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March 28, 2017

It's the biggest win ever for the U.S. women’s hockey team

No matter what happens when it takes the ice on Friday for the start of the IIHF Women’s World Championship, the United States women's national hockey team has already scored a resounding victory – and it is a victory to be celebrated by every team in the tourney and every women’s team across the globe.

The victory occurred today when it was reported the team was near an agreement on a tentative four-year deal with USA Hockey that would put an end to its threatened boycott of the tournament. 

It was a powerful lesson in solidarity and a more powerful lesson in equality as the team found itself with more fans than ever watched it on the ice.

The women had become a celebrated cause as they went face to face with the governing body of their sport, searching for what they believed in to be their fair share of financial support. And people who would not know a single name on the roster – which is most of America – jumped to their side.

There have been many important stories in the world of sports over the past few decades, but in terms of actual influence on lives beyond the professional fields, floors and other surfaces it is hard to imagine anything as important as Title IX.

If you want to understand just how important Title IX has been in our culture – and specifically sports – just take a moment to consider the resounding support of women’s hockey team as the players battled for funding.

In one of the boldest moves in any international competition involving US athletes, the women threatened to sit out the World Championships scheduled to begin this Friday in Plymouth, Michigan.

The technicalities of the dispute involved the players asking for a four-year contract that paid them outside the six-month Olympic period every four years. The players argued that the $6,000 they earn around the Olympics was out of balance when compared to USA Hockey's $3.5 million annual spending on the men's national team.

Mind you, women’s hockey is nowhere near a prominent sport as the male version. The U.S. women are one of the two elite teams in the world and they usually find themselves battling the other, Team Canada, in wonderfully emotional matches.

However, this battle with USA Hockey went way past the hockey boards and the hockey rinks.

The fight also gave us a very real view of how far women’s rights have been advanced, not just the world of sports, but throughout our culture. Quite simply, this battle wouldn’t have happened a generation ago, as it would have been met with a chorus of, “Who do they think they are? Nobody cares about women’s sports.”

Not anymore.

In a remarkable wave of reaction that has slapped the officials in the face, the outrage arrived from all quarters. The pressure started early, when none other than Mike Eruzione – captain of the Miracle on Ice men’s team of 1980 – came to the team’s defense in social media platforms.

That was just the beginning.

Every day, another voice joined in support – including NHL players, officials from the NHLPA and well beyond, not the least of which was a letter from US senators signed by Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Pat Murray of Washington, Diane Feinstein of California, Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Thomas Carper of Delaware, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

"These elite athletes indeed deserve fairness and respect, and we hope you will be a leader on this issue as women continue to push for equality in athletics," the letter read.

The words “elite athletes” is a resounding confirmation of what has happened in the generations that have been impacted since the field was leveled by Title IX. These are no longer “female” athletes or “girl athletes,” they are simply athletes, and in the case of the top level they are elite athletes on a par with men who play the games.

There has been a much-needed shift from a culture in which females simply watched and dated the star athletes to being star athletes of their own. From city to city, county to county, state to state, sea to shining sea, girls are now given the same opportunity as boys to help mold their character and skills as athletes on the field.

Young women are now being given the same support system as men have always enjoyed in terms of teammates and team building. If you had any doubt about the importance of that, look no further than the fact that young women who would have been given a chance to take their place on the ice refused.

They remained in full support of their teammates in the bigger battle of fair play.

No matter what happens on the ice in this tourney and in future games, the U.S. women have already won a much bigger battle.