As a feminist and a hockey fan nothing should peak my interest like the National Women’s Hockey League. I was excited upon its inception in 2015 but never became the diehard fan I told myself I was going to be. I followed this past season closer than the first. My brother gifted me a Janine Weber Riveter’s sweater (which unfortunately is already out of date upon her trade to the Boston Pride). But it is now June, the Isobel Cup hoisted by the Buffalo Beauts three months ago, and I can look back and count the number of games I watched on one hand.
I decided it’s time for me to become the fan I promised myself to be. We have a duty as hockey fans to these hockey-playing women to support their league. The NWHL makes it clear that the league was created for a social purpose as well as an athletic one. It boasts on its website that the league was created for the purposes of Equality, Empowerment, and Inclusiveness- three words that easily strike a feminist’s heartstrings. Next to the word “Equality” the website reads, “Every girl can dream as big as her brother.” These words bring a tear to my eye and make me realize that the importance of the NWHL lies much deeper than enjoyment of the game.
Until 2015, little girls could not dream of being professional hockey players like their brothers could. Sure, they could dream of being in the NHL, but deep down they knew becoming a professional hockey player could not be achieved. But once the NWHL was created, those little girls’ dreams became a reality. Although the professional hockey dreams are still not as big as the dreams of their brothers, they are a great start.
The NWHL is not at the same caliber as the NHL. The NHL has been around for 100 years, contains 27 more teams, and is taken more seriously in a society that does not legitimize women’s sports. Money-wise the NWHL is light-years behind the male league. A team’s salary cap in the NHL ranges from 54-73 million dollars. The NWHL’s cap in 2015 was $270,000 per team. Putting this into perspective, the average NHL player makes 2.9 million dollars a year, over ten times an NWHL team’s salary cap. Jonathan Toews’ salary for the 2016-2017 season could pay the salaries of 50 NWHL teams. It is important to note that the NWHL was not created by the NHL. The high salaries of Anze Kopitar and Alex Ovechkin don’t take money away from the players in the NWHL. But, comparing their salaries with the female players emphasizes the gap between men and women’s sports.
Here, the money situation in the NWHL becomes very dicey. From the start of the league to November of last year the league’s minimum salary for their players was $10,000. (I could go into how Sidney Crosby makes three times that per day, but I think you get the point). Although the salaries were small – ranging from the league’s minimum $10,000 to Amanda Kessel’s $26,000 – it was still a big step for women’s hockey. The NWHL became the first women’s league to pay their players’ salaries. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League does not pay salaries. Instead, players earn money for winning in the regular season and the playoffs. The CWHL is discussing plans to start paying salaries, but it has taken 10 years for the CWHL to get to that point. In addition to the base salary, players also receive 15% of their t-shirt and jersey sales and get any commission on ticket sales after the first 500 tickets sold.
The NWHL tried to do a great thing for its players by giving them a salary they could count on. But the league simply could not afford to pay players what they promised, and midway through the last season announced a 50% pay cut. The final pay cut after player outrage ended up closer to 38%. Dunkin’ Donuts then gave the league $50,000 to go directly to the players. The athletes were the only employees of the NWHL whose pay were cut, even though the league could not exist without them.
This is where we, humble hockey fans, need to step in. These incredible women playing in the NWHL are clearly not playing for the money or fame. They are on the ice for their weekly game and twice weekly practices for a love of the game. Diehard love of hockey is why we stay up late to watch OT in the playoffs, lose sleep when approaching the trade deadline, and tear up every time we see an NHL commercial. These athletes work fulltime jobs to support their hockey careers. They are forced to treat their sport like a hobby, something professional male athletes do not have to do. Although the pay cut was outrageously unjust to the players, it is not a reason to turn your back on the NWHL, but exactly the opposite. The players in the league need fans to support them, and quite frankly, they deserve it.
While we’re all counting down the days until October, the summer is a great time to familiarize yourself with the teams and players of the NWHL. The 2017-2018 season will have the teams playing either 17 or 18 games. Teams will be playing one game a week. If you live close enough buy yourself a ticket. Heck, buy you and your closest 499 friends a ticket. Fortunately for those of us who do not live in the Northeast, where all four teams are located, the league is discussing traveling around the United States this season. Even if you can’t get yourself to a game they are live streamed online, which you can find of the NWHL’s website. You can also fill up your birthday list with merchandise from each team. Buy a Beauts Isobel Cup Champion shirt. Wave a Boston Pride flag from your window. Buy yourself a Nicole Kosta Connecticut Whale sweater. Get Miye D’Oench’s face tattooed on your forearm.
Support a team. Support all the teams. Support the women.
These are athletes that deserve to be treated as such. Women’s hockey will only be considered legitimate once we start treating it the same way we do men’s hockey. The athletes in the NWHL are able to live a dream that girls couldn’t dream of twenty years ago. And hopefully someday hockey-playing little girls will be able to dream just as big as their brothers.