Smallwood: Women's national hockey team pay argument doesn't hold up

US women\'s hockey team vs Canada
Members of the United States women's national hockey team are threatening not to play in this year's world championships due to a contract dispute with USA Hockey.

I hate writing this because I am a fan and proponent of women’s sports.

I understand why the members of the United States women’s hockey team have threatened to boycott next month’s International Ice Hockey Federation women’s world championships over a wages-and-support dispute with USA Hockey, the governing body for ice hockey in the United States.

Still, I cannot side with the players in their demands that USA Hockey pay them an annual salary of $68,000, plus child care, maternity leave and other benefits.

I agree with the players that it is pathetic that they are only guaranteed $1,000 a month for six months leading to an Olympics.

I agree that USA Hockey’s offer to raise pay to $3,000 a month prior to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea won’t make that much of a difference.

But the players are asking USA Hockey to pay them as if they are full-time employees, and I agree with the organization’s stance that it doesn’t do that for players – male or female.

Since the International Olympic Committee changed its rules in 1986 to allow professional athletes to participate, there has been a growing misconception that all athletes who compete at events like that should be paid as if they are professional athletes.

That simply is not how it works.

Athletes are compensated for competing in events the Olympics or a world championship based on the financial power of the sport, the country and the governing bodies of a sport in a country.

It’s misleading to say men get paid millions of dollars to represent the USA at the Olympics so women should get the $68,000 they are demanding. To repeat, USA Hockey does not pay the men millions of dollars. It doesn’t even pay them $68,000.

In 1998, 12 years after the IOC allowed professional athletes, the NHL decided it would benefit from interrupting its regular season and sending its players to the Olympics. USA Hockey certainly benefited from having NHL players at the Olympics, but the players’ multi-million-dollar salaries come from their contracts with NHL teams. In the United States, governing bodies such as USA Hockey, do control the professional leagues.

Unfortunately, there is no high-paying professional hockey league for women.

The National Women’s Hockey League is a four-team league with a salary cap of $270,000 per team. Players get a share of the home gate after 500 tickets are sold.

Because they can’t make a living wage as full-time professional hockey players, the players want USA Hockey to supplement their income so they can live as full-time hockey players.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the median household income in the United States for 2016 was $53,889. Basically, the players want USA Hockey to pay them nearly $15,000 more than the median income, plus benefits, for a nine-day tournament once a year except for an Olympic year.

Professional sports are businesses, not charities.

An athlete’s income is directly related to how much revenue he/she can generate, individually, or as part of a team and league.

WNBA players make a fraction of the minimum salary of NBA players because the women’s game only generates a fraction of the revenue that the men’s game does.

Conversely, female tennis players successfully demanded equal prize money at Grand Slam tournaments because their competition is as profitable as the men’s.

Unfortunately for the women hockey players, they can’t even make an argument like the one that women soccer players have made in their dispute with the United States Soccer Federation.

Although they’ve cherry-picked the numbers in their claim for equal pay, the women soccer players do generate significant money for the USSF when they host friendlies and participate in the FIFA World Cup.

Women athletes work just as hard and train as hard as their male counterparts. In a perfect world, they would be paid like their male counterparts.

But it isn’t a perfect world and most athletes – male and female - don’t get rich or even earn a living wage for competing in their chosen sport.