to play as many as 60 games per year, the highest adult level for women - the national team - gets only nine games in non-Olympic years. And superstar forward Hilary Knight says when they do play, promotion by USA Hockey is so poor, many fans don't even know some of the world's best players are playing in their city.

And then there was this moment. In 2014, when USA Hockey announced the uniforms for the men's and women's teams in Sochi, they didn't invite anyone from the women's team for the public unveiling. They had to watch on TV. Worse, the stitching on both the men's and women's jerseys listed all of Team USA's gold medal-winning teams, but just the men's. The women's gold medal-winning Nagano team was left out. In sports media, there are a lot of fawning essays written on the sacrifices made by male pro athletes. You know the ones - he took a pay cut for a chance to win. He's in it for the love of the game.

A man making a few million less per year should not be the gold standard for love of the game when these women, the very best in the world, are working multiple jobs year round, often buying their own equipment so they can continue representing the red, white and blue. There is incredible growth potential in girls' and women's hockey. The federation's failure to capitalize on that is a disgrace. The national team is merely asking to be supported and acknowledged for the time and work it takes to be great, so great they've won three straight world championships. And if USA Hockey doesn't act quickly, there won't be a U.S. team on the ice in Plymouth to try to make it four.


MARTIN: Sarah Spain is a sports broadcaster with ESPN. She lives in Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah Spain
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