The IX: Hockey Friday with Erica L. Ayala, May 10, 2019

The other side of #ForTheGame — Five at The IX: Kimberly Sass — Must-click women's hockey links

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The other side of #ForTheGame

The following is a narrative I wrote based on an interview with an NWHL player who asked to remain anonymous. I spoke to this player three days after the #ForTheGame news went public.

I’ve been asked by a lot of people to weigh in on the “state” of women’s hockey. Where do I even start? I’ve played this game for over 20 years and never have I been more heartbroken about the “state” of women’s hockey.

From what I understand, discussions leading to #ForTheGame started in Finland. Players competing for their National Teams were having conversations and were responsible for relaying information back to their professional teams. Well, that was the first breakdown in communication.

Then, there were different calls or emails making their way to certain players. I believe in the underlying message, I think it’s an admirable thing. But, I wanted to move cautiously. I haven’t seen the new NWHL contracts yet and from what I hear, it will meet some of the requests we brought to the PA at the end of the season.

When I started asking questions, that’s when things changed. I got less and less direct communication until I was relying on what other people shared. I feel like I’m in weird place. Because I don’t see harm in seeing what the NWHL has to offer, I feel removed from what other teammates, friends, and of course the biggest names in my sport are doing.

It’s heartbreaking. I’ve never had to deal with this much inner divide or turmoil in my sport. Of course I want to support other women, but there is an unsettling feeling of disagreement among players. That is why I rather keep my anonymity. The current movement has a “with us or against us” feel. From what I’ve seen, players who are in favor of #ForTheGame are making it seem unified, but it is not.

I am just as worn down by the pace of progress in women’s hockey, but I do think there has been progress. It might be small growth, but growth is what is important to me. If we don’t play, if we are off the ice, it will be detrimental to our sport.

So what do I hope for my sport?

[Sighs] Well, a week ago my hope was that all the amazing people and players demanding one league would finally be in one league. But, I don’t see players who said they wouldn’t play coming back to the league, I don’t see them changing their minds.

Now, that wish seems like a dream deferred.

It feels as though some of us were included after first because we were needed. However, as some of us started asking questions or just asked for more time, we were excluded.

I don’t know what this movement will look like moving forward, and I doubt I will be asked. Even now things appear to be smoke and mirrors. I want a strong future for women’s hockey, we all do! That is not the issue. I think this all comes from a good place and I want to believe in it.

But, I’m just not so sure about things right now. Right now, it’s really tough to watch.

This Week in Women’s Hockey

PODCAST: I had a fun talk with Liz Knox on Sports Talk with Erica L. Ayala.

Here is my piece on #ForTheGame for The Guardian.

Pegula Sports Entertainment exists NWHL, gives control of franchise back to league.

LISTEN: Melissa Burgess joins WBFO to discuss the future of women’s hockey in Buffalo.

Daryl Watts set to transfer from Boston College, per BC Interruption.

PODCAST: Lyndsey D’Arcangelo offers some clarity regarding PSE returning Beauts to NWHL.

“This isn’t a boycott. This is a gap year,” says Kendall Coyne Schofield.

You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone – CWHL popularity spikes after it closes operations.

Emily Clark of Hockey Canada discusses #ForTheGame.

ESPN will air Inaugural Aurora Games Festival.

Mike Murphy takes a look into the CWHL 100-Point Club.

Women’s Hockey Q&A with Rachel Blount.

When she’s not writing Tennis Tuesday, Lindsay Gibbs is writing about sports for ThinkProgress. Here is her piece on #ForTheGame.

Tweet of the Week

Emily Pfalzer weighs in on PSE leaving the NWHL, #ForTheGame

Five at The IX: Kimberly Sass

I interviewed Metropolitan Riveters goalie Kimberly Sass the day #ForTheGame took social media by storm. The following are comments she made that have not been published in any of my stories. Photo by Kevin Bires

Erica L. Ayala: If you’re saying the NWHL call was to make a case and provide more transparency and likely to offer, you know, like a an extension of good faith, where did those calls fall short from your perspective?

Kimberly Sass: So I think that from many of the players who agreed to make a statement today, their past relationships and history of playing in this league, in addition to the current phone call that was regarding transparency, it’s lack of resources, lack of salary, lack of protection, lack of communication, lack of trust. Honestly, the phone call was lacking in transparency. And the phone call was meant to be about transparency

ELA: I’ve talked to a few other players, several other players today, and some that agreed, and some that maybe are still trying to make up their mind on how they feel about a lot of that. But I want to ask the question this way to you. Moving forward from today, are there things that the NWHL can do will start there. Are there things that the NW HL could do? Not just say, but actively do that would change your stance?

KS: I think for each player, it’s a personal choice whether to choose to sign a contract or decide to not play in North America next season. And for some players, that takes into account, their personal careers. Maybe some players only thought they were going to retire or only play one more year. I think for those players, they need to look at it [as] we’re doing everything that we can right now.

I want to create a better future. And I mean, this is how I’m doing it. I’m not sure what that will look like or when that will happen. I personally plan on continuing to train to keep the doors open to like future possibilities … none of us made a lot of money, let’s be serious. But the paycheck that people did receive, some people were relying on that to contribute to their rent payments, and gym memberships and training costs. And, you know, if you do take that away, it definitely is a sacrifice. But [people] in my opinion, need to look at that sacrifice. And realize that it’s for the future … and potentially even a better future game for themselves.

The decision is to value themselves, their teammates, and the entire email hockey family.

ELA: I mean, I do want to push you a little bit more though, like, is there? Do you think the NWHL can do that now or any time in the future?

KS: I think that they have not laid a very promising foundation for the future.

ELA: Do you see a road that leads anywhere else … or is this a one-way to the NHL?

KS: Again, I would say i’m not I and we are not sure what the next league will look like. And I think that we would be open to any league that is, again, viable, sustainable and professional.

ELA: I think that fans are trying to digest everything that happened today and everything that will come. Is there something else that you would like fans to understand about what what you see as the end game here, and and how you hope that they will, if they’re so inclined to kind of follow you along this path?

KS: I hope what what fans might see in me is a, you know, someone who has digested everything and is able to look at the bigger picture. But also has,I guess, the drive and commitment to remain hopeful and in like a stage of uncertainty and continue to train and continue on the same page as where I left.

And, my dad actually sent me a text last night and, and said, ‘Who would have thought when you started playing in Amherst as a seven year old that you would be in this position today to have this kind of impact?’

And just, I’m like crying right now … whoa, sorry.

ELA: No, that’s okay. That was real. That is real.

KS: Okay, I’m going to leave it with this. I just, I feel like the young girls that are missing us playing [takes a pause] I think that they will look up to us and need us to stand up for ourselves more so than they need to see us on the ice right now.

Because I know that, like going back to when I was seven, I was able to see, college athletes. We went to Niagra University games and that was like, such a cool opportunity to meet the players, go around and get autographs and stuff, just like our autograph lines. But I think that if I keep …

You know, if I saw one of those players, or a whole team or a full, you know, league stand for better treatment, I think that that that teaches an entirely a larger life lesson that, you know, females can play sports.

We continue to talk and then Sass dropped this GEM of a quote

KS: Just people say to me, you’ve got it all. Or you’re such a role model. And I always think to myself, what does that mean?

Am I multitasking role model?

I think that one fans congratulate me on pursuing multiple passions at once. Like, while I’m fortunate to pursue two careers that I love.

If someone were to ask me right now, if you were to be able to play hockey full-time, and then go into architecture, architecture, maybe that direction afterwards? I would say absolutely.

But ask, I think if you ask any woman who has two careers, do they want to have two? Or do they need to have two? I’m pretty sure that most are going to tell you that they need to.

And personally, and my I think my close friends and family can attest to this that I love being busy.

But I don’t feel like I have ever had the option not to be as busy as I always am. And that’s something that we want to provide females with the choice of solely concentrating on their sport.

A couple females, like the second day, after I started [my new job], they had heard of our the NWHL and myself and they were talking to me for a while. And then one of the females asked, ‘Wait, why are you here if you’re a professional athlete?” And I think that statement really hit home and even potentially influenced my decision to not play next season?

ELA: So with all of that said, have you allowed yourself to think about if you’ve played your last hockey season?

KS: I have thought about that and that led me to thinking about how I was forced to miss my last potentially last game to dress in my last game ever because of this. And I think that was my answer right there. I think that, like I said before, if there is a viable professional league to come and I’m not a part of it, at least I have made an impact.

And I am thankful for the NWHL for you know, introducing the idea of a female professional ice hockey to a lot of people and for the relationships that I’ve made and the fans that I’ve met and everything, I am. But, something needs to change and I am hopeful for the future.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports ThinkProgress
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

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Written by Erica L. Ayala