Taking a Stand on the Ice for Pay Equity

You have to be tough to play hockey and to fight for your rights. We talk to Haley Skarupa, a member of the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team, which recently won a world championship and a major new compensation agreement. 

by Lauren Landau  

Photo by Matthew Raney Photography

Photo by Matthew Raney Photography

At 23, American hockey player Haley Skarupa, whose mother is Jewish, is an athlete and advocate for equal pay. She plays for Connecticut Whale of the Women’s National Hockey League and the U.S. Women’s National Team, which won gold in the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship tournament. This was the fourth consecutive IIHF win for the team, which has medaled in the past five Olympics.  That win followed a victory off the ice, when Skarupa and her teammates made headlines for threatening to boycott the tournament if USA Hockey didn’t provide women players with better compensation and benefits. The agreement, which was reached on Tuesday, March 28, 2017, with the tournament scheduled to begin three days later, gives players a respectable monthly stipend; per diem travel and insurance benefits on par with the men’s team; performance bonuses; and a commitment to developing future women’s hockey players. 

What do you love about playing hockey?  

I honestly can’t picture my life without it at this point. I love all of the friends I’ve made through the sport, all of the different experiences, and where it’s taken me travel-wise. And I love the competitive and dynamic aspects:  It’s fast, physical, and super competitive. 

Do you consider hockey a male dominated sport? What’s that like as a woman who makes her living on the ice? 

The U.S. Women's National Hockey Team celebrates its win in the 2017 world championship.

The U.S. Women's National Hockey Team celebrates its win in the 2017 world championship.

I can definitely see how people would think it is a predominantly male sport. The men are faster and  stronger, so they have that advantage. But if you watch a [women’s] game, it’s not that far off. It’s very fast (and gotten a lot faster recently), super physical and extremely fun to watch. Even the people whose first women’s game was our U.S. vs. Canada game in the world championships were impressed. They saw that the pace doesn’t look that much different from the NHL and it’s equally, if not more, fun to watch with how hard we work and how well we move the puck.

The recent boycott threat made national news. How did the team decide to take such a hardline stance on pay equity? 

I thought it was so cool how we all banded together, not just our national team, but every female player in the hockey world. We were all together on it. Not one person stood apart or disagreed. That’s what made it so powerful. We weren’t able to be broken by anyone. 

What was that locker room conversation like?

It had been a long time coming. At the end of the day, we agreed this can’t go on any longer and the time is now. With how special our team is and everyone together [on it], we said this is the group that can do it. 

Photo courtesy of USA Hockey

Photo courtesy of USA Hockey

How did it feel when USA Hockey finally caved to the pressure? What do you think made the difference?

I honestly think sticking together was the key and there was no hesitation about it. Coming together as one group is a powerful message. We were really excited to get to the tournament and do what we love. Winning the world championship was the cherry on top. 

Why is equal pay important to you, and have you always cared about this issue, or did you become more aware of it after joining the team? 

I don’t think for any of us it was ever really about the money. It was about the treatment and the principle. We had gone so long, we work so hard, we deserve a little more. 

How do you hope what you’ve done will inspire the next generation of women? 

I hope that people continue to fight for what’s right, regardless of what it is. If they feel like they’re being treated any less than what they’ve earned, then they deserve to fight for what they have earned and what they deserve. That’s what I hope people take out of it, that they’re not any less than anyone else just because they haven’t been given an equal opportunity. 

I think [equal pay] is important and should continue to be a pressing matter in society. I’m proud of what our group has done and I think it definitely has pushed the envelope. I think it’s cool that we made a difference.