It doesn’t matter if you never planned to watch a minute of the Women’s World Hockey Championships, or if you knew they began Friday in Plymouth, Mich., or if you cared about the fact that the Americans’ defense of their championship was in peril. What you need to know: If you have a daughter, a young daughter in particular, the women who will take the ice wearing sweaters that say “USA” are heroes.
Your daughter owes a debt to these women. You owe a debt to these women. With not an ounce of hyperbole, they sacrificed so others might prosper. They risked personal gain so future generations could advance. They said they wouldn’t play so others could.
And they didn’t waver.
Sound trite? Fine. Listen to them, and think about what this stand meant.
“We were completely unified,” said Meghan Duggan, the team’s captain, by phone Tuesday night. “Never a doubt, never a slip, never an ‘I don’t know.’ This was all-in, unanimous. We knew we were doing the right thing the entire time.”
Everyone else should know, too. Please, don’t let what was accomplished in the deal the women’s national team struck with USA Hockey get lost in the Sturm und Drang of rhetoric that surrounds collective bargaining. Except that’s not even what this was, until the team forced it to be. These women had no union until they looked at each other and said they had no choice. These women had no voice until they decided, collectively, to scream. These women will play for a world title knowing not only that they have a chance to win again, but that they have changed more than this tournament, more than women’s hockey.
“Today’s a huge day not just for women’s hockey, but a historic day for women’s sports,” said veteran Monique Lamoureux, also by phone, also before she went to sleep. “We’re all extremely proud to be a part of it. Hopefully, other sports can kind of follow suit.”
Two weeks ago, when these women decided they would boycott the worlds in an effort to fight for better pay and equitable support, this might have seemed like a blip. That’s certainly what USA Hockey, the sport’s governing body in the States, made it seem like. Callously, the people who oversee the sport — who must ensure it has a future in our country — said they would try to enlist other players to replace these women, these champions. Should they just feel grateful for the $6,000 they received, in years that build to Olympics, as “support”? (It feels downright greasy to describe that sum as support. It is, in fact, an insult.)
The women knew what they were risking by threatening to sit out. More important, they understood what they were risking if they simply went and played. They would, in essence, be capitulating to their overseers. Any pride they would have in winning a medal would be overshadowed by the shame they would feel, years from now, in looking at other young women having to fight a fight that could be fought right now, in 2017.
They found conviction, first, in that logic.
“We put in the same work as the men,” said Lamoureux’s twin sister, Jocelyne, a forward. “It’s the same sweat equity, and in the Olympics, gender shouldn’t matter. We believe, man or woman, our governing body should support athletes the same.”
Except the governing body didn’t. It’s not just that the men’s national team has consisted of highly paid NHL stars; there’s no matching that money. It’s that, while USA Hockey spent about $1 million annually supporting the women’s national team, the men’s under-20 team — a development program — got roughly $3.5 million. The women’s development program received, well, what?
Wait. There’s no corresponding unit for women.
So this was, indeed, a broad and deep fight. And if there was a doubt in these women from the moment they made their decision — and they don’t admit to anything of the sort — it could have dissolved immediately last Thursday, when Duggan, the captain, received a text message from one Billie Jean King.
“To be honest,” Duggan said, “I almost dropped my phone.”
King’s message: I’m here for you. What followed was an outpouring — support from men’s team players and NHL stars, in a letter from 20 U.S. senators to USA Hockey, backing the team. Julie Foudy, the iconic former star of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, reached out. Cammi Granato and Angela Ruggiero, U.S. hockey heroes from the past, joined their sisters.
“It’s been awesome to hear from other women who have paved their own way,” Monique Lamoureux said.
So with that, these women joined King as legends. Maybe they’ll never have the name recognition. But they are pioneers not just in their sport, but in the argument that girls should be supported just as boys are, that women compete as men do. King came early, the hero in tennis when she played, a ferocious advocate for those who followed. But how are Duggan and the Lamoureuxs and Hilary Knight and the rest not alongside her now?
They are. We are 45 years clear of Title IX; there are no American female athletes competing in a world in which the federal government didn’t require equal opportunities, regardless of gender. And still, with their biggest non-Olympic competition pending, the women of the American hockey team had to decide the only way they could continue to play with a clear conscious was by refusing to play.
“The solidarity piece, that’s what kept us moving,” Jocelyne Lamoureux said.
“All along, we said this is bigger than this one world championship,” Duggan said. “This is bigger than us individually. This is bigger than this team or this sport.”
There is real, material gain in the deal, for sure. According to The Post’s Rick Maese, the four-year contract will bring players roughly $70,000 annually.
What might that mean in the moment, to these women? A living wage, yes. Financial security to keep going, for sure. But what in self-esteem, in the confidence that their work toward their dream might be sustainable? That has to be immeasurable.
“There’s a lot of pride tonight,” Duggan said late Tuesday. “Pride is the best word to describe the whole process. I’m proud of our team. I’m proud of everyone who’s stuck behind us. . . . I’m proud of [USA Hockey] for really stepping up and doing the right thing.”
What happened not just Tuesday night, but over the past two weeks, was about the women who will open the tournament against Canada on Friday night. They now have a specific task. “We’re prepared,” Duggan said. “We’re psyched. We’re ready to go.”
How to doubt her? But look, too, at your own daughter, be she 16 or 6. Because of what these women did, she should be prepared, be psyched, be ready to go. Because it was about her, too.