Gender

Why is it so hard to pay women athletes what they’re worth?

After the NHL paid professional women's hockey players in donations to charity, the sports world again shows that there is no value in women's sports.

History was made during the National Hockey League (NHL) All-Star Skills Competition on January 25, 2019, as a woman laced up for the first time as a competitor in the fastest skater competition.

As Kendall Coyne-Schofield took to the ice Friday night, she showed truly how equal women can be. Coyne-Schofield was set to replace Nathan McKinnon in the event. Connor McDavid, who plays for the Edmonton Oilers and three-time champion of the event, stands a full 11 inches taller than Coyne-Schofield and crossed the finish line only one second faster.

While Coyne-Schofield was the only female participant in the games, she was not the only woman to take the ice. Brianna Decker, who also plays for the US National Team, and Rebecca Johnston and Renata Fast of the Canadian National Team joined, each doing a demonstration of an event. This is the second year that the NHL has used professional women’s hockey players to demo their events.

The skills of the women wowed their male counterparts, especially Decker, who was set to demonstrate the player passing event. The event highlighted the different kind of passes that players make during a hockey game – from breakout passes in the defensive zone, to scoring passes from the blue line. The event was incredibly challenging, with no one being able to finish the event in under a minute.

However, Decker, with an unofficial time of 1:03, finished three seconds faster than Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers.

Winners of the All-Star Game competitions are awarded from the NHL with a check of $25 thousand. When word got out that Decker had actually been the unofficial winner of the contest over Draisatl, they thought that the money would do more good to Decker, who’s paycheck is significantly less than Draisatl’s $9 million contract (The National Women’s Hockey League reported that Decker was making $22 thousand a year signed with the Boston Pride in 2015.)

Twitter reacted in a mob fashion, and the hashtag #payDecker started trending almost immediately.

Decker ultimately did get paid. Not by the NHL, but by her sponsor, CCM.

To avoid further backlash, the NHL released that they would award all of the women who participated in the All-Star Competition by giving $25 thousand, not to them, but to the charity of their choice.

Which brings the question: How hard is it to pay women for the work they do?

Women in sports have needed to fight repeatedly for the privilege to be paid for the work they do. The US Women’s Soccer Team filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2016, resulting in a deal with USA Soccer that was fairer, but still not equal.

The USA Women’s National Hockey Team was on strike from USA Hockey less than two years ago in a fight for fair wages ahead of the World Cup of Hockey. The strike ended in an eleventh-hour deal that guaranteed the players accommodations equal to what male hockey players receive.

The NHL’s refusal to pay the female hockey players is another echo in the fight for fair pay that women in sports have been enduring for years. It now seems as though the reason the NHL has not merged with a woman’s league, is rooted less in respect, and instead, in the lack of value women have in hockey.

The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), the first women’s hockey league to pay its players, has reached out to the NHL several times to try to bond their organizations in a similar way as the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) yet has been met with uneasiness and indifference from the commissioner’s office. Instead, the success of the league relies on private partnerships with NHL leagues. Currently, four of the five leagues have this kind of lucrative partnerships that help ensure that the players are paid, and help the league survive.

Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the NHL, cites that the NHL will not get involved while there are two professional women’s leagues (there is also the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, a professional league based in Toronto.) However, players and officials from the NWHL have called for the NHL to be involved and share its resources.

Now, in light of the actions of the league during the All-Star Game, the previous hesitation of the NHL brass appears tarnished. It now seems as though the reason the NHL has not merged with a woman’s league, is rooted less in respect, and instead, in the lack of value women have in hockey.