USA Hockey’s misleading claims on women’s hockey support

Monique Lamoureux-Morando has two Olympic silver medals and five International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship golds, representing the United States on defense for their women’s hockey national team.

But this week, she joined her teammates in announcing they would not participate in the IIHF world championships in Michigan this month unless USA Hockey increased its funding of the players and offered more “equitable support in the areas of financial compensation, youth team development, equipment, travel expenses, hotel accommodations, meals, staffing, transportation, marketing and publicity.”

The threat of a boycott made national news, and prompted USA Hockey to respond:

On Thursday, USA Today reported that USA Hockey has requested the players make a decision on their tournament participation by 5 p.m. ET. After that, the organization would figure out how to move forward. One source told Yahoo Sports that USA Hockey intends to reach out to U18 and U22 national team players as replacement players for the national team, even as the current national team players claim the younger athletes are supporting the boycott.

“To the entire team, it was misleading and dishonest,” said Lamoureux-Morando of USA Hockey’s statement. “To imply that it’s only coming from some players isn’t true. This is coming from the entire player pool. We have the support of the U18 team and the under 22s,”

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But what really struck a sour note with the players was the misrepresentation of funding from USA Hockey.

Per the organization’s release:

The support USA Hockey is implementing in order to prepare the Women’s National Team for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games includes a six-month training camp, additional support stipends and incentives for medals that could result in each player receiving nearly $85,000 in cash over the Olympic training and performance period. The sum is in addition to a housing allowance, travel allowances, meal expenses, medical and disability insurance and the infrastructure that includes elite-level support staff to train and prepare the players.

That $85,000 is in stark contrast with the numbers the players were putting out: $1,000 per month in the six months leading up to the Olympics, and then nothing the rest of the cycle.

So what’s the deal?

Here’s the deal: USA Hockey was intentionally vague about the money the players receive, taking credit for the money that the players could receive from the USOC if they achieve their various performance bonuses. The key phrase here is “incentives for medals that could result,” which is a bit like saying a salesperson could make a million dollars off a $50,000 base salary depending on their commission.

Of that $85,000, only about $20,000 of it would come from USA Hockey, according to Lamoureux-Morando.

“They’re taking credit for the income from the USOC. The USOC would provide over $60,000 from that total,” said Lamoureux-Morando. “That’s also predicated on us winning a gold medal. That gets us a $37,000 bonus from the USOC included in that. That’s not guaranteed money. That’s bonus money that they include in our income. They’re also looping in if we were to win worlds this year, we would get a $7,500 bonus from the USOC. So they’re trying to loop in that money into this too.”

For what it’s worth, the men’s team also receives a $37,000 bonus from the USOC for winning gold. But men’s teams get a gold medal bonus from the IIHF for winning at worlds, which the women’s teams don’t receive.

The point isn’t the six months leading up to the Olympics, according to the players. It’s the three and a half years before that six-month period. “In those three-and-a-half years, we get zero dollars from USA Hockey,” said Lamoureux-Morando.

It’s the USOC that pays the players during that time. The biggest names make a maximum of $2,000 per month, before taxes. The lower-tier players – there are three tiers – make a minimum of $750 per month.

What the players want: a living wage, basically, “so some of us don’t have to work second and third jobs,” she said.

The wage they arrived at isn’t linked to the men’s team players, or even to their counterparts in soccer, who went through a similar fight.

“We arrived at a number where if people graduate from college and want to be on the U18 team, and they want to move into a one-bedroom apartment,” said Lamoureux-Morando, who said players work multiple jobs and stay on their parents’ health care and phone plans to make ends meet.

On health care, USA Hockey mentioned “medical and disability insurance.” The players do receive it in the run-up to the Olympics, but in the three-and-a-half years of training before those six months, the current arrangement is one of good faith.

“If I work out in the morning, and I injure myself, it’s not in writing that USA Hockey would have to cover my medical expenses,” said Lamoureux-Morando. “If something happens, would they cover it? Probably yes. But if a player on the bubble gets injured, we want something in writing rather than just good faith.”

So the clock continues to click down to the March 31 tournament, and the public relations war wages on between USA Hockey and its women’s players – a war that USA Today columnist Christine Brennan says the organization can’t win.

Both sides will state their cases, but one fact remains: It’s not like USA Hockey couldn’t see this coming.

“About a year ago, we said that this could be on the table. Unfortunately, a year has come and gone, and no progress should be made,” Lamoureux-Morando said.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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