Obviously we expected that some reaction to this article would be very, very negative. None of that has been surprising. However, I would like to offer some points of clarification as well as my own experience with this piece as an editor.
Parts of this story have been in the works for months or years. But very few people who had primary experience with these events were willing to go on the record, even with the promise of anonymity, so it has always been on the back burner. When a player got in touch with one of our reporters and was willing to talk on the record, that was just a single thread. Soon, though, Melissa and Kirsten were able to get in touch with additional players to corroborate various claims, and the story grew from there.
All of the quotes in the piece represent players’ lived experiences while performing work. It is very important to understand that this describes a work environment where players were denied access to bathrooms, to safe and clean facilities, and where basics, like food and equipment necessary to perform their jobs, were treated as an afterthought.
I understand that people have a variety of reasons for feeling like this story shouldn’t be told, or that we were incomplete in our work.
At no point did we hold the NWHLPA responsible for any of these issues in the piece; we feel the burden of that rests solely on the NWHL’s administrative leadership for allowing its teams to operate under these conditions. We believe the NWHLPA is fully aware of these issues (for what it’s worth) and has been trying to correct them. Much of the conclusion serves to highlight improvements made in the NWHL and by its Players Association.
It seems that some people expect there to be another story entirely, in a sense. This is a story about players who left the NWHL who felt their needs as workers were not being met. There are two possible responses to this: that it didn’t happen, and is false (what the NWHL said), or that it did happen and the NWHLPA is trying to improve the situation (essentially, what Anya Packer said in her statement, and also incidentally what we wrote in the piece itself). At a certain point, you are making a value judgment with a story like this. You have to decide whether you believe it, and also whether what it describes is acceptable. We believe it, because we talked to these people, and received multiple sources of corroboration and primary source evidence to prove it.
The question of whether or not it’s acceptable is quite different — and a question that I think readers have to answer for themselves by reviewing the text. Anya’s public statement provides valuable context to people who want to know how she feels about all of this. It doesn’t do anything, one way or the other, to prove or disprove the content of our story, nor did we expect it to. Though we did expect that the NWHL’s official response to us would be more along those lines, rather than what they actually provided us with.
We cannot name players who requested anonymity. That would be unethical and a betrayal of their trust in us to tell their story. Some players may feel comfortable in the future revealing that they participated in this story and we fully support them if they wish to do so. We can say that the individuals we spoke to comprised both Americans and Canadians, national team players and non-national team players. Most of the players are active with the PWHPA, but others are not.
Another comment we’ve seen is that because many of the most egregious issues have since been corrected, that it is wrong to bring them up now. I wholeheartedly disagree with that sentiment. The fact that these incidents have been kept private has not been good for women’s hockey in general. Many people have asked why the PWHPA won’t come forward with what they thought was so bad about the NWHL that they refused to play there, and they are now upset that they have answers from some of those people, which I find rather curious. In addition, the fact that the NWHL could not be trusted to consistently provide a safe and healthy working environment for its players as recently as 2019 is very concerning and should be publicly known. That this is considered somehow no longer important or relevant (especially considering the announced NWHL expansion to Toronto, the current global pandemic, and its yet-unknown impact) defies reason.
We have no doubt that things have improved, in large part thanks to the NWHLPA’s efforts. But that doesn’t make the lived experiences of these athletes any less important or relevant to the current conversation about the standards of professionalism in women’s sports. As Kirsten said in the conclusion to the piece (she wrote the bulk of that part, and did a great job): “Many of the situations detailed by players we spoke with do not simply fail to achieve a basic level of professionalism: they are plainly unacceptable, at any level.”
This piece was specifically about conditions and issues that caused players to leave the NWHL, since that open question and the lack of detailed public reporting on the matter was a point of contention within the women’s hockey community. We hope that if any players want to talk about current conditions they will reach out to us, whether they wish to be anonymous or not, and whether what they have to say is positive or negative.
This story came together over a period of weeks and has been in active progress since April. There was no significance to the timing of the piece being published, except that it was ready.
One last thing: I have updated the piece to include the fact that the NWHL was presented with a point-by-point list of allegations made in the piece by the former players and they had the opportunity to respond in any way they wished. They declined to respond to any individual claim but instead provided the statement which remains available at the end of the article. Anya’s statement has also been included.