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NWHL, Director of NWHLPA release statements in response to #ForTheGame movement

The NWHL responds to the movement that is putting its 2019-20 season in jeopardy

Michelle Jay

Shortly after a legion of women’s hockey players took to social media declaring their intent to boycott the 2019-20 NWHL season the league issued a statement.

It’s clear that the NWHL plans to continue its preparations for the 2019-20 season. However, the league also made a point to extend an olive branch to players who have reservations and wish to have an open dialogue about a shared goal for one league.

Here is that statement, in full:

To the players, fans and supporters of the NWHL and women’s hockey,

NWHL leadership respects the wishes of all players to consider their options, and they know we are always available to meet, to participate in open communication addressing their concerns and exchanging ideas, and to collaborate with the players on one league.

In the meantime, our plans continue for Season 5 of the NWHL to begin in October. After a series of highly constructive and positive discussions with the NWHL Players’ Association over the last month, we are offering increased salaries and a 50-50 revenue spilt from league-level sponsorships and media rights deals. Coming off an incredible 2018-19, we are confident another fantastic season is ahead.

After the CWHL announced it was ceasing operations, the NWHL immediately went to work and embraced the opportunity to build the one league for North America that many people, including the national team players, said they desired. We raised significant investments and met with top brands wanting to support one thriving league featuring the best of the best from around the world.

Of everyone working in women’s hockey, we are among the players’ biggest fans. In 2015, there wasn’t a professional women’s hockey league in the United States. Prior to our launch just four years ago, there was never a movement for others to take over women’s hockey, or for any wide-scale league in North America. In a challenging climate for women’s sports, our leadership has been proud to invest a great deal of time and resources in women’s hockey and these athletes. We believe in them.

We want to thank the fans for their passionate support of the NWHL. Last season, you sold out 16 games, made the Minnesota Whitecaps an historic success as our first expansion team, were a part of a record crowd for our All-Star Game in Nashville, purchased a record number of your favorite players’ jerseys and shirseys, and more of you watched our games on Twitter than ever before. Sponsors, partners and supporters took notice.

Thanks to you, the NWHL’s efforts to advance the sport, build the value of women’s hockey players, and show future generations that they can See It, Dream It and Be It will continue for many years to come. We are excited about the future, and we welcome everyone who wants to join us.

Attached to the NWHL’s statement in response to the development of the #ForTheGame movement were six names: Dani Rylan, Hayley Moore, Lee Heffernan, Joel Leonoff, Neil Leibman, and Scott McCormick. Rylan is the league’s founder and commissioner. Moore serves as the deputy commissioner and director of player development. Heffernan, Leibman, and McCormick are all investors and board members; Leonoff is listed as an investor.

In addition to the league’s statement, Anya Battaglino, the director of the National Women’s Hockey League’s Players’ Association, issued a statement of her own. Battaglino’s views on the #ForTheGame movement were first reported by Marisa Ingemi of the Boston Herald.

“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.”

At least one prominent player with ties to both the NWHL and the CWHL has also spoken out against the #ForTheGame movement.

Canadian defender Kaleigh Fratkin has played her last four seasons of hockey in the NWHL after spending the 2014-15 season with the CWHL’s Boston Blades. Fratkin, the highest-scoring Canadian defender in NWHL history, believes in their fight but has differing opinions on how to get there. “I truly think by deciding not to play, and folding the only league that’s left for the sport is the wrong thing to do,” she told Ingemi of the Herald.

For the moment it seems like the majority of professional women’s hockey players and collegiate stars are in favor of the #ForTheGame movement, but it is definitely not unanimous.

The fragmentation that Battaglino alluded to is starting to look like a problem. The movement is no longer unanimous in the way that the #BeBoldForChange campaign was. At the moment, it’s unclear just how many dissenters there are, but they are definitely in the minority.

This article was updated to better reflect Fratkin’s quotes.