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NFL and NHL players’ unions join LGBTQ figures in supporting women’s hockey boycott

Meghan Duggan, Brianne Jenner and Billie Jean King come out #ForTheGame in support of a women’s hockey boycott.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 13
Brianne Jenner #19 of Canada skates against the United States during the Women’s Gold Medal Game on day 13 of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games on February 22, 2018 in South Korea.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

UPDATE: The #ForTheGame movement gained some strong allies in the athletic world this weekend. The NFL Players Association backed the boycott on Friday, urging the athletes to “fight for the benefits and conditions that they deserve.”

The NHL Players Association released their own statement on Saturday, though it was far less demonstrative in its support for the women’s hockey community.

The NHLPA’s statement met heavy criticism online for its neutral language. “The NHLPA [are] more concerned with capitalizing on a PR moment than their ‘family’,” said former Stanley Cup champion Daniel Carcillo.

Original story: More than 200 female hockey players dropped a bombshell in the form of a coordinated social media statement Thursday, declaring their intention to boycott all North American women’s hockey leagues for the 2019-2020 season.

The group, consisting of players from the National Women’s Hockey League, the Swedish Women’s Hockey League and the recently dissolved Canadian Women’s Hockey League, pointed toward the need “to create a sustainable professional league for Women’s Hockey” as motivation for the move.

“We cannot make a sustainable living playing in the current state of the professional game,” read the statement.

The movement gained support on social media using the hashtag #ForTheGame, including from several prominent LGBTQ players and sports figures.

Out players Brianne Jenner and Meghan Duggan echoed many others, retweeting the players’ statement and rallying cry: “We may represent different teams, leagues and countries but collectively we stand as one,”

Harrison Browne, professional hockey’s first out transgender player and Outsports’ 2017 male hero of the year, praised the players’ decision. “Amazing to see this. I stand with all these incredible players as they fight for a better future for women’s hockey,” said Browne via Twitter.

Lesbian sports trailblazer Billie Jean King threw her weight behind the cause, too. “Female athletes deserve to live the life they envisioned as kids: playing the sport they love, and making a living doing it. I stand with all female athletes in their pursuit of equal pay and a sustainable future,” tweeted King.

The players’ demands for higher pay and quality healthcare would be beneficial to all competitors, but they could be of significant concern to the sport’s LGBTQ community. Thursday also saw President Trump announce new rules strengthening healthcare providers’ ability to refuse medical care based on religious or moral beliefs. The decision threatens to embolden an already growing trend of discriminatory practices against LGBTQ patients.

The NWHL has its fair share of cultural missteps to address in regards to it LGBTQ player base and fan community as well. The league’s most recent champion, the Minnesota Whitecaps, caught flak for its handling of the acquisition of controversial player Lauren Barnes in 2018. Fans critical of her pro-Trump beliefs and problematic social media activity (including propagating specific anti-LGBTQ rhetoric) had their comments deleted and their social media accounts blocked by the Whitecaps’ social media team.

Neither the Whitecaps nor the NWHL have publicly addressed the controversy to date, adding to criticisms that the league’s leadership is out of touch. “[The NWHL] won’t [speak more explicitly about activism] because it’s being headed up by a bunch of white women who don’t think about these things empathetically or thoughtfully enough,” said Zoë Hayden, editor of the Victory Press, speaking to The Guardian in 2018.

In total, 66 of the 125 players currently rostered on the NWHL’s five teams have publicly supported the boycott, including the vast majority of the Buffalo Beauts and Boston Pride’s rosters. But there are some outliers connected to the LGBTQ community as well.

NWHLPA Director and out lesbian player Anya Battaglino voiced her opposition to the boycott. In a statement released to the Boston Herald, Battaglino expressed disappointment, calling the boycott counter-productive.

“This announcement halts our ability to finally have the best players on one stage, and unfortunately sets the women’s hockey game backward. With the powerful opportunity we have this year to drive unprecedented growth, this new fragmentation will only slow that growth.”

Battaglino remains one of only two players on NHWL rosters to publicly come out against the #ForTheGame movement.

Regardless of the NHWLPA’s stance, it doesn’t appear that the #ForTheGame campaign is going away. And the majority of the community’s LGBTQ population will be along for the ride.

“Obviously we want to play hockey. We want to play next season, but, ultimately, we want to do this to build something that’s greater than ourselves,” said Jenner, speaking to Sportsnet.