Leading By Example
ore than 200 hockey players formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Player Association in May 2019, in response to poor wages and treatment in professional women’s hockey. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League had recently folded, and players wanted more than what the National Women’s Hockey League had to offer.
Neither the CWHL nor the NWHL fostered a sustainable lifestyle for the women who dedicated their time and energy to grow the game. The CWHL paid players a stipend, which Sarah Nurse, a Canadian National Women’s Hockey Team member and 2018 second overall draft pick, revealed to SportsNet to be just $2,000.
This alone should make it clear why PWPHA members expect more. Male counterparts in the NHL make more than $10 million in one season. They released a statement after the PWPHA’s formation, part of which read:
“While we have all accomplished so much, there is no greater accomplishment than what we have the potential to do right here and right now—not just for this generation of players, but for generations to come. With that purpose, we are coming together, not as individual players, but as one collective voice to help navigate the future and protect the players needs. We cannot make a sustainable living playing in the current state of the professional game. Having no health insurance and making as low as two thousand dollars a season means players can’t adequately train and prepare to play at the highest level.”
Nurse, a former Wisconsin Badger, recorded more than 30 multipoint games in her college career and is widely recognized as a dominant two-way player. Her success as a collegiate athlete not only earned her All-American status in her senior year but led her to an Olympic debut with the Canadian National Team in 2018. She went on to dominate the CWHL, putting up 26 points in 26 games in her inaugural 2018 season.
The respect Nurse has earned on and off the ice has given her a prominent voice in the hockey community. As racial tension in the U.S. intensified, the hockey community’s lack of response disappointed Nurse.
“If you walk into a hockey arena, it’s always all white. I always joke I can always find my parents in the stands because my dad is the only Black man in the entire arena. And that’s something that I want to change,” she said to ESPN. “I want the arena to be a multicultural space and representative of what our society is now. In Canada, we call hockey our national sport. But it can’t be our national sport if it’s excluding a ton of our population.”
Nurse’s statement rings true around the world. Hockey is a predominantly white sport and is known by many to linger in the shadows while professional leagues like the WNBA, NBA, and NFL speak out against racism and discrimination. True to Nurse’s observations, the PWHPA board was entirely white.
“In hockey, we have a bit of a culture of conformity and silence. It’s a predominantly white sport, and for many players, race is an uncomfortable topic. This is something as a players’ association we not only need to be aware of but take a stance on,” Nurse told ESPN.
After reaching out to the PWHPA about taking action and asking Liz Knox, former CWHL goaltender, to help her spark change, Knox promptly resigned from her position with the PWHPA board to allow Nurse to take her spot.
“It was a pretty selfless act of allyship,” Nurse told ESPN. “There was a lack of diverse representation, and for her to recognize that, is a showcase of allyship. We talk about hiring Black people, hiring indigenous people, but few people recognize that [and] then walk the walk. Liz is a leader by example.”
While Sarah Nurse is dominant on the ice, her impact reaches far beyond the rink. As an advocate for the growth and diversification of women’s hockey, she is changing the landscape of sports at large and the PWHPA is lucky to have her.
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