Opinion: What Does It Mean to Support Women's Hockey?
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Opinion: What Does It Mean to Support Women's Hockey?

Opinion: What Does It Mean to Support Women's Hockey? by Melissa Burgess

What does it mean to support women's hockey? It's a question that many may be asking themselves nowadays, given the current climate of the sport – and I'll be honest (after all, this is an opinion piece), it's a question that I've been toying with in my head over the past few months, too.

My introduction to women's hockey came in 2015. I was vaguely aware of the existence of the CWHL at that point, but it was the IIHF Women's U-18 Championships in my hometown that really showed me what women's hockey was. Not too long after that, the NWHL was formed. Partly as a result of convenience (having a team right in Buffalo!) and partly as a result of seeing how incredible the level of skill was at the U18s, I got hooked on women's hockey.

So I decided to start writing about it – mainly about the NWHL, a little bit about the CWHL, and occasionally about college hockey, when the opportunity arose. Over the past few years, I've become invested in women's hockey. I've spoken to countless players, written more game recaps than I can count, developed feature stories, and over the course of it all, been to a few CWHL games, a lot of NWHL games and a few college games. By providing fair, balanced coverage of women's hockey, I am inherently supporting it.

Over the past few months – since the folding of the CWHL, the development of the PWHPA, and everything that's come out of that and the NWHL's decision to continue on with business "as usual" – I keep asking myself. What does it mean to me to support women's hockey? What does all of this mean for my coverage of women's hockey? And what does my decisions regarding my coverage mean?

Spoiler alert: I don't have the answers.

I've been covering the NWHL since pretty much day one, and at this point, I'm one of the only "original" reporters around who hasn't either been hired by a team or the league, or dropped off from writing altogether. On a personal level, that means something special to me. I know that people look for my writing and tweets about NWHL games, player signings, and news, and I want to continue providing all of that in a fair, balanced and honest manner for those who are interested.

But I also want to make it clear that I'm aware of some of the NWHL's anti-labor practices; that paying $4,000 for a season of work is not even near a living wage; and that the league's definite lack of transparency in many areas is concerning.

As someone who works for The Victory Press, I want whatever coverage I'm providing to be ethical. That means pointing out when good things happen, yes, but also asking real questions about topics like health insurance or sponsorships and bringing those issues to the forefront.

It means providing regular game coverage (I think), but also pointing out that many of the league's best players aren't playing this season, and why, and that many of the players who are suiting up may not have found a position in the league otherwise. It also means pointing out when players in that league are pro-Trump, anti-labor, and post/like racist or xenophobic comments on social media. Can I do all of that?

On the other side of things, I also want to help provide coverage of the PWHPA and the important work they're doing, in an ethical manner. That means acknowledging their mission and goal (a sustainable professional women's hockey league that pays a living wage), and following along as they determine exactly how to get to that point. It means providing coverage of their events and learning about their sponsors, but also thinking critically about the potential involvement of partners like the NHL in any future professional women's hockey league in North America.

As I sit down and look at the calendar, realizing that the NWHL season is just over a week away, I know I need to start working on some team previews for the season ahead – and I will. I also hope to continue reaching out to some of the PWHPA members and keeping tabs on upcoming events in that realm, too, and supporting work my fellow VP colleagues do to cover their events.

But I want to do all of that in a way that conveys ethical coverage of the league/association and its happenings. I am a supporter and a fan of women's hockey, but as a journalist, I have to interrogate context, maintain a professional boundary, and evaluate my opinions and biases. This isn't to say that I have to play both sides, because I don't, but I do want to assume the professional responsibility that comes with being a reporter.

My goal is to keep covering women's hockey, ethically, and my hope is that the next chapter for the sport is something better than what we've had before. Personally: I strongly believe in what the PWHPA is doing. For change to happen - in any realm - a group of people who really care need to stand up against the status quo. Just look at any major change in history; things like the right to vote or labor laws or "equal" pay weren't gained by marginalized people who were perfectly okay with how they were being treated. Revolutions don't happen overnight; they take work and time.

With that said, I won't abandon covering the NWHL. As one of the few independent (non-league/team) reporters who has been around since the beginning, this work holds a special place in my heart. And also, in the interest of disclosure, it bears repeating that my husband Ryan is and will continue to be the PA announcer and DJ for the Buffalo Beauts.

So here's to my fifth season covering women's hockey for The Victory Press, and whatever it may bring. Let's (ethically) get down to business.