As It Happens

Why Amanda Kessel and other women's hockey stars refuse to hit the ice

When Amanda Kessel suits up to play for the Metropolitan Riveters, her yearly salary is only $8,000 US ($10,743 Cdn) — and she's one of the highest paid players in the National Women's Hockey League.

Kessel makes $10K a year in the NWHL, while her brother Phil pulls in $10M

Ice hockey player Amanda Kessel and 200 other women's hockey players in Canada and the U.S. are refusing to play until a sustainable league is developed. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
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When Amanda Kessel suits up to play for the Metropolitan Riveters, her yearly salary is only $10,700and she's one of the highest paid players in the National Women's Hockey League. 

That's why she, along with more than 200 other women's hockey players in Canada and the U.S., are refusing to play in North America next season until a single, sustainable league is developed. 

Kessel, who is an Olympic gold medallist with Team USA, spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about the decision. 

Here is part of their conversation. 

How challenging is it right now to be a professional women's hockey player in North America?

It has been crazy. Obviously, a huge announcement [Thursday]. It's scary, it's uncertain, it's uncomfortable — but it's something that needs to be done.

You are boycotting the ice until you get the resources that women's hockey "demands and deserves." What are you looking for?

Well, we aren't boycotting. We're deciding to not play in any league in North America until we find a league that's going to be viable long term instead of taking these short-term gains and playing for, you know, low compensation and low resources. We need something better and that's what we're looking for.

We think that it's really important and that the time is now.

Canada forward Rebecca Johnston battles for the puck against United States forward Kessel during third period at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Gangneung, South Korea. Both stars are taking part in the walkout. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

And the time is now for what? What do you want?

A league that's going to be viable long term. Right now the options, they aren't OK.

There's maybe a few players on every team that play full time. There's hardly equipment managers. My team this year went weeks without an athletic trainer. 

A month ago, we were covering the story of the Canadian Women's Hockey League, which made this abrupt and surprising decision —  for us at least it's surprising — to cease operations due to financial issues. 

And many people [in] the interviews we did at that time  the assumption was that ... those players, those teams would join forces with the United States, with the National Women's Hockey League, and that things would be good. So why … collectively, can't the players and the teams in the two countries find something that works?

Unfortunately, the foundation just isn't there.

I've been thinking about this and we keep doing the same thing over and over and we expect something different. But nothing's changing.

In 2016, you were named the highest paid women's hockey player in the United States. What was your salary?

I couldn't even tell you because I was supposed to make $26,000 ($34,916 Cdn) and that year our salaries were cut and I think I ended up making around $13,000 ($17,458 Cdn).

And you're now with the Metropolitan Riveters. Can you tell us what your salary is now?

This year, my salary was $8,000 ($10,743 Cdn).

Oh come on. That's pathetic.

And then, yeah, you have people asking, "Is that per game or what is that?"

And you're at the high end of this salary right. What's it like for the others?   

I think a minimum was $2,500 ($3,357 Cdn) in our league this year and that's where people are losing money. It's because they're working so they can't take off work, and then they have to buy their own flight to a game.

And that's where we get in this issue of the level of competition can't be there when … they can't train full time.

So how does any ... female hockey player make it work?

For us national team players, we have support from our governing bodies so that we can train full time, but nobody else can and you can't have a league just of national team players.

People, they heard your name at the beginning, Amanda Kessel. Maybe they associated you with Phil Kessel, who was with the Toronto Maple Leafs and now is with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Can you tell us what you think your brother's salary in the NHL is?

I think my brother is about $8 million ($10.7 million Cdn).

Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin bites her gold medal after winning against Team USA at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. She is just one of many stars who won't play professionally in North America next season. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

What's that like at dinner when you compare your salaries?

That's the thing ... it's to make a salary that you can live off of. I mean, nobody can live off of an $8,000 salary.

You and Phil, your brother, growing up … you both loved hockey. You both put lots of time and energy into it, right? So was there a different dedication between you two?

No. Just as many hours. Just as many work, sweat and tears put in on both sides.

On one side, there was a platform there. And another side, that's what we're trying to, you know, create a platform.

And, unfortunately, it probably won't benefit me and a lot of my teammates right now. But, you know, the hope is 20 years from now or how many … years it takes, that there will be something that every single player is making a livable income.

And what if you're not successful?

I believe that we're going to be.

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from The Associated Press. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 


 

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