On Cannibalism

On June 29th we learned that the PWHPA’s financial backers, namely the Mark Walters Group and Billie Jean King Enterprises, had bought the PHF and all seven of its franchises. While some in the women’s hockeysphere scrambled to find out the facts behind the purchase, others struggled to cope with the sudden loss of something – the PHF – that had, for so many fans, journalists, players and random podcasters, brought such joy and buoyancy to our lives. As information spilled forth into various electronic medium, several truths became clear: 

  • The PHF was dead and all of the dreams it had created were dead with it
  • PHF players and, without regard for dreams, hopes, aspirations, talent or station in life had been, at best, stabbed in the back
  • PHF ownership had dirty worked all of the women who had given everything they had to help the league exist and who had all, as noted in the bullet point above, been stabbed in the back
  • The PWHPA, realizing that they lacked the wherewithal to create the league they had been trying to create for so many years, had cannibalized the league that had been created and thrived despite a lack of interest or input from many of the most famous women in the game
  • PWHPA members cared very little for moving women’s hockey forward, and cared only for moving their version of women’s hockey forward, other women be damned

While I am absolutely certain that the women of the PWHPA initially set forth with the best of intentions, I struggle to find neutral footing that paints the PWHPA and its members in any sort of positive luminescence. The first thing that we heard as a parameter of the deal for Mark Walter and Billie Jean King purchasing the PHF was that all player contracts were immediately voided. As Mikyla Grant-Mentis pointed out in an interview with SportsNet, “I feel like we don’t really have a voice. Because we were all terminated, basically. You know, the PHF is scratched.” Grant-Mentis is putting it nicely. The PHF wasn’t scratched, it was blinked from existence. Dinosaurs had asteroids, the ozone layer had CFCs and the PHF had Mark Walter, Billie Jean King, and the PWHPA. Grant-Mentis continued, “… right now, it’s hard to see the positives when there’s lots of negatives coming at you. … Many of my friends that I’ve played with for three or four years now, they’re the ones having to really decide if they want to continue playing hockey or not. So it is difficult.” 

Credit: Mark Mulville – Buffalo News

This isn’t to say that there are not potential benefits to the new league. The financial backing of the new league is greater than the PHF could have ever imagined. The potential for new investors, sponsors, media deals, etc… is through the roof. When we look back on this ten years from now there is a definite chance that we see this as a watershed moment for the sport, the moment when women’s hockey went from a dream for some to a reality for many, a one step back for two steps forward sort of moment. With that said, it is hard to see the two steps forward when you are stuck in the one step back. Women who were going to make thousands of dollars to play the sport they had spent their life playing are now sitting at home wondering whether or not they will be making any money at all. As Grant-Mentis pointed out, “Doing this is definitely going to grow women’s hockey. We’ll definitely be able to get TV deals, bigger deals, bigger investment into the league. So there’s definitely a huge positive side to it. But it’s hard to look at that when I know many people won’t be able to continue playing hockey next year.”

This now extends to the league and team staff of the PHF. Ian Kennedy of The Hockey News broke the story early on July 9th that, “Staff of PHF teams were fired today, according to multiple sources. This comes despite communication following the acquisition of the PHF group that league and team staff would be given ‘substantially similar roles’ in the new league.” Essentially, early promises, some barely a week old, are already being broken by new ownership. Former PHF Commissioner Reagan Carey was either sold a bucket of lies initially, or has been comfortable in trading with lies for the last few weeks. Either way, former PHF players have reason to be wary as we move forward to the creation of the new league, which we will apparently hear more about in the next 30 to 60 days. 

This leaves everyone, players, owners, fans, executives, trainers, you name it, in a lurch. What does the new league look like? We know it is being trimmed down to six teams for its inaugural season. Which of the PHF teams is on the chopping block? Is it the Whale? Heaven help you if it is the Whale. Whatever the reality, there will be a state of disarray this season as fans looking for familiar teams, logos, players, experiences will be forced to modify their hopes in favor of something new and shiny but, at least for a little while, sullied by the cannibalism of June 29th. Some of the PWHPA’s most famous members missed the mark.

Sarah Nurse – “For the last two years, we kept being told, ‘You just need to go play there,‘” Nurse said, referring to the PHF. “Our players didn’t want to settle for what currently existed. And, obviously, we did our own thing. We kept moving forward.”

Kendall Coyne Schofield – “I am extremely proud of our PWHPA group, which has remained committed to our vision and steadfast in our efforts to change the landscape of women’s professional hockey forever,” said Coyne Schofield. “Over the past four years, we have worked tirelessly to close the gap on what young girls and boys could dream to become in this sport.”

What Nurse, Coyne Schofield and others miss is that, for around 150 women, that dream was already a reality that the PWHPA and its financial backers crushed without a second thought or a hint of sorrow for those now grieving what they had spent years building. Yes, this could absolutely be a watershed moment for women’s hockey. The footings built in the next few years could put the sport on the firmest ground that it has ever been on. That, however, overlooks the fact that hundreds of people had spent the last nine years building that exact type of atmosphere on rinks from Connecticut to Minnesota and that was all destroyed with the stroke of the pen. Women’s hockey may be stronger moving forward, but for the time being many of us are in mourning, left only with a lingering hope that the ends justify the means.

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